If there are some sure ingredients to fast and sleezy wealth they have to include superstition, quackery, humbug, and outright fraud.  As stated in one of P.T. Barnum’s, less famous quotes, “Advertising is to a genuine article what manure is to land, – it largely increases the product.” I mention P.T. Barnum only that he became a beneficiary of a most financially auspicious event.

The setting for the tale was a little farm in Onondaga County, New York near the small town of Cardiff. On October 16, 1869. Laborers had been digging a well when they came upon an amazing discovery.  Lo and behold, they found what looked to be a petrified man.  The fellow was enormous. He was taller than ten-feet. His feet were 19-and-a-half inches long. His hands were seven-inches wide, and his shoulders measured a full yard across.

People around the area couldn’t comprehend what had been found.  One expert said, for sure, he was one giant naked man.  Some people thought he was the petrified remains of a race of giants. There were even a scattered few who silently believed that the object was simply a giant-sized hoax.

Indeed, the Cardiff Giant was the humbug of an insightful man, named George Hull.  He didn’t understand why some people believe every single thing they read in the Bible. He was especially astonished that folks put much faith into the statement about a time when there were giants in the Earth.

Hull dreamed up his scheme to carve a giant man from stone, then keep it buried for a year to make it look really old. He then would manage to have it “accidentally discovered” later on. Hull had some powerful motivation of revenge to go through with his scheme.  He’d had enough of the Biblical literalists of his day who ridiculed Hull for his more open minded interpretation of the book. He believed, correctly, that the petrified man could make religious literalists look foolish. Not only that, but Hull could probably make a handsome sum of cash out of the project, too.

Because there were no radios, tvs, movies, nor Internet back then, people didn’t have as much for diversion or entertainment like we enjoy today.  So, Hull and his employees charged admission to view the Giant Petrified Man. During the first week, they took in thousands of dollars.

Soon, the “find” was put on tour in the Northeastern United States. The exhibit was wildly famous and attracted the attention of P.T. Barnum who unsuccessfully tried to purchase the thing for his own sideshows. Barnum went ahead and had a fake copy created for his own uses.

A few months later, Hull finally revealed the truth about the famous Giant. Even after the revelation of the prank, many Christian fundamentalists and evangelical preachers continued to vouch for the Giants authenticity.  Because of the religionists and general public’s curiosity, the exhibit and Barnum’s remained mildly popular for a couple of years. But, after awhile the memories of the scam faded away, almost completely.

P.T. Barnum’s copy of the fake was said to be sold to an oddities museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The owner of “Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum” swears that it’s the authentic fake of the fake.

The last public appearance of the original prank copy of the Cardiff Giant was in the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, but it was of little interest to fair goers.  An Iowa newspaperman purchased the Giant as a decoration for his home. The piece was then sold to the Farmer’s Museum of Cooperstown, New York in 1947. Evidently, it remains on display, there.

 


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