Have you seen the Cardiff Giant? I had seen him many years ago and then again last weekend when we visited The Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York. I believe there were once giants, don’t you? The reason I ask this is because the Cardiff Giant
came into being over an argument about whether giants ever existed. George Hull, an atheist and cigar manufacturer debated with a Methodist minister, who believed there were giants. Hull remembered Genesis 6:4 and its reference to “giants in the earth.” He wondered if he buried a stone giant in the ground would people be convinced that the statue was a petrified giant? He decided to find out.
Hull hired men to carve a 10 foot tall giant out of a block of gypsum. This was all done in secret and when the figure was finished, Hull washed it with sulfuric acid and pounded it with darning needles to make it look old. What was this man thinking that moved him to the extent he went to? It cost him $2600 and Hull figured that enough people would want to see it for him to make a profit. Ridiculous! Don’t you think so? Well, let’s go on with our story.
Unbeknown to a cousin, William Newell, the giant hoax was buried in his yard in Cardiff, New York. It had been transported there by rail and Hull hoped that residents would soon forget the heavily loaded wagon that rolled through town that day. He waited one year before proceeding with his plans. He was allowing for the dirt to settle around his burial plot and for brush to grow there. Then on October 16,1869, Newell hired two men to dig a well. They found the giant. One of the men exclaimed, “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here.”
How did the public react to the finding of this fake giant? It was immediately denounced as a fraud, but not by all. People came by the wagon loads and were charged 25c cents to see it. A day later, the price was raised to 50 cents. A debate over its authenticity raged long enough for Hull to make $30,000 charging admission at 50 cent a peek. Eventually, he sold his part interest for $23,000 to a syndicate of five men who moved it to Syracuse,
New York. If you’ve ever read the history of P. T. Barnum, you are aware that he was always on the lookout for exhibits like this one that drew crowds. He offered to buy the giant for $50,000, that’s more than $800,000 in today’s money. He was refused, so he hired a man to model the giant’s shape in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display claiming that this was the real giant and Cardiff Giant was fake. It wasn’t until both giants appeared in New York City at the same time that the hoax was finally acknowledged by everyone. The Cardiff Giant appeared in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, but did not attract much attention.
Later on, an Iowa publisher bought it to adorn his basement family room as a coffee table and conversation piece. After years of haggling, the New York Historical Association bought the giant for $30,000 and brought it to Cooperstown, where it now resides at the Farmers Museum. The small town of Cardiff, its original resting place, is nearby. At the
Farmer’s Museum, it lies just inside the entrance way to the museum, in a stately old, stone barn. Because my husband and I visited there, I got to see the Cardiff Giant for the second time. This time I paid greater attention to the display. If you decide to visit the giant hoax be sure to read all the copies of newspaper articles, posters and signs, written at the the time of its discovery. It is most interesting to note how people wanted to believe that it was not a hoax and how thousands flocked to see it. It’s second owner, David Hannum, sued P. T. Barnum for calling his giant a fake. The judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction. 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.
P.S. This story cannot end as yet, because Ty Marshall has just recently recreated his version of the Cardiff Giant and according to the Syracuse New Times, it will be on display, October 23 through the 31st of this year, at a local event and may be seen for a quarter. By the way, the giant sculpted for P. T. Barnum can be seen at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan. All three giants are fake, yet interest in them still remains.