In 1842, P.T. Barnum purchased what has come to be called the "Feejee Mermaid" (i.e., from the island nation of Fiji) from a Boston museum proprietor. This "mermaid" was a conglomeration of various fish parts and other faked pieces assembled to look like a real mermaid; of course, its authenticity was not promoted by Barnum who merely wished to display the "mermaid" as a curiosity of "artful deception." Considering Crockett's love for the outdoors and for nature, he most probably would have bought a ticket to see the mermaid at Barnum's museum and thus would have enjoyed the exhibit, mostly due to his innate curiosity as pointed out in his narrative and his love for nature, but since Crockett was not a stupid nor gullible man, he most assuredly would not have been fooled by Barnum's "mermaid" and would have viewed it yet another gimmick to fool the common man or woman and thus profit from their gullability. As a demagogue, Crockett would also have not liked the idea of the mermaid as a "promise" to the viewer in regard to its authenticity, for Crockett surely would have considered any attempt to make money from gullible customers as outright theft.
Question # 4: How would William Otter respond to Barnum's "What Is It?" exhibit? How would he describe it? Would he enjoy the exhibit? Would he demand his money back? Answer should draw on both James Cook's account of the exhibit and evidence from A History of My Own Times.
In his book The Arts of deception, James W. Cook describes an exhibit in Barnum's museum called "What Is It?," promoted in the museum's literature as "Nondescript," meaning something that cannot easily be identified or recognized, much like Barnum's "Feejee mermaid." This exhibit featured a black man with a shaved head, dressed in furs or tights while grunting and consuming what appeared to be a meal of "African" origin; obviously, Barnum was attempting to parody the traditional racist view of the black man as an "African" primitive far beyond the bounds of ordinary New York civilization. For William Otter, this exhibit, due to his New York City roots, would have been seen as quite hilarious yet somehow reminiscent of the streets of New York with its roving bands of thieves and rowdies, some of whom were most assuredly African-American. As to enjoying the exhibit, Otter would most probably have thoroughly liked it, for it may have reminded him of his own early roots working as a "slave" in various low-paying and often unglamorous professions in New York City. Also, Otter may have understood the true meaning of this exhibit -- a symbolic reflection of life on the streets of the city with many people living as animals while the rich and powerful enjoyed their luxuries and wealth. Of course, Otter would not have asked for his money back; in fact, he may have returned to Barnum's museum to see this exhibit several times.