Step right up! Come on down to Coney Island! See the dead whale, buy a hot dog!
Yes, in the summer of 1954 someone thought it would be a good idea to exhibit a giant, dead, rotting whale in Coney Island! To sell hot dogs!
And who would do such a thing? Why, Nathan's of course!
Yes, that's right, Nathan's Famous - the worldwide symbol of the hot dog!
In 1953, a 70-ton Finback whale named "Mrs. Haroy" (named for an island it was found near) was being exhibited in Manhattan and Nathan's decided that Mrs. Haroy would be the perfect attraction for a lot they had down the street from their restaurant.
In April of 1954 a deal was struck to bring Mrs. Haroy to the lot down the street from Nathan's!
Mrs. Haroy was a 7 year old adult Finback Whale (also known as a Fin Whale) that measured 75 feet long, and weighing from 60 to 70 tons. She was caught because an antique rug dealer named Leif Soegaard had a dream to put a dead whale on display for educational purposes - to teach school kids and the public about whales. So, he thought, why not go get one?
In September of 1951, after searching for a whale that was big enough for him, Soegaard found Mrs. Haroy off the coast of the island of Haroy (aka Haroya) in the Netherlands. They took her down with a harpoon and with men at the ready, injected her with 7 tons of Formalin, which is a mix of formaldehyde and water, to preserve her.
Soon after, Mrs. Haroy started on a tour of 60 cities in 7 European countries, with over 6,000,000 people paying to see her! She was displayed on a special rail car that was built for her in Germany, measuring 90 feet long and weighing 50 tons, with sixteen wheels.
Soegaard really wanted to exhibit Mrs. Haroy in an educational and scientific manner - Mrs. Haroy had her organs put on display as well, for the public to learn about whale biology - her heart, which weighed 1,100 pounds, and also her liver (2,000 lbs.) and her kidney (1,200 lbs.).
Mrs. Haroy toured Europe for over a year, and then Soegaard prepared her for a trip to America!
The whale arrived in America on March 27th, 1953 in Brooklyn, and was transported to a holding facility in Weehawken, New Jersey where the rail car would be modified to work with American train lines, and the whale could be prepared to be exhibited in the United States. It ended up staying in Weehawken for almost a year, because Soegaard had trouble finding the perfect place to exhibit the whale.
Soegaard really wanted the exhibition of his giant dead whale to be educational:
"It means so much to Soegaard to show Mrs. Haroy in a scientific manner, as he did in Europe, rather than send it on the road with carnivals or out to Coney Island."
So he brought the whale to Broadway!
Maurice Chalfin, of "Holiday On Ice", obtained exclusive rights to exhibit Mrs. Haroy in the United States, and Vernon L. McReavy, who had been the promotional director of the Cole Brothers Circus, was put in charge of publicity.
They found a site at the corner of 69th Street and Broadway in Manhattan to exhibit their whale. Chalfin and his partner Perkins had a 50-foot-long facade erected, standing 26 feet high, to show off the whale. On the facade, they hung an Artkraft-Strauss painting 50 feet long, depicting Mrs. Haroy erected above the turnstiles, with painted signs out and everything being lit.
The whale is accompanied by large paintings of nautical scenes and a mounted whaling equipment collection, and will soon have a stuffed polar bear and an eskimo kayak.
Also on display was Princess Minnie the fieldmouse - Soegaard said that he wanted to display them together to show off one of the Earth's largest mammals alongside one of the smallest.
The price was 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children, and 15 cents for school groups plus tax.
Additional revenue was to be made from sale of balloons in the shape of the whale and from 25 cent souvenir booklets explaining the whale's history, made by Banahan. The booklet is an illustrated text on whales, containing scientific information and profuse illustrations. A dissertation, "Giants of the Deep", carries the byline of Dr. Robert Cushman Murphy, of the American Museum of Natural History.
Although they got free publicity by driving the whale through Manhattan, they pushed hard with advertising and even had a press party on March 26th, 1953. One columnist wrote about being invited to the party, where Jazz legend Louis Armstrong, who was appearing at the time in Basin Street on Broadway, would be playing "Jonah and the Whale" on his trumpet.
Mrs. Haroy was exhibited in this space at 69th and Broadway for two months before it was announced that a new showplace had been found for her, this time in Coney Island!
Yes, even though the whale's owner, Leif Soegaard, had said he did not want the whale to be a weird attraction in Coney Island, that's exactly where it was going - Nathan's wanted to exhibit the whale, thinking that it would draw a crowd over to the area. On a lot at 3222 Stillwell Avenue, the site that formerly hosted a "Girl Show", Mrs. Haroy would be put on display for the Coney crowds during the summer.
The exhibit would be tweaked slightly, with the added use of an "outside talker" to draw in the crowd, and the addition of tie-in merchandise sold at a small novelty store on the property.
The whale was moved late at night on April 27th, 1954 and then the whale was put on display and open to the public on May 1st.
Mrs. Haroy was on display in Coney Island for several months over the summer until problems started to arise in July - specifically, the 70 ton whale preserved with formaldehyde did not do well being in the hot summer sun in Coney Island.
It started to stink. One newspaper said that Mrs. Harow was giving off "unladylike odors".
Yes, the stench was so bad that the vendors were losing customers left and right - no one wanted to come see the stinky whale and they definitely were not enticed by the stink, to buy hot dogs and other treats.
Vendors started filing complaints with the city - on June 30th, the whale received its first summons from the Health Department and Leif Soegaard told the court that he would telephone experts in Oslo, to see what would make the whale "socially acceptable".
Soegaard told people visiting on Saturday the 10th that the whale would gone soon because it was going on tour starting on the 12th.
But on the 13th, the whale was still there - and it mysteriously caught fire.
Yes, somehow the platform that the whale was on caught fire, and it caused major damage to Mrs. Haroy - and what the fire did not damage, the firemen did.