Cardiff Giant Hoax Fools Gullible Public
The Cardiff Giant, a gigantic 10-foot tall stone man, emerged out of the ground and into American life on October 16, 1869, when he was discovered by some workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. "Stub" Newell in Cardiff, New York.
Admission Paid To View Discovery
Word of his presence quickly spread and soon thousands of people were making the journey out to the farm to see the colossus. Even when Newell began charging 50 cents a head to have a look at it people still kept coming.
Speculation Rampant On Origins
Speculation ran rampant over what the giant might be. The central debate was between those who thought it was a petrified man and those who believed it to be an ancient statue. The petrifactionists theorized that it was one of the giants mentioned in the Bible, Genesis 6:4, where it says, "There were giants in the earth in those days." Those who promoted the statue theory followed the lead of Dr. John F. Boynton, who speculated that a Jesuit missionary had carved it sometime during the 17th Century to impress the local indians.
Truth Removes Aura Of Mystery Entirely
The truth was somewhat more prosaic. It was actually the creation of an enterprising New York tobacconist named George Hull. The idea of burying a stone giant in the ground occurred to him after he got into an argument with a Methodist reverend about whether the Bible should be taken literally. Hull, an atheist, did not think it should. The reverend disagreed.
To Prove A Point Plus Make Some Money
The reverend insisted that even the passage where it says there were giants in the earth in those days should be read as a literal fact. According to Hull, after this discussion he immediately thought of making a stone and passing it off as a petrified man. He figured he could not only use the fake giant to poke fun at Biblical literalists but also make some money.
Initial Investment Pays Big Dividends
The idea turned out to be a stroke of genius. The entire venture cost him over $2,600 (all done with the collusion of the farmer Newell and the stonecutters who carved the giant), but the gamble paid off when a group of businessmen paid $37,500 to buy the giant and move it to Syracuse, New York where it could be more prominently exhibited.
Giant Scrutinized In New York
In New Yotk the giant came under closer scrutiny. Othniel C. Marsh, a paleontologist from Yale, paid it a visit and declared it to be a clumsy fake. He pointed out that chisel marks were still plainly visible on it. These should have worn away if the giant had been in the ground for any appreciable length of time. Sensing that the game was up (and having already cashed out), Hull confessed. But the public didn't seem to care that it was fake. They kept coming to see it anyway. They even began referring to it affectionately as ‘Old Hoaxey.'
Suckers Have Opportunity To View Admitted Hoax
Recognizing the giant popularity, the great showman P.T. Barnum offered the new owners $60,000 for a three-month lease of it. When his offer was refused, he paid an artist to build an exact plaster replica of it which he then put on display in his museum in New York, New York.
Hoaxers Take Famous Showman To Court
Soon the replica was drawing larger crowds than the original. This competition prompted the owners of the giant to file a lawsuit against Barnum but the judge refused to hear their case unless the genuineness of the orignal could be proven. Sheepishly they dropped their charges. What is believed to be Barnum's replica of the giant is currently on display outside of Detroit, Michigan.
Certainly One Of Most Unforgettable Hoaxes
Many have declared the Cardiff Giant to be the greatest hoax of all time. Whether or not this is the case its huge size and mysterious presence certainly tapped into some strange element of the post-Civil War American psyche. Although the massive public interest in the giant gradually died down it remained popular. Even today people still make the journey to visit it at its permanent home in Cooperstown, New York.