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10. The Cardiff Giant 1869

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The Cardiff Giant, one of the most famous hoaxes in American history, was a 10-foot-tall (3m) “petrified man” uncovered on October 16, 1869 by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P.T. Barnum are still on display. The Giant was the creation of a 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.

Hull hired men to carve out a 10-feet-long, 4.5 inches 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!”.

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.

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