- Historic Sites
The Giant In The Earth
IT’S A PETRIFIED MAN! IT’S A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY IDOL! IT’S A HOAX! ITS THE CARDIFF GIANT!
August 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 5
In this new setting the Giant was a bigger hit than ever. The New York Central added a special rest stop so its passengers could make a quick inspection of “the wonder of the age.” The proud citizens of Syracuse gathered him to their hearts, even giving him a number of write-in votes for local office in the November elections. The syndicate began to schedule bookings for a tour of eastern cities.
However, Hull’s hoax was now starting to come unravelled. Skeptical reporters were asking hard questions. One local paper ran the headline “Scientific, Official Report of the recent Scientific Examination of the Stone Giant” over a column that was entirely blank. More devastating was the report of the brilliant Yale paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh, published November 25. After inspecting the Giant, Marsh was blunt and to the point: “It is of very recent origin, and a most decided humbug.… I am surprised that any scientific observers should not have at once detected the unmistakable evidence against its antiquity.” He pointed out fresh tool marks and smoothly polished surfaces, both of which would have been roughened by lengthy exposure in the earth. Dr. Boynton took a second and closer look and ruefully acknowledged that rather than 250 years the Giant’s age was probably closer to 250 days.
The clincher was the story, leaked out of the Onondaga County Bank, that Stub Newell had withdrawn a sizable sum from his account in the form of a draft drawn to one George Hull. This jogged memories. Local farmers remembered Hull with the wagon carrying the great iron-bound box, seen on the roads south of Cardiff the year before. Fort Dodge quarrymen recalled Hull’s purchase of an outsized block of Iowa gypsum. Tracked down in Chicago, the stonecutters Mohrmann and Salle confessed their role in the hoax. By then Hull had seen that the jig was up, and early in December he admitted the whole story.
Nevertheless Hannum and his syndicate pressed on undaunted. On December 20 the Giant went on display at the Apollo Hall at Broadway and Twenty-eighth Street in New York under a banner proclaiming “Genuine. CARDIFF GIANT. Original. Taller than Goliath Whom David Slew.” Public interest was whetted by Harper’s Weekly , which in its December 4 number had featured a story on the phenomenon, including four illustrations.
In New York, however, the Cardiff Giant came up against stiff competition from the Barnum Giant. The famous showman, balked in his effort to lease the stone man for sixty thousand dollars, promptly had a replica carved and put on display at Wood’s Museum, two blocks from the Apollo. The fake fake outpulled the real fake, proving again that no one could outhumbug the old master. In February, 1870, the syndicate moved the Giant to Boston. This time he had the town to himself, and he drew well. Ralph Waldo Emerson was reported to have called him “very wonderful and undoubtedly ancient.”
But Boston was his last hurrah. The bubble had burst. After touring New England and Pennsylvania with indifferent success for several years, the Giant was put into storage in a barn in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Except for an appearance at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, there he gathered dust for three decades.
George Hull went into similar eclipse. In an effort to repeat his success he assembled another petrified man, this one of baked clay containing human bones and equipped with apelike legs and a tail, which he caused to be “discovered” in Colorado. But this time he was quickly found out, again by Professor Marsh of Yale, and after that Hull dropped into obscurity. When he entered his last illness in 1898, perhaps he was comforted by the fact that he had carried off one of the classic hoaxes of American history.
The Cardiff Giant, however, lives on. In 1913 he was purchased for a reported ten thousand dollars and taken back to Fort Dodge, Iowa, the place of his birth. There followed various appearances at state fairs in Iowa and New York. In the igSo’s he was rescued from a bankrupt carnival in Texas by publisher Gardner Cowles, whose Iowa boyhood near Fort Dodge had been enriched by tales of the hoax. Cowles installed him as a conversation piece in the rumpus room of his Des Moines home.
During his stay in Des Moines the Giant suffered the indignity of having his manhood chipped by Cowles’s prankish, hammer-wielding young son and some of his friends, but after Cowles went to “considerable trouble” he was at least partially restored.
In 1948, thanks to the efforts of Stephen C. Clark and Louis C. Jones of the New York State Historical Association, the Giant found a permanent home at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. Today he rests peacefully under a shed roof in a reconstructed crossroads village that is not unlike the Cardiff of a century ago. And like those who once thronged to Cardiff, today’s visitor must still buy a ticket of admission in order to view the great stone man with the faint enigmatic smile.