Learn about one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated in the United States: the discovery of a 3-meter tall giant, whose feet alone were 53 cm long, which proved that what the Bible says is true! Let’s begin with the most fascinating facts about the Cardiff Giant of 1869. Read on!
1. How It All Began
The Giant of Cardiff was a practical joke by George Hull. The idea seems to be materialized from a visit to his sister’s home, in Iowa.
In 1866, he entered an argument with Turkish Reverend from the Methodist Church.
Hull did not believe that everything in the Bible could be considered historical fact, and challenged the reverend to explain the passage from Genesis 6:4, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward -when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown”.
This way, one of the biggest hoax of America was born.
2. Creating The Legend Of The Giant
In 1868, Hull managed to procure a large block of a mineral called Gypsum from a quarry near the Fort Dodge. The gypsum was shipped to Chicago where Hull hired Edward Burghardt, a marble cutter, to sculpt a statue of a man as though he had been laid to rest.
Edward Burghard, Henry Salle, and Fred Mohrmann worked from July to September on Hull’s order. Naturally, the sculptors had modeled the piece on Hull’s own physical features, which would not serve the Hull’s purpose at all.
Then they changed some details that marked the similarities, and Hull then took some special precautions to make the statue seem old enough to resemble a petrified man. The giant was 3 meters in height and had 53-centimeter long feet. Acid was poured on it so that it had an ancient look.
In New York, there was an area called “Burned Over District”, due to a religious revival that had taken over the area in the second half of the 18th century. Hull decided that this would be a good place to “bury” the giant, because he felt that those particular people would easily convince with concept of the “giant” as proof of their beliefs.
Hull had a cousin named William Stubb Newell, who owned a farm near this place, a place called Cardiff, in the vicinity of Syracuse. Newell helped bury the giant in his farm, waiting for the day that it would be discovered.
On Saturday, 16 October 1869, the next part of the lie began. The “discovery” took place when Newell called Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols to help him dig a new well (an improbable excuse since Newell had a perfectly good well near the house, and a stream running near the barn). When the diggers had dug about 1.5 meters deep, they hit the giant. The news spread fast and, in the next few days, visitors began to arrive to see it with their own eyes.
3. Hull Started To Monetize His Concept Of Hoax
Now that the stage was set, and these visitors started spreading the news far and beyond, they started collecting the fruits of their labor. On the following Monday, Newell had raised a tent over the statue and began charging 50 cents for the right to watch the giant for 15 minutes. Hearing the news, people from various locations abandoned their business and traveled long distances to reach to Cardiff and see the incredible discovery.
The speculation about Goliath started immediately. And those who interpreted the Bible literally claimed it was evidence of their religious beliefs. Articles written in newspapers of the time reinforced those ideas, and people naturally felt that it was the truth.
Late Mr. Andrew D. White, President of Cornell University wrote: “There was evidently much joy in believing this wonder, and this was increased by the peculiar American superstition that the veracity of a belief is judged by the number of people who can be persuaded accept it. There was evidently much joy in believing this wonder, and this was increased by the peculiar American superstition that the veracity of a belief is judged by the number of people who can be persuaded accept it.”
White was away from the USA at the time of the discovery, but he became suspicious as soon as he heard the news. White described a conversation he had with a “highly respected deacon of the Presbyterian Church, former judge of the county”, in which, White says, “I asked him about it, quite jokingly, fully expecting to hear his laughter, but, to my surprise, he became very serious. He said: I assure you that this is not a lie; it is a very serious thing. There are questions about this, and how it was made, and I advise you to get come down there and see for yourself.”
4. Many Speculations Took Place For Facts VS Farce Of The Cardiff Giant
Experts gave their opinions, of course. Many students and theologians went there to see the wonder, and were convinced that a great discovery had, in fact, been made. White described meeting some of these men (before they examined the statue), and warning them of the damage to their reputation if they endorsed as authentic something that would turn out to be a farce. But it seems his warnings were not serious enough.
In Mr. White’s words, “They came, they saw, they narrowly escaped being convinced.” One of the men of White had alerted was Dr. James Hall, a geologist. After he saw the giant, Hall said: “Generally speaking, it is the most extraordinary object we have ever seen in this country, and yet the stone age was not so long ago, therefore, it deserves the attention of archaeologists.” Mr. White wrote about his comment: “So far, I have been more discouraged about the possibility of fabrication prevailing among men”.
Surprisingly, along Mr. White, there were several skeptics who recognized the giant of Cardiff as farce. Mr. White was more relieved and looked for a strong ally, which turned out to be Othniel C. Marsh, professor of paleontology at Yale. According to the legend, Marsh, when he saw the giant said: “This is quite extraordinary”. And when a reporter asked if Marsh could be quoted on that, Marsh said: “Absolutely not. But you can quote me on this, however: This is a most decided humbug!” In the meantime, Newell’s farm was receiving hundreds of people every day, each one of them depositing 50 cents to see this wonder.
A week after the discovery, a group of investors from Syracuse, led by David Hannum, bought the giant for nearly three thousand dollars. Eventually these businessmen decided that it would be better business to move the giant to Bestable Arcade in Syracuse, to make it more accessible to the paying public.
5. The Giant Of PT Barnum
But there was another man who was also interested in acquiring the statue. PT Barnum had sent an agent to see the giant and report what he found. The agent was then instructed to make an offer for the giant, which was refused. He then offered twice the first amount, which was also rejected. Barnum simply made another giant, then, which he announced as being the original “Cardiff Giant,” claiming that the one on display in Syracuse was a copy.
When the two giants were put side by side, it was decided that PT Barnum’s was better! PT Barnum has received credit for saying: “There is a sucker born every minute.” In some versions, the phrase is attributed to David Hannum.
6. The Discovery Of The Fraud
Gradually, the story of a large wagon carrying heavy wooden boxes about a year before the giant was discovery spread. Then, it was discovered that Newell was getting money from Hull, and Hull himself was recognized as the man traveling with the mysterious wagon.
In the meantime, the men in Syracuse were their best to protect their investment and defend their property. They sued PT Barnum, claiming that their giant was the original one, but they were surprised when Hull appeared in front of everyone and declared it all to have been a joke. The judge ruled that, since the Cardiff giant was nothing but a forgery, they would not pursue the case. All the stone cutters from Chicago were called for to tell their story.
Can you imagine how awkward that was for the many prominent people who had endorsed the giant as authentic? At this time, there was no doubt about the original statue.
But this is not the end of the story! After the giant was exposed as a fraud, Alexander McWhorter, an undergraduate from Yale, claimed he had found strange inscriptions on the statue. But his claims and the whole matter were soon forgotten.
Nowadays, Hull’s giant belongs to the New York Historical Association, and can be seen in the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Barnum’s giant is now in the Musel Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical in Farmington Hills, Michigan.