The Cardiff Giant
On October 16th, 1869, workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell, in Cardiff, New York, struck stone about three feet down. Clearing the soil around the obstruction revealed a huge foot. With mounting excitement, the workers continued digging, and were astonished when they finally unearthed the petrified remains of a 10 foot tall man.
As news of the find spread, hundreds of archaeologists and scientists, and thousands of the curious, flocked to Newell’s farm, where he charged visitors 50 cents for a look. Newell made no claims about the giant’s authenticity, but invited visitors to draw their own conclusions. While it seemed to many observant people to be a crude statue, many more saw it as proof of the Bible’s assertions that giants had once walked the earth.
The Cardiff giant was actually a statue, created by an atheist named George Hull after a heated debate at a revival meeting about Genesis 6:4, which claimed that the earth had once been inhabited by giants. Hull bought a ten foot block of Gypsum in Iowa, and shipped it to Chicago, where he commissioned a stonecutter to shape it into the likeness of a man, after swearing him to secrecy. Chemicals were then applied to give the carving an aged look, and needles were used to puncture and pit its surface, making it look more weathered. Hull then shipped it to the farm of his cousin, William Newell, who buried it behind his barn in 1868. A year later, Newell hired workers to dig a well behind the barn, where they came across the buried hoax.
From the first, archaeologists, scientists, and other scholars who saw the Cardiff Giant declared it a fraud. However, many theologians and preachers stepped forth and passionately defended its authenticity, and crowds of the curious and faithful kept coming in ever greater numbers. Hull, who had spent the equivalent of about $50,000 in 2017 dollars, sold his share in the Cardiff Giant to a syndicate for about half a million in today’s money. The Giant was then moved to Syracuse, where it drew ever larger crowds.
Eventually, huckster PT Barnum offered the equivalent of a million dollars for the find. When the owners refused to sell, Barnum commissioned his own plaster copy and exhibited it in New York City, declaring it to be the authentic Cardiff Giant, and that the one in Syracuse was a fake. That brazenness worked, giving rise to the phrase, coined in reference to those paying to see Barnum’s copy, that “there’s a sucker born every minute“. Lawsuits about authenticity followed, and in the subsequent litigation, Hull finally confessed to the hoax. The court declared both Giants fakes, and ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.