The Cardiff Giant

Photo via: John and Keturah

Workers were digging a well in New York in 1869, when they made a sensational discovery: a 10-foot man made of stone. Was it an ancient statue? A huge petrified human?

The “Cardiff Giant” was exhibited in the early part of the 19th century as the fossilized remains of a prehistoric giant. The truth turned out to be more mundane: the giant had been carved out of gypsum and deliberately buried. The statue turned out to be the creation of a New York tobacco farmer named George Hull.

Hull, an atheist, created the giant after an argument with a fundamentalist minister about the passage in Genesis 6:4 that there were giants, known as Nephilim, who reportedly once roamed a primordial Earth.

“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” –  Genesis 6:4

George Hull was clearly perpertrating a hoax upon literalist bible interpretaters while simultaneously, turning a profit: His $2,600 investment sold for $37,500 when it was “discovered.” Regardless, the Cardiff Giant became a national sensation in the latter part of 19th century America.

Photo via: John and Keturah

The continuing hysteria drove profits higher, and P.T. Barnum offered $60,000 to lease it for three months. Rebuffed, he built his own plaster replica and decried the original as a fake, leading exhibitor David Hannum to grumble, “There’s a sucker born every minute” — a remark later misattributed to Barnum himself.

Eventually the whole thing blew over; by 1870 both giants had been revealed as fake. But the old gypsum carving still makes a good show — it’s currently on display today in the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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