May 13, 2022 I Brent Swancer

The Strange Tale of the Cardiff Giant

In the realm of cryptozoology, sometimes there are things that come forward that are too good to be true, and that is usually because they are. From fake photos to fake tracks and all sorts of other bogus supposed evidence, the field is so riddled with hoaxes that it is often hard to seperate the possibly real from the fake. One of the most famous hoaxes in cryptozoology, if not the most famous hoax in United States history, period, as well as the most profitable, is that of the Cardiff Giant.

In 1868, a New York tobacconist by the name of George Hull got into an argument with a Reverend Turk at a Methodist revival meeting. Hull was a consummate atheist, and took issue with what he saw as religious nonsense, starting a veritable flame war when he argued that Charles Darwins’ theory of evolution was correct and the the idea of creationism was a farce. During this debate, it was claimed by Turk that giants had indisputably once roamed the earth, as told of in Genesis 6:4, but Hull merely laughed at what he saw as such a preposterous notion. He put up a valiant effort, but considering that he was surrounded by a church full of very irritated and pious people, Hull ultimately lost the argument and went home with his tail between his legs. However, the intense exchange put into his head that people were gullible and dumb, and so he hatched a plan to create a hoax the likes of which none had ever seen before.

In October of 1869, workers digging a well behind the home of a William C. "Stub" Newell in Cardiff, New York, allegedly uncovered a gigantic 10-foot-4.5-inch-long block of gypsum at Cardiff, New York, in the United States. When it was examined, it was amazingly found to contain a gigantic stone man that measured 10 feet tall and weighed 2990 pounds, which was soon generating intense interest among the public. Soon there were theories swirling that the mysterious giant was everything from an actual petrified giant, to a stone statue depicting one of the giants mentioned in the Bible, Genesis 6:4, and amazed visitors began pouring into Newell’s farm get a close up look at what would come to be known as the Cardiff Giant, which was kept in a massive tent erected on the property. Even scientists at the time were baffled by the mysterious giant, and were not quite sure what to make of it.

The giant being exhumed

The Cardiff Giant was later purchased by businessmen for $37,500, after which it was moved to Syracuse, New York, and continued to be immensely popular, drawing in droves of gawking visitors. In the meantime, the famous showman Phineas T. Barnum offered $60,000 to lease the giant for 3 months, but was turned down. This did not stop Barnum, who made a replica of papier-mache and even went as far as to say that it was his which was the real deal and the one at Newell’s farm was the fake, challenging others to prove that his giant was any less authentic than the other. Amazingly, Barnum’s replica began pulling in as much business as the original, if not more, and it seemed that people were willing to pay to see them regardless of which one was real and which one was fake. It was at this time that some scientists who got a good look at the thing began to voice their skepticism. One paleontologist from Yale by the name of Othniel C. Marsh even went so far as to flat-out proclaim it to be a badly made fake, pointing out that there were still clear chisel marks embedded within it, as well as deep lines where ink and sulphuric acid hadn’t reached. One reporter even noted that “There is a sucker born every minute,” a phrase which would later be attributed to Barnum. Barnum was even sued for calling the other giant a fake. One Andrew D. White, the first president of Cornell University, would also point out how unlikely it was that they had dug on the very spot where the giant would be found, saying:

Being asked my opinion, my answer was that the whole matter was undoubtedly a hoax; that there was no reason why the farmer should dig a well in the spot where the figure was found; that it was convenient neither to the house nor to the barn; that there was already a good spring and a stream of water running conveniently to both; that, as to the figure itself, it certainly could not have been carved by any prehistoric race, since no part of it showed the characteristics of any such early work; that, rude as it was, it betrayed the qualities of a modern performance of a low order.

When all of this publicity reached a crescendo, Hull eventually stepped forward to admit that it had all been a hoax he had devised after his argument with the Methodist minister. Hull claimed that he had gotten the idea after that argument to create a giant “petrified man” and see if he could simultaneously mess with the religious, fool the public, and make some money while doing it. Hull had then gone about making the statue and enacting his plan. He paid a group of men to pull out an enormous 12-by-4-by-2-foot block of a soft, limy rock called gypsum from a quarry near a railroad construction site in Iowa and went to work crafting his masterpiece. After the monumental task of secretly moving the block of stone, which broke several transport wagons and a bridge with its immense weight, Hull hired a stonecutter by the name of Edward Burkhardt to get to work on carving a giant that would have the look of having died in agony. To make the statue look old, weathered and worn, sand, various acids and stains were rubbed into the stone, and needles embedded in lead bases attached to hammers were used to pound into the stone to simulate pores of the skin. Interestingly, Hull had even made sure that the fake statue was made to resemble himself. 

The Cardiff Giant

When the massive statue was finished, Hull had had it moved to William Newell’s place, who was a relative of his. The statue was then buried on Newell’s farm, with the crew making great efforts to cover their work, such as putting up blankets and quilts to block the noise and working under the cover of darkness. They then allowed it to stay underground for a full year so that any talk of the canvas covered wagon used to carry it in would be forgotten. After that, it was just a matter of hiring some people to dig it up under the pretense of digging a well and “stumble across” the find, which people both citizen and scientist alike would fall for hook line and sinker. The whole ruse had cost Hull around $2,600 yet had made him a small fortune in the end, making it a most profitable endeavor and one of the most financially successful hoaxes in United States history. 

Weirdly, even after the Cardiff Giant was widely shown to be a blatant hoax, people still kept pouring in to see both it and Barnum’s replica, their popularity seemingly independent of whether they were real or not. Hull would eventually sell his creation and squander his earnings, going broke and actually trying to instigate a similar hoax with a “giant” dug up in Colorado, but he would ultimately die a poor man. The original Cardiff Giant can be seen on display at the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and Barnum’s replica can be seen at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, in Farmington Hills, Michigan. It has certainly gone down as one of the weirdest and most spectacular hoaxes in history, and just goes to show that seeing is not always believing. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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