Hoaxes & Rumors

Cardiff Giant: Classic American Hoax

Cardiff Giant: Classic American Hoax

The Cardiff Giant is considered to be one of the greatest American hoaxes. It was conceived by atheist George Hull after an argument at a Methodist revival.

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Origin of the Cardiff Giant

In 1868, while on a business trip to Iowa, atheist, tobacconist, get-rich-quick schemer, and Binghamton, New York resident George Hull found himself at a religious revival arguing with a Methodist clergyman. A disagreement erupted involving the Biblical passage of Genesis 6:4, which claims that giants (sometimes referred to as “nephilim”) existed on the earth prior to Noah’s flood. The exchange inspired Hull to enact a hoax which is considered to be one of the greatest in American history.

Envisioning the ancient petrified remains of a 10-foot-tall giant, Hull procured a 10,000 pound block of gypsum in Ft. Dodge, Iowa and had it sent to a stonecutter in Chicago by the name of Edward Burghardt. Swearing he would not reveal Hull’s scheme, Burghardt carved the colossal figure and surreptitiously sent it to Cardiff, New York where it was buried on a farm belonging to Hull’s cousin.

The following year, Hull’s cousin employed two men to dig a well on the spot that the behemoth was entombed. Here, the Cardiff Giant was discovered.

Credit: Farmersmuseum.org

Credit: Farmersmuseum.org

George Hull Gets Rich

After hearing of the discovery, thousands of people flocked to the area. Marketed as an ancient Biblical titan, Hull’s cousin erected a tent and charged spectators 25 cents (raised to 50 cents two days later) to witness the spectacle. Although the public accepted the fabrication, many scientists dismissed it as a hoax or simply as a timeworn effigy.

Hull eventually persuaded an association of businessmen lead by David Hannum to buy the figure for a hefty fee of $23,000 (the equivalent of nearly half a million dollars today), and it was transported to Syracuse, New York where onlookers paid a dollar to feast their eyes upon it.

Exposure of Hoax

In time, the Cardiff Giant attained such fame that legendary showman P.T. Barnum sought to purchase it for $50,000. When Hannum refused the offer, Barnum designed his own giant to exhibit while claiming the “original” was a phony. This eventually lead to nationwide press and a lawsuit which inspired a famous quote by Hannum which is often erroneously credited to P.T. Barnum. Speaking in relation to the numbers of onlookers eager to cough up coinage for a glimpse of the fraud, Hannum sarcastically pronounced, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

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During the subsequent trial, Hull conceded the hoax to tabloids, and the pair of giants (Hannum’s and Barnum’s) were acknowledged to be scams.

The Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York purchased the Cardiff Giant in 1947 where it has been shown in the main barn ever since.

Google Trends History

The Google Trends graph below shows interest in the Cardiff Giant going back to 2004. Curiosity has remained fairly constant with a succession of peaks and valleys indicating interest. Search activity experienced a peak surge in May 2005, January 2006, and January 2008.

Bottom Line

The Cardiff Giant was a gypsum statue that was supposed to look like the body of a fossilized giant dating back to Biblical times. Atheist George Hull commissioned the creation of the likeness after an argument with an evangelist at a Methodist revival in 1868. Hull had the sculpture secretly buried on his cousin’s farm property in New York state, and later organized an excavation. Publicized as the discovery of a prehistoric giant body, George Hull became rich from displaying the “remains” for profit and selling the statue to a group of businessmen for a large sum of money. After achieving widespread notoriety, the hoax was debunked during a legal trial which was sparked when P.T. Barnum claimed that the Cardiff Giant was an imitation and he possessed the true original.

Updated March 6, 2016
Originally published May 2014

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