Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On This Date: Oct. 16, 1869, The Cardiff Giant Was Discovered

Me posing with the Giant

It is time to dig up some paranormal pop culture history from 144 years ago, because it was on this date in 1869 when the Cardiff Giant was discovered.

The Cardiff Giant hoax -- often referred to as the greatest in American history -- was the brainchild of New York businessman and atheist George Hull, who hired workers to carve a 10-foot-tall "petrified man" out of a block of gypsum after he had an argument with a Methodist reverend about the chapter in Genesis 6:4 that states "giants once roamed the earth." He then arranged for it to be buried in Cardiff, just south of Syracuse, dug up a year later and “found,” leading thousands of people to believe it was the petrified remains of an ancient giant man.

It so captured the nation's attention that "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum and Mark Twain wrote about it. Later, a syndicate of Syracuse businessmen purchased the Giant for $23,000 and moved it to Syracuse for display, upping the price to $1.00 per view. The original behemoth weighed in at 2,990 pounds and was such a sensation that showman P.T. Barnum offered to buy it from Hull for $50,000. When Hull refused, Barnum built his own version, and displayed in New York City claiming the Syracuse giant to be a fake -- which then led to a lawsuit about which version was the "real" original.

As the newspapers around the country reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute" in reference to spectators paying to see Barnum's giant. Over time, the quotation has been misattributed to Barnum himself.

The original Cardiff Giant is on display at the New York State Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, while P.T. Barnum’s version (created by Syracuse artist C.F. Otto in 1869) is on display at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Michigan. For further reading on the Cardiff Giant, visit Lock Haven University's scanned chapter of The Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White.