Nearly 150 years ago, a 10-foot-tall petrified man called “Cardiff Giant” fooled America. One of the most famous hoaxes ever witnessed in American history, it inspired many other hoaxes later.
American history has witnessed several hoaxes, but Cardiff Giant is among the most famous hoaxes. Cardiff Giant was purportedly a 10-foot-tall gigantic “petrified man” that fooled America during the 19th century. It was unearthed on 16 October 1869 by workers who dug a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York.
This and an unofficial replica created by PT Barnum are still on display. And in the 21st century, you’ll discover internet hoaxes popping up every now and then.
A New York tobacconist named George Hull created the giant. After having an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about Genesis 6:4 (stating that giants once lived on Earth), Hull decided to create the giant.
Hull had commissioned men for carving out a 10 foot and 4.5-inch long block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa. he told them that it would be used for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. shipping this block to Chicago, he hired a German stonecutter Edward Burghardt for carving it in shape of a man and asked to keep it as a secret.
Many stains and acids were used to make it look old and worn out. The giant’s surface was thrashed with steel knitting needles embedded in a board for creating pores. In November 1868, the giant was transported by railroad to the farm of William Newell who was Hull’s cousin. Till then, Hull had spent nearly US$2600 for the hoax (equivalent to almost $46,000 in 2015).
And almost a year later, Newell had hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols supposedly to dig a well. On 16 October 1869, the giant was discovered. A worker reportedly exclaimed,
"I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!"
Newell had established a tent over the giant and kept 25 cents as the exhibition fee for those interested in seeing it. 2 days later, the price was doubled to 50 cents. The archaeological scholars called the giant fraud and some geologists didn’t even see any good reason to dig a well at the exact spot where the giant was discovered. Yale paleontologist Othniel C Marsh described it as “a most decided humbug”. However, some preachers and theologians stood up for its authenticity.
Later on, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 (equivalent to $436,000 in 2016) to a syndicate of 5 men headed by David Hannum. They moved it to Syracuse, New York for the exhibition. The giant garnered huge attention from people and the showman P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. After the syndicate refused, Barnum commissioned a man to secretly model the giant's shape in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display in New York, claiming that this is the real giant and the Cardiff Giant is a fake.
When the newspapers reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute" with reference to spectators who were paying to see Barnum's giant.
Hannum took legal action for Barnum called his giant a fake. But the judge asked him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable dictate. On December 10, Hull confessed to the press. On 2 February 1870, both the giants were exposed as frauds in the court. And, the judge ruled that Barnum couldn’t be sued for calling a fake giant a fake. (3.1)
At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, the Cardiff giant was put on display but it didn’t catch much public attention. Later, Iowa publisher Gardner Cowles, Jr. bought it to decorate 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 one can catch a glimpse of it today.
Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum’s owner has said that Barnum’s replica is displayed there. Another replica is displayed at The Fort Museum and Frontier Village in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
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