history 101: giants!

History 101 is a regular feature here at The Pretty Good Gatsby. I combine my love of history and reading by pairing an odd or interesting event/historical figure with a book. For more History 101 post, check out its page.

:) I got some really good feedback for my first History 101 post and I’m beyond ecstatic that you guys like it! ♥ For the second post I thought I’d talk about a famous hoax: The Cardiff Giant.

“There were giants in the earth in those days.” (Genesis 6.4)

Thus begins the fascinating tale of the Cardiff Giant. In the late 1860s George Hull, a New York resident, got into a heated debate with a Reverend over that particular line in the Bible. The Reverend stated it should be taken literally while Hull, an atheist, firmly disagreed. He was, however, inspired to create his own giant – and make some money at the same time.

After Hull noticed that the blue streaks in lime rock closely resemble human veins. He hired men to cut a large 10’+ slab of lime and had it carved to look like a human. He even went so far as to use a tool to add pores to the ‘skin.’

Once the giant was finished, Hull shipped it to his cousin’s farm in Cardiff, New York. In the middle of the night, William Newell, his son, and Hull buried the giant and Hull instructed them to keep quiet and in a year or so he’d contact them again and they’d move on to the second stage of the hoax.

In a bizarre coincidence, six months after burying the giant, fossils were discovered on a nearby farm! This exciting news made the papers and George was ready to proceed.

True to his word, a year after they buried the giant, George contacted the Newell’s and on October 15, 1869, William Newell hired men to dig a well in his yard. A few hours later, the men discovered the giant and word quickly spread. Soon people were coming from all over to see this giant including distinguished scholars and clergymen. It wasn’t long before two theories popped up: 1, the giant was an authentic human and 2, it was an ancient statue. Interestingly, no one put forth the idea it was a fake.

Ten days after the giant’s discovery, Hull sold it to a group for $30,000 (around $490,000 today!). This group moved the giant to Syracuse, New York and put it on display there. It was around this time that P. T. Barnum heard about the giant and sent a representative to check it out. Barnum was a shrewd businessman and offered $50,000 (over $808,000!), but was turned down. Determined to get his way, Barnum had his own giant carved and started announced that he had bought the ‘real’ giant, while the one in Syracuse was a fake. Naturally the newspapers latched on to Barnum’s story and ran with it.

It wasn’t until Barnum was sued and went to trial that George Hull stepped forward and confessed his giant was a fake.

Both giants can still be seen today: George Hull’s is on display at Farmer’s Museum and Barnum’s replica can be seen at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum.

Fun fact: It was during this time that the famous quote “There’s a sucker born every minute” first came about. It’s widely attributed to Barnum, but it was actually said by David Hannum, a member of the group that bought the giant. He said it after Barnum started charging people to see his replica (Hannum was still under the impression that his giant was real).

:) What else could I have possibly recommended? The BFG is a classic and one of my all-time favorites. 2012 marks The BFG‘s 30th birthday and today is Roald Dahl Day!

Seriously though, if you made it out of childhood without reading this book, stop what you’re doing and get a copy. I was first introduced to it in 3rd grade and when I reread it my senior year, so many classmates saw it and shared their memories. It’s a great book and one I revisit often.

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