What is the ‘Fiji Mermaid’ in Clark County museum? Staff taking it to Kentucky to find out.

The historical society’s artifact will get x-rays and a CT scan at Northern Kentucky University.

A “magical, slightly creepy creature” will make its way to Kentucky from Springfield to find out what it actually is.

The Clark County Historical Society will transport its “Fiji Mermaid” artifact to Northern Kentucky University on Friday to get an x-ray and CT scan to see what is it made of.

The artifact will be taken to NKU’s College of Health and Human Sciences to have a “thorough exam” performed by radiology students.

“More than a century old, this creature was often part of carnivals, ‘museums’ and traveling side shows in the 19th century,” NKU officials said in a release.

Natalie Fritz, archivist and outreach director for the Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center, said the mermaid “has roots” in P.T. Barnum, an American showman from the 1800s who founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus with James Anthony Bailey. He had one that was very popular in his show, which then became something that other places would have.

“Our roots, as a museum, was cool stuff that people had or collected. We had stuff that represented local history,” she said.

Barnum had one in his collection that he described as “an ugly dried-up, black-looking diminutive specimen, about 3 feet long. Its mouth was open, its tail turned over, and its arms thrown up, giving it the appearance of having died in great agony.”

Fritz said the mermaid, which she describes as a monkey fish, was donated in September 1906 by someone named L.C. Bishop who was in the Navy and purchased it in Japan. It has been in their cabinet of curiosities display, which was removed and has been stored in the front of the museum until the items are reinstalled somewhere else.

“We have the original ledger book and went back through to check the date of when it was donated,” she said. “One member of our collection staff is doing more research on them to find out their story.”

The historical society decided to take the artifact to the university after they were contacted by Brian Hackett, an associate professor and director at NKU, who knew they had the artifact. NKU previously did a project where they did a CT scan of the mummy at the Cincinnati Museum Center and sought another project.

“They were looking for a similar project, like an unknown antique, to shed some like on and give a good experience to the students in the radiology program ... A unique experience to have for the students,” Fritz said.

Fritz said it will be interesting to find out what the Fiji mermaid is actually made of, and they should find out the results Friday.

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