The Giant In The Earth

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Hull’s study of paleontology had led him to conclude that hair did not petrify, so the Giant was bald and clean-shaven. Nor, he decided, should there be any traces of clothing. (The Giant was a giant in every respect, requiring the attachment of a sizable fig leaf in the woodcut illustrations that later appeared in newspapers and pamphlets.) The striations in the gypsum produced a nice effect of veins and musculature, and Hull added skin pores by hammering with a mallet faced with darning needles. The underside of the figure was grooved by scouring with wet sand to imitate the erosive effects of ground water. After some experimentation a suitably aged look was induced with sulfuric acid. However, Hull was unsuccessful in locating pieces of petrified wood to bury with the Giant.

The finished Giant was 10 feet 4½ inches tall and weighed in at a fraction under 3,000 pounds. His shoulders were 3 feet across and his feet 21 inches long. He would have taken a size 37 collar. Hull originally contemplated burying him in Mexico, but upon reflection he settled for a site closer to home in an area he knew well, and the stone man was crated up and shipped to the Union depot near Binghamton. After the November burial on the Newell farm Hull returned to the prosaic business of making cigars, giving the Giant time to settle comfortably in his grave. The undertaking had thus far cost him twenty-six hundred dollars; if his hunch about the public’s credulousness was right, it would be the best investment of his life.

 

Hull’s selection of Cardiff as the launching platform for his hoax was inspired. The village was square in the middle of one of the yeastiest American landscapes of the nineteenth century. Historian Carl Carmer has described York State—upstate New York—as a country that summons up strange images. “This stretch of wrinkled land,” he writes, “has held in the near past more of man’s mystic and psychic receptivity, perhaps I should say creative imaginings, than any other region in America.” Many remarkable figures indeed had preceded George Hull down what Carmer calls this “broad psychic highway.”

To the Albany area had come Mother Ann Lee and her Shaker followers to prepare with lovely simplicity for a better world and to express their gentle faith in ecstasies of whirling dances. In 1823, on Hill Cumorah north of the Finger Lakes, young Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the angel Moroni, who revealed to him the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. In the i84o’s John Humphrey Noyes established at Oneida, east of Syracuse, a perfectionist community featuring “complex marriage” as well as exceedingly successful manufactories. The region witnessed other curious phenomena in the forties. In a farmhouse near Rochester the prankish Fox sisters, Kate and Margaret, parlayed their talent for loud toe-cracking into the spirit-rapping craze that swept them to fame and fortune. On October 22, 1844, across the length and breadth of the psychic highway, thousands of white-robed followers of farmer William Miller perched on hilltops and barn eaves, girding themselves to rise up when the Second Coming brought the cleansing fire to the land.∗

∗For Joseph Smith see “The Farm Boy and the Angel” in the October, 1962, issue of A MERICAN H ERITAGE ; for John Humphrey Noyes, “The Great Oneida Love-in,” February, 1969; for the Fox sisters, “The Medium had the Message,” February, 1971 ; for William Miller, “The Trumpeter of Doomsday,” April, 1964.

Beyond such manifestations of societal boil and bubble was the area’s heritage of folklore, especially a stock of Indian legends of unparalleled richness and dark mystery. And the fact that the region was renowned for its paléontologie relics—the digging of the Erie Canal, for example, had turned up countless fossil remains and such curiosities as huge bones and “stone fish"—was the final perfect bit of stage setting for the discovery of a petrified man of huge proportions.

In October, 1869, Hull decided the Giant was settled in realistically enough and passed Newell the word to begin Operation Discovery. Newell hired two local handymen, Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, to dig a well for him. He carefully specified the spot, some twenty feet behind his barn, and on Saturday, October 16, Emmons and Nichols set to work. Three feet down their shovels struck what appeared to be a large stone foot. With rising excitement they soon uncovered the rest of the Giant. “Jerusalem, Nichols, it’s a big Injun!” exclaimed Emmons.

The word that something was up at “Stub” NewelPs place spread at a rate possible only in a small town. That day and the next, reported the Syracuse Journal , “men left their work, women caught up their babies, and children in numbers, all hurried to the scene where the interest of that little community centered.” Speculation was intense. Some, like well digger Emmons, recalled the Onondaga tribal legend of a race of great stone men that had once stalked the valley. Among the faithful the reference in Genesis to giants in the earth was explanation enough. Whatever his origin, all agreed, the Cardiff Giant was a sensational find.