The Giant Hoax
By Don Rittner

One of America's greatest scams, the Cardiff Giant, took place just south of Syracuse in a little hamlet of Cardiff in 1869. However, there is an Albany connection.

George Hull, a cigar maker/atheist from Binghamton argued with a revivalist minister over the passage in Genesis (6:4) stating: "There were giants in the earth in those days."

Hull went to Ft. Dodge, Iowa and obtained a multi-ton block of gypsum that he explained was going to be used for a patriotic statue. The gypsum was delivered to Edward Burghardt, a stonecutter in Chicago.

Burghardt and his helpers were sworn to secrecy (with lots of beer), and carved a massive figure of a man ten feet tall and weighing a ton and a half. Hull directed the operation to every detail including the expression on the face to pores in the skin (using darning needles). He treated the whole structure to a bath in sulfuric acid to give it an aged look.

The giant was secretly moved to Cardiff, already famous for fossils and Indian lore, in November 1868. Hull and his brother in law, Stub Newell, dug a large hole in a marshy area, covered it, and planted clover. Hull went back to Binghamton to his cigar business and left the giant to "season" for a year.

On October 16, 1869, Newell hired two workmen to dig a well on his property. He directed the excavators to dig where he knew exactly where the giant lay, and three feet down they uncovered the giant of what they thought was a very large American Indian.

Word of the discovery spread and a tent was erected around the giant with an admission charge of 50 cents. It made Newell a small fortune, which he shared with Hull. Hundreds of people came from miles around, special stages were hired, hotels were booked, and eateries made out as well.

Not everyone was convinced, however. The Giant was promoted as an example of the ancient race mentioned in Genesis, proof enough for religious believers. Scientific experts offered their theories too. Dr. John F. Boynton, declared that no evidence existed for the petrification of flesh and thought it was a statue created by a Jesuit priest during the early 17th century to awe local Indian tribes. State Geologist James Hall from Albany was also convinced that the Giant was an ancient statue and not a petrified man: "Altogether it is the most remarkable object brought to light in this country, and, although not dating back to the stone age, is, nevertheless, deserving of the attention of archaeologists." A third group said it was a hoax, but it did not stop the rising popularity of the statue.

On October 23, Newell, acting for Hull, sold three-quarters interest in the Giant to five local businessmen for $30,000. On November 5, the syndicate exhumed the Giant and shipped him to Syracuse to provide better surroundings. The NY Central Railroad set up a special stop for those who traveled to see it.

By November, those in the press skeptical of the whole matter began looking into Newell and Hull. Farmers remembered seeing a large crate travel toward Cardiff the prior year. Yale paleontologist Othniel C. March, nailed it when he cited fresh tool marks and smooth surfaces, and called it a "decided humbug of recent origin" in a report published November 25, 1869. Four days later, the giant was on exhibit "for a few days only" at the State Geological Hall in Albany (now State Museum).

By December 10, Hull admitted the whole story to the press.

That did not stop the public's interest, so the syndicate booked a national tour. P.T. Barnum, who tried to buy the Giant for $60,000, had his own fake sculpted from wood. In December the two were shown less than two blocks apart in New York City, and ironically Barnum's fake outdrew the original fake.

In 1903, Mark Twain, amused by the affair, wrote A Ghost Story, a tale about the giant's ghost who was haunting the wrong giant (it was Barnum's) while his real statue was being displayed in Albany.

Interest in the Giant soon dropped and he was brought out of storage only periodically (the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, and in Syracuse and Ft. Dodge between 1913 and the mid-1930s).

In 1947, after being found in a rumpus room of a private home in Des Moines, IA, the Giant was sold to the NY Historical Association for $30k. He's now on display in a tent that duplicates the original one on the grounds of the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown. You still pay an admission charge. Barnum's fake of the fake can be seen at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, in Farmington Hills, Michigan.