On January 9, 1493 while sailing near the Dominican Republic, Christopher Columbus observed something he had seen once before near the coast of Africa. His journal entry for that day detailed the sighting of three mermaids that swam and frolicked in the waves around his ship. I’m your host Leah…
And I’m Steve. Today’s Remnant Stew is all about the lore and legends surrounding mermaids.
Chris Columbus didn’t describe the mermaids he saw as the being the beautiful creatures of fairy tales. He said he quite distinctly saw “three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.” It’s suspected that he was actually seeing manatees. In fact, Mermaid legends are thought to be sightings of manatees by sailors who quite often were drunk or had never seen manatees before.
From Livescience.com “Some researchers believe that sightings of human-size ocean animals such as manatees and dugongs might have inspired merfolk legends. (Dugongs are cousins of manatees and are similar in appearance. Whereas manatees swim in freshwater areas, the dugong is strictly a marine mammal.) These animals have a flat, mermaid-like tail and two flippers that resemble stubby arms. They don't look exactly like a typical mermaid or merman, of course, but many sightings were from quite a distance away, and being mostly submerged in water and waves only parts of their bodies were visible. Identifying animals in water is inherently problematic, since eyewitnesses by definition are only seeing a small part of the creature. When you add in the factor of low light at sunset and the distances involved, positively identifying even a known creature can be very difficult. A glimpse of a head, arm, or tail just before it dives under the waves might have spawned some mermaid reports.”
<L>And as an aside, here’s a fun fact about manatees.
Manatees Use Farts To Swim https://riotfest.org/2017/03/manatees-use-farts-swim/
By Riot Fest.org / March 9, 2017 / Chicago, News
If you’ve ever seen a manatee in person, you may have noticed that they are hilarious. You may have also noticed that they rise and sink in the water with almost no noticeable movement. Scientists have found that they in fact use their flatulence to swim. That’s right, they use farts.
How are they able to do that? Well “Manatees do not have swim bladders to help regulate their buoyancy and stay horizontal in the water column. Several things help, including the dense ribs located towards the front of the body and no hind limbs. Another method used with great results is actually flatulence. Manatees release or store gasses in their system to drop or rise at will.”
Yep. Manatees use their farts to swim. An adult manatee will eat between 100 and 150 pounds of vegetation each day which means a lot of gas builds up inside. If they want to float to the top they hold it in and if they want to sink they let it rip. We don’t suggest you try this method of swimming at home.
Various myths, legends and facts about mermaids – Depicted as both beautiful and kind, hideous and evil or any combination thereof, Mermaids have often been mentioned in legends and folklore stories, each giving an individual twist to the identity of the creatures.
- Mermaid stories are not restricted to one specific region of the world. Rather, they are told all across the globe, from Europe to Africa and Asia.
- Mermaids might be a variation of Greek mythology’s creatures, the Sirens. Sirens were dangerous but gorgeous creatures that lured sailors to their deaths with their beautiful singing.
- The modern notion of mermaids comprises mostly a sexy, beautiful, and captivating female half-human creature. In some traditions, they are kind creatures with powers.
- Mermaids are also often said to be able to fall in love with humans— after which they set out to find a ‘cure’ to get rid of their fish tail for legs. (Disney movie, anyone?)
- Nice mermaids have inspired children stories, and other works of art like paintings and operas.
- However, mermaids are not always restricted to being nice. Rather, some stories describe them as being portents of bad luck. They are often associated with calamities like storms, shipwrecks, and drowning. Mermaids from Greek legends can even sink ships.
- Being unkind to them might bring misfortune to the perpetrator, say other myths. Also, we cannot forget the merpeople of the Harry Potter world, can we?! JK Rowling gave a new twist to this type of creature in her Harry Potter series. They were depicted as ugly and aggressive.
- Some legends say that mermaids are soulless. Yet others believe mermaids are immortal.
We find out from Atlas Obscura that there is a most unusual artifact in a church in Zennor, England
A church consisting of a stone structure built between the 13th and 15 centuries, a tower and a small graveyard is dedicated to St. Senara. The church is in in the village of Zennor in Cornwall. Inside the church is the “Mermaid Chair.” The wooden seat dates back possibly to the 15th century. It is carved from oak and depicts a woman with long hair and a curvaceous figure, but in place of human legs she has a scaly tail with fins. In her hands the mermaid holds a comb and a mirror.
There’s a legend in the town that a beautiful and richly dressed woman attended church there. She was known for her lovely singing voice but no one knew where she came from or where she stayed. They also noticed over the years that she never seemed to age. It was said that she fell in love with the church warden’s son, Matthew Trewella. One day Matthew followed her home and the two were never seen again.
Except the lady was seen once more. Sailors onboard a ship that was anchored out at sea reported that a mermaid swam up, got their attention and politely asked that they move their anchor as it was blocking her door and she could not get to her husband and children. The sailors recognized the mermaid as being the woman that had been a visitor of the church. The villagers then knew their mystery woman had taken Matthew Trewella to the sea.
Some people say that the bench was carved to commemorate the legend, and to warn other young men who may be tempted by mysterious women. Others say that the mermaid chair was the very bench on which the mystery woman would sit as she sang in church. You can visit the church and see the mermaid chair for yourself. We’ll also post a picture of it.
MERMAID RIOT This feature contains—with permission--direct quotes from a story called “The Apothecary and the Mermaid” published in a book called “The Doctor to the Dead: Grotesque Legends and Folktales of Old Charleston”
So the legend goes that in the mid-1600s a Doctor Trott used all his savings to open an apothecary shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Dr. Trott set up his shop, put out his sign and waited for the people to come to him with their ailments. An apothecary in those days was a bit different than a pharmacist today, many times they were the go-to physician in a community. They would create and dispense medications but also give medical advise and sometimes do small surgeries like setting bones and extracting teeth. Dr. Trott had high hopes of establishing himself as the medico in Charleston but the odds were against him.
The town at that time had quite a number of newly freed slaves that made up a significant portion of the population. And they had their own ideas about medicine rooted a little in voodoo and good old folk medicine that the townspeople had trusted and relied upon long before Dr. Trott showed up with his new-fangled ways. Trott’s store just didn’t see all that much business.
Now Trott had invested all his savings into his new apothecary and had to find a way to make his venture work so with an idea that could have come straight from P.T. Barnum, Trott started filling his store with…curiosities.
“Now, it so chanced that Dr. Trott, the apothecary, for scientific reasons, or merely for curious interest, had collected, in spirits of wine, an uncanny museum of untimely deaths, queer creatures, and malignant things to which poor human flesh is heir, and had sequestered them in a small stockroom at the rear of the prescription desk, beyond the wooden grille . . . wretched remnants of aborted things, plucked away untimely into limbo by the hand of Death, human deficiencies and deformities, and dried things under bell glasses.”
Some—especially those newly freed slaves that were the source of suspicion surround Trott--speculated that the collection of things in jars were because “Chemists and apothecaries, from the beginning of time, have been known to be in league with the Devil; some have even asserted that they are the worst of the nine sons of Satan.”
Most likely though, Dr.Trott was making a last-ditch effort to draw people into his shop to lay eyes on his curation of curiosities and then perhaps talk about their ailments and purchase an ointment or tincture. It is unknown however if interest in the morbid collection would have won out over stubborn adherence the old ways because fate had something quite different in mind.
To the cities located along the coasts of America, a hurricane is a well known and feared act of God. And in a much different way a slow moving tropical storm can be just as dangerous and destructive. Quoting the story directly:
“On the 3rd of July, 1867, at about half past ten o’clock in the forenoon, a heavy black squall rolled across the city, followed by a drenching shower. This shower, about noon, abruptly changed to quite a different sort of rain: it plunged and roared as if the deep had been overturned and were descending on the town. This rain continued steadily, without moderation or intermission, day and night, for well-nigh a month.” “The sky seemed truly to have burst; the rain streamed down in torrents; the countryside was inundated; the lowlands swamped; the roads underwater; and still, with ever-increasing force, the unabated rain poured down. The sodden woodlands rotted, dripped and stank; the mire in the city streets was ankle deep everywhere, in deeper puddles half knee-deep; the sandy roads were slop; all that was not geological rock or oystershell was muck. People began to go about the streets with eyes a little wild and apprehensive breath.”
“By night there was panic fear in many a humble hut; a wild sound of hysteria went up from the little churches. Still the rain poured down. A woman in Cow Alley wrought herself into an hysteria of fear, and walked the drowned streets prophesying that the city would continue to drown until the mermaid was returned to the sea; and, being taken in charge by the police, vowed that the city would sink beneath the sea unless she herself was immediately released from the jail and the mermaid returned to the deep. Everybody knew that there was a mermaid ashore. The excitement went on for three weeks, while the undiminished rain fell without ceasing. Hard and harder it pounded down; loud and louder grew the murmur in the kennels of the town, louder the muttered demand that the mermaid be returned to the sea. Still the rain poured down.”
“Then occurred one of those strange wild outbursts of mob terror which blast the folk from kennel and court, low lane and darkened alley. The people arose; a mob moved down the town, leaderless, formless, terrified, angry and dangerous. Gathering strength as they went, their clamor through the lower part of the city and their turbulent uproar made such a disturbance that the alarm bells rang in belief that there was a rising among the black folk.
At first the mob believed that the trouble focused on the waterfront. When they moved hither the mood of the crowd was so ugly that no white man, be he never so notable, could have made his way safely down High Battery Street that day. The air was strangely offensive on the waterfront; but no mermaid was to be found. Some, sniffing the air, cried out that she was dead. But this could not be so; for the rain had not ceased falling; the mermaid therefore could not have died. One woman, who professed knowledge, said that the mermaid had a baby in the sea, and that, until she was released to go back to nurse her child, the rain would continue to fall.”
“Isaac Tucker, the apothecary’s porter, whispered to a friend or two that among these things,(in Trott’s shop) on a top shelf, stood a mermaid, shrunk to scarcely a span long, in all her delicate beauty, strange, and marvelously diminished, in a clear glass jar of pale-green water, her yellow locks floating around her like the tendrils of a pumpkin vine; and that, in the jar with her, two gold-fish swam about her, round and round. This rumor swiftly became bruited about, that the old apothecary had a mermaid captive in his shop.”
“The report went abroad on the wings of the wind that Dr. Trott, the apothecary, had a mermaid captive in his shop. King Street, the narrow thoroughfare flanking the apothecary shop, was filled by the sound of shuffling feet and the savage, ominous, muffled mutter of frightened and angry voices lifting at last to a dull roar. The cross streets were choked by the mob for more than two blocks around; no man afoot could come or go.
It was with the greatest difficulty the panic-struck mob was prevented from at once battering in the shop windows and wrecking the place. They pelted the walls with mud and stones; they broke the windows of the upper story, and beat upon the barred and bolted doors and shutters closed upon the street below. The apothecary’s assistant huddled in the upper room under the roof. At first an old and habitual timidity held them back; but noninterference made them bold; the law was remote; and the constables, watch and city guard, daunted by the strange uprising, held aloof. The more temerarious pushed to the front, shrieking hysterically: “Bring out the mermaid!”
“There is no mermaid here,” said the apothecary, appearing at an upper window. “On my honor, there is no mermaid here.” “But we know there is . . . do not listen to him . . . bring her out!” demanded the spokesman of the mob, and pounded with his fists upon the door.
“There is a mermaid!” yelled the mob. “Bring her out. Send her back to the sea.”
“But, I assure you, there is no mermaid here,” repeated the apothecary.
But he was a liar, and known to be; and, but for the circumstances, no one would have believed a word he said. As it was, his statement only added to the unreasoning frenzy of the mob. Several white men of the gentry class who, with some difficulty, had made their way into the shop through a western window in the building, now addressed the mob, and from an upper window begged them to disperse.
But the mob was determined to enter the shop. The gentlemen said that could not be; would never do. But they promised that the shop should be searched, and, if found, the mermaid would be freed.
They searched; but found no mermaid. They searched again: there was no mermaid. There was no mermaid anywhere in the apothecary’s shop.
So the white gentlemen and the three black searchers went out upon the back roof, and said to the crowd: “There is no mermaid here, upon our word of honor. Go to your homes and keep the peace, or the army must be called to disperse you.”
Just at that moment the rain stopped, the sun came out and shone brightly; so all the people went home.
Other versions of the story have the apothecary roof giving way under all the rain and washing the mermaid out to sea, freeing her to be united with her baby. Either way, the rain stopped just before the mob did any damage or resorted to violence. It isn’t known what exactly happened to Dr. Trott. He moved away shortly after this incident and some say he died soon after. Still others say that he moved out of the country to a place far inland from the threat of any mermaids, gave up his profession and took a job in a grocery store. Dr. Trott’s apothecary, the building that it was in, is still standing today in Charleston and is an historical landmark.
Mermaids on parade.
Another city with an association with mermaids is Norfolk, Virginia. It’s connection is a modern one as the city adopted the mermaid as its symbol in 1999 and has fully embraced the legendary creature as its own. The mermaid appears on letterhead, has inspired cocktails and various crafts. This unique branding brought focus to the area’s prime waterfront location as well as depicting the community as fun and approachable. You can see mermaids all throughout the town. There are at least 80 statues of differing sizes and colors known as mermaids on parade. Check them out if you are ever in the area.
There have been many hoaxes surrounding mermaids.
One of his most popular attractions of the great showman P.T. Barnum, was the "Feejee Mermaid" In the 1840s many people paid 50 cents hoping to see a long-limbed, fish-tailed beauty. Instead they saw a grotesque fake corpse a few feet long constructed of a monkey torso, fish tail and some paper-mache to pull it all together. To our modern eyes it looks pretty fake, but it fooled many people back then.
There are also these things called Jenny Hanivers. Souvenirs made from the dried bodies of rays sold to vacationers as the preserved remains of mermaids. From Bizarre journal.com
Jenny Hanivers were popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling them to tourists. This practice was so common in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed that "Jenny Haniver" is a corruption of the French phrase jeune d'Anvers (or "young person of Antwerp"). British seamen began calling the mermaid creatures Jenny Hanivers, and the name stuck.
Again, to our modern eyes it is easy to see that it’s not a mermaid but to people back then they were realistic looking. It took Swiss naturalist Konrad Gesner in 1558 to debunk these creations. In his publication he cautioned that these mermaids nothing more than dead, disfigured rays. But the Jenny Hanivers remained popular and some people still believed that they were proof of the existence of merfolk.
In some parts of the world, Jenny Hanivers are still sold to tourists as souvenirs, but they are becoming an increasingly rare form of "folk art" due to conservation efforts.
Another mermaid hoax was perpetrated by Joe Mulhattan, known by some as America's Greatest Hoaxer
Frm bizarre journal.com we learn that Joe Mulhattan was born near Pittsburgh in 1853, the only child of a Presbyterian minister. He was by all accounts a very intelligent child. He did well in school and then became a very successful salesman. He also came to be known as one of America’s greatest hoaxers. Joe was remarkably creative in perpetrating his many different hoaxes which included the time he had the entire nation convinced that a gigantic meteor had fallen in Texas. Or that there were bird-eating trees growing in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
One notable hoax was The Montana Mermaid: Mulhattan published a story in 1892 in The Helena Independent newspaper in which he described a cave teeming with mermaids.
"We discovered in a subterranean lake a race of human beings with scales and tails. They are amphibious and subsist on eyeless fish, bats and mushrooms, which abound in great profusion in this wonderful cavern... Well known and responsible citizens of Helena who were with me can vouch for the veracity of these statements... We succeeded in capturing one of the females. She is a genuine mermaid, beyond all question. About fifty others that were playing with her on the banks of the subterranean lake plunged into its deep waters as the exploring party approached them... She is a very beautiful creature with pearly teeth. Her hair is raven black and falls in great profusion and luxuriousness about four feet down her back. She is a fine specimen physically, stands about five feet ten inches and weighs one hundred and seventy pounds."
He went on to state that a doctor who was in the party captured a male, and was building a large glass tank so that he could display the mer-man in the rotunda of the Helena Hotel. The story even came with a signed affidavit, which proclaimed:
To Whom It May Concern: Before me, a notary public, in and for the county of Lewis and Clark, state of Montana, appeared Dr. C.K. Cole, Attorney General Haskell, Judge Armitage and Jerome Norris, who hereby testifies on oath that a race of amphibious human beings, with scales and tails, was discovered in a subterranean lake near the Broadwater hotel, Feb. 26, 1892.
The affidavit was signed James Sanders, Sr., Notary Public, Helena, Montana. The newspaper announced that it would follow up on the story. It was later reported that none of Mulhattan's "witnesses" could be located. After that the hoax just quietly faded away.
From livescience.com an article called Mermaids and other Marine Monsters says…
Modern mermaid reports are very rare, but they do occur; for example, news reports in 2009 claimed that a mermaid had seen sighted off the coast of Israel in the town of town of Kiryat Yam. It (or she) performed a few tricks for onlookers before just before sunset, then disappearing for the night. One of the first people to see the mermaid, Shlomo Cohen, said, "I was with friends when suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way. At first I thought she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared. We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail." The town's tourism board was delighted with their newfound fame and offered a $1 million reward for the first person to photograph the creature. Unfortunately the reports vanished almost as quickly as they surfaced, and no one ever claimed the reward.
In 2012 an Animal Planet special, "Mermaids: The Body Found," renewed interest in mermaids. It presented the story of scientists finding proof of real mermaids in the oceans. It was fiction but presented in a fake-documentary format that seemed realistic. The show was so convincing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received enough inquiries following the TV special that they issued a statement officially denying the existence of mermaids.
A temple in Fukuoka, Japan, is said to house the remains of a mermaid that washed ashore in 1222. Its bones were preserved at the behest of a priest who believed the creature had come from the legendary palace of a dragon god at the bottom of the ocean. For nearly 800 years the bones have been displayed, and water used to soak the bones was said to prevent diseases. Only a few of the bones remain, and since they have not been scientifically tested, their true nature remains unknown.
Mermaids may be ancient, but they are still with us in many forms; their images can be found all around us in films, books, Disney movies, at Starbucks — and maybe even in the ocean waves if we look close enough.