October 16, 1869 marked the beginning of one of the most intriguing and bold hoaxes of the 19th century. It could not have come at a better time as the momentum of the Medieval jubilee over religious relics had not slowed, and the modern-day fascination with freaks, anomalies, and oddities was in full swing. Throngs and masses would accumulate around anything fabled, religious, strange, curious, or bizarre.
This particular curiosity was the brainchild of George Hull who undoubtedly woke the sleepy community of Cardiff, New York. The petrified giant man, standing 10 feet tall, was discovered by a crew of men digging a well for Mr. William C. "Stub" Newell on his property. It did not take long for the word of a petrified giant unearthed to sweep like a firestorm throughout New York and beyond.
Mr. Newell immediately organized his efforts to safeguard the giant on his property and to make the most of this discovery financially. He initially charged twenty-five cents a head (average of $4-$5 today)to see the giant, but due to demand he upped the price two days later to charged fifty cents a head (average of $8-$10 today) to come onto his property and see the giant man. This extravagant pricing did not deter the curious onlookers who desperately wanted to see what was being touted as a Biblical giant by some news sources.
While some believed the discovery was actually the remains of a once living human, others expressed the thought it was a giant statue, perhaps a graven image of a god or heroic figure. Whatever people said or news sources published it was obvious the public was enamored and wanted to see the giant for themselves; regardless of the truth.
The truth being George Hull was spurred to created the stone giant after a heated discussion with a Reverend of the Methodist faith. The Reverend argued the Bible was to be taken literally, and the Genesis, Chapter 6, Verse 4 reads "There were giants in the earth in those days..." meant literal giants walked the earth. Mr. Hull, an athiest, felt the Bible was less literal and more subjective. From the argument was born the idea for Mr. Hull to create a stone giant, bury it to be found, allow the imaginations of the public to tout the giant as a realization of the Biblical passage, while quietly mocking those who believed and making money off not only them but people from any and all faiths.
Mr. Hull's entreprenurial and Machiavellian spirit paid off... from a $2,600 investment (approximately $46,600 today) he made $37,500 (approximately $672,000 today) when a group of capitalists paid Mr. Hull for the giant so it could be moved to Syracuse, New York where it would garner greater publicity and financial promise. The Cardiff Giant went on display at Bastable.
The move to Syracuse proved to be the undoing of the entire plot as with greater publicity came greater scrutiny. Othniel C. Marsh, who was a renowned paleontologist from Yale, took the time to review this miraculous find. He went on record as saying it was "a most decided humbug", and pointed out obvious mistakes in the craftsmanship; namely the blatantly visible chisel marks. This public outing by Marsh which spurred others to agree with Marsh while staunch believers defended the Cardiff giant swearing to its authenticity.
However, the move to Syracuse marked the beginning of a downward spiral for the Cardiff giant as the immense interest in the petrified man caused a chain reaction of events which ultimately led to a discovery of the truth.
The showman P.T. Barnum was not one to be left out of a good thing and he offered the capitalists who bought the Cardiff giant from Mr. Hull $60,000 ($1 million dollars today) for just a 3 month lease of the giant. The group of capitalists, headed by David Hannum, refused Mr. Barnum's offer who sought his own brand of revenge for being rejected. He commissioned an artist to build an exact replica of the Cardiff giant, erected the giant statue in his museum in New York City and immediately began the claim that the Cardiff giant in Syracuse was a fake while his was the "real" Cardiff giant.
The claims of Mr. Barnum appeared in the newspapers and Mr. Hannum was quoted as saying in reponse to the fact people were paying to see Mr. Barnum's copy "there's a sucker born every minute" (a famous quote often misattributed to Barnum instead of David Hannum).
Mr. Hannum was not going to back down from a major investment, or let Mr. Barnum steal his profitable thunder, and he sued Mr. Barnum for creating a copy of the Cardiff giant and claiming it was real. It was reported that the time of the lawsuit Mr. Barnum's copy of the Cardiff giant was drawing bigger crowds and earning more money than the original.
Seeing the fanned flames of two men embroiled in a legal battle over whose giant was the real Cardiff giant, George Hull came out to the press on February 02, 1870. Upon his confession it was publically revealed both giants were fakes and the courts ruled that Mr. Hannum could not sue Mr. Barnum over faking a fake.
The details of Mr. Hull's ingenious plot to mock and profit from Biblical literalists came to light. Mr. Hull ordered the block of gypsum from Fort Dodge, Iowa and had the 10', 4 1/2" long block sent to Chicago under the guise the block was going to be used as a monument to Abraham Lincoln. Once in Chicago Mr. Hull hired German stonecutter Edward Burghardt to create the Cardiff giant. What incentive Mr. Hull offered Mr. Burghardt for his vow of secrecy was not reported. They used mixture of acids and toxic fluids to create the weathered look on the stone and to create random staining. The surface of the gypsum was beaten with needles on a paddle to create the porous look for the supposed petrified skin.
Once completed, in November 1868, Mr. Hull had the giant transported by train to the farm of his cousin (William C. Newell). The left the giant buried for nearly a year and waited for the perfect opportunity of discovery. The opportunity was created when Mr. Newell hired Henry Nichols and Gideon Emmons to dig a well.
A profitable venture for all included in this tale of one of North America's most interesting hoaxes. The giant remains on display in Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York. While the rabid interest of the Cardiff giant has waned over the last 146 years its appeal as a hoax remains a curiosity to those seeking the bizarre and weird in the world.