Zwaanendael Museum – Lewes, Delaware - Atlas Obscura

Zwaanendael Museum

A grotesque Fiji merman dwells within this traditional Dutch-style building. 


This traditional Dutch-style building houses a not-so-traditional inhabitant: A Fiji merman. From its perch atop a princely blue velvet cushion, the monster-like creature greets visitors in all its grotesque glory.

The Zwaanendael Museum was founded to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Zwaanendael, the first Dutch colony in Delaware. A statue of David Pietersen de Vries, the leader of the group that founded the settlement, crowns the roof.

With its stepped facade, intricately carved spiral stones, and decorated shutters, the building looks a well-preserved sliver of 17th-century Dutch architecture. It was modeled after the old city hall in Hoorn, in the Netherlands.

Not surprisingly, its contents detail the maritime and terrestrial history of the county and its earliest European inhabitants. It’s packed with information on the local history and geography, including exhibits on the shipwrecks and lighthouses dotting the coast.

But one particular item stands out from the rest. The Fiji Merman is perhaps the museum’s most intriguing object. The disturbing creation—the shriveled head of a monkey sewn onto a fish’s body— was made in China in the 19th century. The Martin family, a local family, loaned the strange monster to the museum in the 1940s. After the family died off, the museum purchased it and has continued to display it ever since. 

Know Before You Go

The museum is free to visit, but donations are accepted.

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