Monday, January 6, 2014

The Cardiff Giant

Location:   Cardiff, New York
Year:   1869

The Cardiff Giant was, in its time, one of the most famous hoaxes in America. A tobacconist by the name of George Hull, an avowed atheist, became irritated at the Biblical literalism expressed by many of his acquaintances, and decided to pull a fast one on them based on the passage in Genesis 6:4 that speaks of "Nephilim" or giants in the earth.

Hull hired stonecarvers to concoct a ten foot tall stone man, telling them that it was to be a memorial statue of Abraham Lincoln, They must have been lousy sculptors, because the only resemblance the Cardiff Giant has to a statue of President Lincoln is that they both have heads.  

In 1868, Hull arranged to have the stone man properly weathered and buried on the farm of his cousin, William Newell, who lived in Cardiff, New York. When Newell conveniently decided to dig a new well in an isolated corner of his farm---Lo, and behold, the "petrified man" was uncovered on October 16, 1869.  

Word of the Cardiff Giant spread like wildfire, and the two men earned over $50,000 (at two bits apiece in 1869 currency) in a matter of weeks showing the Giant to credulous folk. In today's money, that would be over one million dollars! "There's a sucker born every minute," P.T. Barnum said, and when Hull and Newell refused to sell him the Cardiff Giant, he commissioned his own, earning even more money for himself.

An angry Barnum called the original a fake, and was sued for fraud by the original fraudsters. However, the judge tossed out the case, saying that the giant would have to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable ruling. He added that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake a fake.

Although scientists at the time recognized the Giant as a fake many fundamentalists continued to cite it as proof of the existence of the Nephilim, at least until February 1870, when Hull finally admitted the truth.

The Cardiff Giant still exists, and is on display at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

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