The Cardiff Giant was one of the most famous hoaxes in American history. It was a 10-foot-tall (3.0 m) purported "petrified man" uncovered on October 16, 1869, by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. "Stub" Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P. T. Barnum are still being displayed. The original is currently on display at The Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Creation and discovery
The giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about Genesis 6:4, which states that there were giants who once lived on Earth.
The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. During 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter claiming that a prospector had been petrified when he had drunk a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers also had published stories of supposedly petrified people.
Hull hired men to quarry out a 10-foot-4.5-inch-long (3.2 m) block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired Edward Burghardt, a German stonecutter, to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.
Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant's surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. During November 1868, Hull transported the giant by railroad to the farm of his cousin, William Newell. By then, he had spent US$2,600 (equivalent to $49,940 in 2019) for the hoax.
Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and on October 16, 1869, they found the giant. One of the men reportedly exclaimed, "I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!"
Exhibition and exposure as fraud
Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged $0.25 (equivalent to $4.8 in 2019) for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he doubled the price. People came by the wagonload.
Archaeological scholars pronounced the giant a fake, and some geologists noticed that there was no good reason to try to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. Yale paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh examined the statue, pointed out that it was made of soluble gypsum, which, had it been buried in its blanket of wet earth for centuries, would not still have fresh tool marks on it (which it did), and termed it "a most decided humbug". Some theologians and preachers, however, defended its authenticity.
Eventually, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 (equivalent to $465,024 in 2019) to a syndicate of five men headed by David Hannum. They moved it to Syracuse, New York, for exhibition. The giant drew such crowds that showman P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. When the syndicate refused, he hired a man to model the giant's shape covertly in wax and create a plaster replica. He displayed his giant in New York, claiming that his was the real giant, and the Cardiff Giant was a fake.
As the newspapers reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute" in reference to spectators paying to see Barnum's giant. Since then, the quotation has often been misattributed to Barnum himself.
Hannum sued Barnum for calling his giant a fake, but the judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction.
On December 10, 1869, Hull confessed everything to the press, and on February 2, 1870, both giants were revealed as fakes in court; the judge also ruled that Barnum could not be sued for terming a fake giant a fake.
Subsequent and current resting places
Iowa publisher Gardner Cowles, Jr. bought it later to adorn his basement rumpus room as a coffee table and conversation piece. In 1947 he sold it to the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where it is still displayed.
The owner of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, a coin-operated game arcade and museum of oddities in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has said that the replica displayed there is Barnum's replica.
A replica of the Giant is displayed at The Fort Museum and Frontier Village in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
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The Cardiff Giant has inspired a number of similar hoaxes.
- In 1876 the Solid Muldoon was exhibited in Beulah, Colorado, at 50 cents a ticket. There was also a rumor that Barnum had offered to buy it for $20,000. One employer later revealed that this was also a creation of George Hull, aided by Willian Conant. The Solid Muldoon was made of clay, ground bones, meat, rock dust, and plaster.
- In 1879, the owner of a hotel at what is now Taughannock Falls State Park hired men to create a fake petrified man and place it where workmen would dig it up. One of the men who had buried the giant later revealed the truth when drunk.
- During 1897, a petrified man found downriver from Fort Benton, Montana, was claimed by promoters to be the remains of former territorial governor and U.S. Civil War General Thomas Francis Meagher. Meagher had drowned in the Missouri River during 1867. The petrified man was displayed across Montana as a novelty and exhibited in New York and Chicago.
- Magnusson 2006, p. 188
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- Kemmick, Ed. "'Petrified' man was big attraction in turn-of-the-last-century Montana" Archived 2016-07-24 at the Wayback Machine Billings Gazette, March 13, 2009
- Tribble, Scott (2009), A Colossal Hoax: The Giant From Cardiff that Fooled America, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0-7425-6050-5
- Jacobs, Harvey (1997), American Goliath, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0312194383
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