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The Cardiff Giant: A 150-Year-Old Hoax Orchestrated By Binghamton Businessman

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COOPERSTOWN, NY -

The story of the Cardiff Giant is told to groups of school children on a daily basis at the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown. Holding a spot of honor in the main entrance, it's hard to miss. The museum recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the giant's "discovery."

"It all started with a man named George Hull," says Joelle Lachance, an interpreter at the Farmers' Museum. 

Hull was a businessman from Binghamton. He was part-owner of the Hull-Grummond Cigar Company which was once downtown. As the story goes, Hull was in Iowa on business when he got into an argument with a traveling revivalist minister. 

“He got into a bit of an argument with a minister in 1866 over a passage in Genesis that talked about giants living on earth," says Lachance. 

The minister took the passage literally. Hull thought it was rubbish. Inspired by his hero, P.T. Barnum, Hull saw an opportunity to make money off of people who agreed with the minister. 

 

“He thought if P.T. Barnum can be making money off of these hoaxes, people are really gullible," says Lachance.

While you have to give him props for going all in, it's safe to say now that Hull sort of went off the rails. In 1866 he embarked on the most expensive, overly engineered, obsessive prank that took two years to complete. 

First, Hull paid a Chicago stone mason around $2,000 to carve him a 2,990 lb, ten-foot tall statue. He then paid who knows how much to ship it from Chicago to the Town of Union by train. From there, Hull secretly loaded the statue on to a wagon and drove it to his cousin's farm in Cardiff, which is just below Syracuse. His cousin, William "Stub" Newell, was in on it and the two men buried the "giant" on Newell's farm. 

They left him in the ground for a year.

 

On October 16, 1869, they saw their opportunity. Newell was having a new well dug on his property. He directed the workers to dig - you guessed it - right over the giant's hiding place. 

"And low and behold, they have discovered a ten foot tall stone man," says Lachance, “Word gets out and people start flocking to the Newell farm.”

 

The stone man is raised out of the ground at Newell's farm in Cardiff, NY in October 1869.

Crowds paid 50 cents for fifteen minutes with the giant, convinced it was a petrified man from ancient times. 

That money was adding up. An investor paid $30,000 for 3/4 of one share of the giant and it began traveling the country. Hull eventually sold the giant to a group of men for $23,000. They continued showing the giant around for a fee. He even garnered a full dollar admission during a stop at Grand Central Station. 

 

Now, this is where P.T. Barnum re-enters our story. 

“P.T. Barnum hears about the giant and says ‘I need this giant’ and offers them about $60,000 to rent him for three months," says Lachance, "And they said ‘no.’”

The circus man offered $150,000 to buy the giant outright. Again, the answer was "no." So Barnum made his own. 

“So now there are two ‘real Cardiff giants’ touring around," says Lachance. 

This is where things start to unravel. With two "real" Cardiff Giants traveling around, people start to realize they are both fakes.

People have realized that the stone man is not real. And that he is a giant hoax.

 

At one point, Barnum calls Hull's giant "fake" and its owners try to sue him for it. It goes to court, but once Hull confesses that it was all a prank, a judge decides Barnum can't be sued for calling a fake giant fake. 

 

Hull's Cardiff Giant is still on display at the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown. 

Barnum's giant went into his Museum of Wonders and Curiosities and Hull's faded from view until it was on display at the World's Fair in Buffalo in 1901. It eventually went up for auction and the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown acquired it in 1948. 

Now, visitors filter by the stone man daily, reading his story on the wall. The museum's marketing director Todd Kenyon says he thinks the giant stands for the human need to believe in something. That could be. But it can also represent the limitless amount of time, money, and energy some people will go through to prove a point.