One of the most interesting little magazines you can find is the amazing FARMER’S ALMANAC. It’s the oldest magazine in the country having been continuously published every year since 1792. It gives advance weather forecasts for a full year with amazing accuracy; fishing days, planting tables and a lot of other interesting data. I was thumbing through my issue when I ran across a story which reminded me of one of the most amazing hoaxes in the history of the country – the story of the Cardiff Giant.
In 1866 a tobacco farmer named George Hull got to thinking of the passage in the Bible which reads, “There were giants in those days.” He decided to find the remains of such a giant as used to roam the earth, and he did it with typical American ingenuity.
He bought a block of gypsum twelve feet long and shipped it by rail to a Chicago stonecutter, who promptly followed instructions and carved it into an excellent likeness of a giant, spent days with tender care giving it simulated skin pores and veins and staining it a dingy brown to make it appear ancient. The finished figure measured 10’ 4 ½” in height and weighed a ton and a half.
The Giant was then secretly shipped to the farm of William C. Newell in Cardiff, near Syracuse, New York, and buried behind the barn. The grave was left undisturbed for about a year. Then, so that the giant could be discovered accidentally, they hired a couple of well diggers and told them where they wanted a well dug – right over the now innocent looking grave of the stone Giant. Up to this time Hull’s expenses totaled $2,200, or a little less than a dollar a pound. The well diggers discovered the Giant, and Hull’s fondest dreams were quickly realized. Within a week, by charging to see the Giant, they collected over $3,000 – and that was just the beginning. Not only was the public completely bamboozled by the petrified Giant, but so were several well-known scientists as well. P.T. Barnum offered $60,000 for the Cardiff Giant and was turned down. Before the origin of Hull’s brainchild became well-known the men were wealthy. The public had proved it took its giants literally enough to provide history with the greatest hoax of its kind in the history of America.
After being on display in New York, the Giant moved on to Boston in February of 1870. Here Oliver Wendell Holmes bored a hole (which is still to be seen) just in back of the left ear. He declared it of wonderful anatomical development.
Ralph Waldo Emerson pronounced it, “beyond his depth, very wonderful, and undoubtedly ancient”. At this time, the Giant was two years old.
Also, at this time George Hull, realizing this deception could not last forever, and having had his fun with it, came out with the complete history of the hoax. The Giant continued to make money and after a few more trips around New England went into storage. In 1913 it was purchased by Joseph Mulroney of Fort Dodge, Iowa, for a reported $10,000. The New York State Historical Association finally acquired the Giant, and there this bogus behemoth now lies in an open grave to give the same appearance as it did in 1869 when the two innocent well diggers found it.
“It may be a thing of pure imagination, but humor involves sentiment and character. Humor is of a genial quality; dwells in the same character with pathos and is always mingled with sensibility.” Giles could have been describing the hoax of the Cardiff Giant.