Famous Hoaxes History of the Cardiff Giant

About the Cardiff Giant one of the most famous hoaxes in history.


"A Wonderful Discovery"

On Oct. 15, 1869, two laborers digging a well on the farm of William Newell, near Cardiff, N.Y., came upon the intact body of an enormous fossilized man, 10 ft. 4 1/2 in. in height and weighing 2,990 lb. Three days later, a Syracuse newspaper ran the headline "A Wonderful Discovery," and soon all the world was alerted.

Experts of every variety congregated about the Cardiff Giant. Two professors from Yale, one a paleontologist and the other a chemist, pronounced the giant a true fossil. Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed. The director of the New York State Museum decided that the giant was a statue, but ancient, and "the most remarkable object yet brought to light in this country." Oliver Wendell Holmes agreed.

But there were those who disagreed. The president of Cornell University thought that the giant was concocted of gypsum and that he detected the marks of a sculptor's chisel. A renowned sculptor was summoned, and he declared the whole thing a hoax. While the controversy continued, the happy farmer, Newell, pitched a tent over the Cardiff Giant and dispensed tickets, first at 50 each, then at 500, and later at $1.

Showman Phineas T. Barnum hurried an agent to the scene to look things over. The agent was less interested in the giant or its authenticity than in the 3,000 persons-many having arrived by special trains from Syracuse-pushing and shoving to view the attraction. Informed of the giant's prowess, Barnum was aroused. He offered Newell $60,000 for a three-month lease of the object, but the farmer refused. Barnum cajoled; the farmer remained immovable.

Annoyed, Barnum hired a Syracuse sculptor, Prof. Carl C. F. Otto, to duplicate the giant in every detail. When a syndicate finally bought out Newell's discovery and prepared to show it to New York in 1871, the syndicate learned that Barnum was already displaying his own version of the Cardiff Giant under canvas in Brooklyn.

The syndicate went to court for an injunction. Barnum fought back. He stated that he was only showing the hoax of a hoax, and that there was no crime in this. The court sided with Barnum, and thereafter the two massive fossils battled it out for public attention a short distance apart. Desperately, the hapless syndicate tried to match Barnum's sensational announcements with a huge banner proclaiming: "Genuine. CARDIFF GIANT. Original. Taller Than Goliath Whom David Slew ...P. T. Barnum offered $150,000 for the Giant. THE MOST VALUABLE SINGLE EXHIBIT IN THE WORLD TODAY."

Meanwhile, reporters were learning that a former Binghamton cigar maker, George Hull, had been Newell's partner in the showing of the Cardiff Giant. Tracing Hull's history, the reporters found that he had once purchased a great block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Ia.; had employed a stonecutter in Chicago; and had shipped a tremendous box of machinery to Cardiff. Confronted with the mounting evidence of fraud, George Hull broke down and confessed the truth.

Irritated by clergymen (and one Methodist preacher in particular) who were always quoting the line from Genesis about a supersized race- "There were giants in the earth in those days"-Hull had decided to ridicule them. He bought a 12-ft. block of gypsum near his sister's place in Iowa; sent the five-ton stone to the shed of a friend in Chicago; employed stonecutter Edward Salle to carve the giant; then aged it with ink, sand, and sulfuric acid and punctured it full of pores by hammering darning needles into it. He shipped it in the guise of machinery to his cousin's farm-Newell was the relative-buried it for a year, and then dug it up. The entire hoax had cost Hull $2,200 and had earned him $35,000. Barnum's hoax of the hoax-at one point the showman was calling his replica of the Cardiff Giant the original, and the original a fake-had cost Barnum considerably less and earned him much more.

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