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The Cardiff Giant was one of the most famous hoaxes in United States history. It was a 10 foot-tall 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 on display.
The Giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument with a fundamentalist minister named Mr. Turk about the passage in Genesis 6:4 that there were giants who once lived on earth.
The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. In 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter that claimed that a prospector had been petrified when he had drunk a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers had also published stories of supposedly petrified people.
Hull hired men to carve out a 10 ft long, 4.5-inch 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 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. Then Hull transported the giant by rail to the farm of William Newell, his cousin, in November 1868. He had by then spent US$2,600 on 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!"
Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged 25 cents for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he increased the price to 50 cents.
Archaeological scholars pronounced the giant a fake, and some geologists even noticed that there was no good reason to try to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. Some Christian fundamentalists and preachers, however, defended its legitimacy.
Eventually Hull sold his part-interest for $37,500 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 $60,000 for a three-month lease of it (in his memoirs he said he wanted to buy it). When the syndicate turned him down he hired a man to covertly model the giant's shape in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display 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 the suckers paying to see Barnum's giant. Over time, the quotation has been misattributed to P.T. Barnum himself.
Hannum sued Barnum, but the judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction.
Scholars also criticized the giant. Yale palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh called it "a most decided humbug". On December 10, Hull confessed to the press.
On February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.
The Cardiff Giant has inspired a number of similar hoaxes.
- In 1876 The Solid Muldoon emerged in Beulah, Colorado and was exhibited 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 1877, the owner of Taughannock House hotel on Cayuga Lake, New York, hired men to create a fake petrified man and place it where the workers that were expanding the hotel would dig it up. One of the men who had buried the giant later revealed the truth when drunk.
- In 1892 Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, de facto ruler of the town of Creede, Colorado, purchased a petrified man for $3,000 and exhibited it for 10 cents a peek. Soapy's profits did not come from displaying "McGinty," as he named it, but rather from distractions, like the shell game set up to entertain the crowds as they waited in line. He also profited by selling interests in the exhibition. This was a real human body, intentionally injected with chemicals for preservation and petrification. Soapy displayed McGinty from 1892 to 1895 throughout Colorado and the northwest United States.
- In 1899 a petrified man found in ort Benton, Montana was "identified" as US Civil War General Thomas Francis Meagher. Meagher had drowned in the Missouri River two years previously. The petrified man was transported to New York for exhibition.
Current resting place
The Cardiff Giant appeared in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition but did not attract much attention. An Iowa publisher 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 on display. The owner of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, a coin-operated game arcade/museum of oddities in Farmington Hills, Michigan, claims that the replica on display there is Barnum's replica. The Farmer's Museum booklet about its artifact used to tease the public by citing an authority who questioned the conclusion that it was a fraud.
- . Cardiff Giant.
- . Joe Nicklell. "Cardiff's Giant Hoax" Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33, Issue 3; May/June 2009; Page 60
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