Cardiff Giant is a 10-foot (3.0 m) tall purported "petrified man" uncovered on October 16, 1869, by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. "Stub" Newell in Cardiff, New York. However, it was realized that it was just a hoax created by New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument with a fundamentalist minister named Mr. Turk about a passage in Genesis that stated that there were giants who once lived on Earth. The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. In 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter claiming that a prospector had been petrified when he drank a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers also had published stories of supposedly petrified people.
Hull hired men to carve out a 10-foot-long, 4.5 inch block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument of Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired a German stonecutter to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy. Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weather beaten, and the giant’s surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. When the giant had been buried for a year, Newell hired two men, Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well. When they found the Giant, one of them has been attributed to saying: “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!”.
Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged 25 cents for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he increased the price to 50 cents. The giant drew such crowds that showman P.T. Barnum offered $60,000 for a three-month lease of it (in his memoirs he said he wanted to buy it). When the syndicate turned him down he hired a man to covertly model the giant’s shape in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display in New York, claiming that his was the real giant and the Cardiff Giant was a fake. On February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.
The Cardiff Giant appeared in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, but did not attract much attention.
An Iowa publisher bought it later to adorn his basement rumpus room as a coffee table and conversation piece. In 1947 he sold it to the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where it is still on display.
The owner of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, a coin-operated game arcade and museum of oddities in Farmington Hills, Michigan, claims that the replica on display there is Barnum's replica.
In Popular Culture
- In 1870, Mark Twain wrote "A Ghost Story" in which the ghost of the Cardiff Giant appears in the hotel room in Manhattan to demand that he be reburied. The giant is so confused that he haunts Barnum's plaster copy of himself.
- In 1871, L. Frank Baum published a poem titled "The True Origin of the Cardiff Giant" in his private newspaper, The Rose Lawn Home Journal, vol. 1, #3.
- George Auger, a Ringling Brothers circus giant, used the stage name "Cardiff Giant". He was to act in Harold Lloyd's 1923 comedy film Why Worry?, but died shortly after filming started, sparking a nationwide search for a replacement.
- H.P. Lovecraft's short story "Out of the Aeons" mentions the Cardiff Giant, contrasting it with the real mummies on display in the fictional Cabot Museum of Archaeology, Boston, Massachusetts.
- The 2001 film Made, was produced by the production company, "Cardiff Giant," the same name that Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau's characters are told to check in under when arriving in New York.
- In 2011, artist Ty Marshal created a full-sized Cardiff Giant replica made of hypertufa for a celebration in Syracuse, New York on the 142nd anniversary of the discovery of the giant (October 16, 2011).