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A Great American Hoax-The Cardiff Giant

Updated on February 24, 2018
dahoglund profile image

Don has worked in newspaper writing, business writing, and technical writing.


“This is a case in which the mystery is not who did it but why this particular brand of American humbug was so successful.” Steven Williams.

Background of the Hoax

A New York tobacconist who, an atheist, had an argument with a Methodist minister at a revival meeting about Genesis 6:4 which said there were once giants on Earth. As a result he decided to create a giant. There had been previous stories of petrified people whether or not that influenced Hull it is hard to say.

He approached the project with a certain amount of secrecy, First he employed men in Fort Dodge, Iowa to carve out a block of gypsum 10-foot long and told them it was for a statue of Abraham Lincoln in New York. He had the block shipped to Chicago where he hired a stonecutter to carve the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.

It was “aged” with stains and acids and the surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. He then sent the giant by train to his cousin William Newell’s farm.

He waited a year and hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols to dig a well and on October 16, 1869 they found the giant One of the men reportedly exclaimed “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!” from Wikipedia article.

Cardiff Giant



My sources for this hub are:

Fantastic Archaeology-the Wild Side of North American Prehistory by Steven Williams.

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991

Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White


Wikipedia article on The Cardiff Giant

Discovery creates a sensation


The local papers loved the story, a tent was set up and crowds came. The crowds were fascinated. It was a fossil man of huge proportions. It did not bother most that it was turned to stone. They rationalized that anything was possible. There were non-believers who claimed it was a statue. Locally four doctors said it was a fossil man. Controversy raged and business in the town of Cardiff had never been better, according to William’s book Hull and Newell did very well from selling pamphlets, admission tickets, food and drink

Andrew Dickson White, diplomat author, educator and Co-founder of Cornell University was traveling in the area noted that the area “was in commotion from one end to the other.” Word of a giant being discovered near the hamlet of Cardiff the entire population seemed to be heading there despite crops needing to be harvested and election not over.


Whites opinion on the giant

 On the way to the scene he reports passing roads crowded with buggies, carriages and buses from the city as well as lumber wagons full of passengers. He said it appeared like a county fair.

When someone asked his opinion he said the whole thing was obviously a hoax”. There was no reason why a farmer should dig a well in the spot where the figure was found; that it was inconvenient neither to the house nor the barn.” and there was already an ample water supply. He said the figure could not have been carved by a prehistoric race, as it had none of the characteristics of such works.


Defense of the discovery

According to William’s book “post-Civil War America seems to have been ready for fantastic discoveries—the Cardiff Giant was big, unexpected, and pretty mysterious. That was enough.”

 White relates that the argument for authenticity included that the farmer could not have the ability to devise such a fraud; he didn’t have the means that the family had been long time resident and would swear under oath that they had never seen it until it was dug up. Somebody would have noticed if such a thing had been brought in and buried.

An interesting observation   is the evolution of myth and legend. Within a week statements appeared that neighboring Indians had abundant traditions of giants and “the circumstantial that an Onondaga squaw declared,’ in an impressive manner,’ that the statue is ‘ undoubtedly the petrified body of a gigantic Indian prophet who flourished many centuries ago and foretold the coming of the palefaces, and who said, just before his own death’ that the descendents would see him again.

Even prominent and educated people were defending the find.

“Never in my life have I ever been more discouraged as regards the possibility if making right reason prevail among men.” White said.




White said there was seemingly a “joy in believing” in what was marvelous and an American superstition that if enough people belief it than it must be true.

The statue was taken to Syracuse and various other cities. In New York City as in other places it was exhibited as a show.

Skepticism arises

Professor Marsh of Yale was an imminent paleontologist who did not go along with some others who had affirmed the authenticity of the find. He concluded it was of very recent origin and a ‘decided humbug.” The evidence, he said, was unavoidable.

Neighbors started getting suspicious when it was fount that farmer Newell had sent money to a man named Hull some place in the west. They started to notice visits to Newell from a man who turned out to be his brother-in-law. Somebody remembered seeing Hull at a tavern with a big box in his wagon, which he claimed was farm machinery.

Although skepticism was building vested interests had developed and many people had taken stock in the new enterprise and didn’t welcome anything to discredit their dream.

have you heard of the Cardiff Giant?

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P. T. Barnum

Only publication of things favorable became welcome. Adverse testimony was excluded. P.T. Barnum the famous showman became interested. He attempted to buy the statue but unsuccessfully. In his typical manner he created one of his own. It as also shown as “the Cardiff giant” and hard to tell from the original. Credibility of the discovery faded.

Soon affidavits from responsible people in Iowa and Illinois established that a figure was made at Fort Dodge, Iowa Hull acknowledged the hoax, partly because his goal was to make a fool of certain clergy.

It seems, according to Wikipedia, that the term associated with P.T.Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute” was in reference to people paying to see Barnum’s giant. It was made by David Hannum but now attributed to Barnum.

This case was discussed in my anthropology class in 1957 along with stories of big foot and other interesting but unproved phenomena.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 2 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your observation, Jack.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 2 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Mariene, Sorry I missed reading your comment. I was rather inactive on Hubpages for a time. Thank you never the less for commenting.

    • jgshorebird profile image

      Jack Shorebird 2 months ago from Southeastern U.S.

      Don, this story is interesting. Bits of history mixed with why and how hoaxes create their own belief systems.

    • profile image

      Marlene 3 years ago

      No, I think companies that put prtiofs ahead of safety are trying to convince everyone that they are innocent little lambs.Read up on the history of du pont and leaded gasoline 60 years of massive amounts of lead in the air and a propaganda campaign to convince everyone that it is harmless.I happen to be old enough to remember the debates back then and in all honesty the global warming arguments sound surprisingly similar in tone.When considering these debates .. ask yourself who is making money from it . they are the ones most likely to lie.Are the environmentalists going to profit from cap and trade? Any way you slice it, pollution is bad.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hoaxes were part of our culture at one time. Peple like Ben Franklin and Mark Twain were involved in many. They were sort of practical jokes on a large scale, I guess. Thanks for commenting.

    • NathaNater profile image

      NathaNater 5 years ago

      Very fascinating: Amazing how much effort was put into the hoax and how many people it drew. Very interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Anaya,

      I am glad you enjoyed the hub.Hoaxes are an interesting bit of our culture and history.Thanks for commenting.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      I'd never heard of the Cardiff Giant, but I enjoyed your telling of the story immensely!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Yes, they do. It occurs to me that they are an elaborate version of the practical joke.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 6 years ago

      very interesting hoax. Hoax surely gives us topic to talk over a cup of coffee.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      It must have been a fascinating experience.I took a look at your hub and it is quite good. thanks for commenting on mine.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      As you can see from the hub links, I also wrote a hub on the Cardiff Giant. I had the thrill to see the actual giant in New York some years ago. Recalling the old hoax stories of my youth, and seeing the giant there, I was beside myself with joy.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      That's interesting.

    • profile image

      Pearljr 6 years ago

      Michael Jackson is now having a tribute called 'Michael Forever" in Cardiff Wales on Oct 8, 2011--the same month as the unveiling of the Cardiff Giant.

      There is much speculation that Michael Jackson faked his death and had been planning it for more than a decade, but due to circumstances, he could not do it until June 25, 2009.

      Watch the jaw-dropping 52-minute documentary "Alive! Is Michael Jackson Really Dead?" on Neflix tonight or order you DVD on amazon.

      Michae Joe Jackson has pulled off the greatest hoax in world history and will make a ComeBack, which will also be the GREATEST ComeBack of all time.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Isn't it though? Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 7 years ago from Texas

      Fascinating! The things some folks will get up to! :D

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The sciences at this time were at their early stages so there may be some excuse. Thanks for the comment. I remembe the"Chariot of the gods" although I read it in a book.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      This giant is new to me. But I am not surprised. If we don't understand it or if a so-called educated person says it - then it must be true.

      I remember a reputable public TV station reporting as fact a program called Chariot of the Gods - proving that aliens came from out of space to build the pyramids because there was no way 'on earth' that humans could have created such a marvel. Wow! The buzz in my ancient history class the next day - until the professor walked in and told his students that he had no reason to believe that African people could not build the pyramids - and it was our fault if we could not figure out how. That put an end to the out of space nonsense. But folks were quick to believe it because it was on PBS and done by an "Intellectual" - who of course has since been soundly discredited.

      Fun hub! Thanks a lot.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I don't know if he played them on his family and friends or just his enemies. Thanks for your comment.

    • RunAbstract profile image

      RunAbstract 7 years ago from USA

      Amazing and interesting what lengths a person would go to in order to pull such a hoax off! The expence alone is astounding! I can only imagine the practicle jokes he must have played on his family and friends!

      Very good article! I enjoyed it very much!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading and commenting. There is more than one aspect of human nature at work here.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Very interesting story, and still realistic, about how people are absorbed into something like that. Too, the scientific experts can be about as wrong as the regular Joe and probably are more than we realize. Makes me think to remain...careful...

      Thanks for a fun share here!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your reading it and commenting. The amazing part is that so many "scientific" people thought it was genuine.

    • Jason R. Manning profile image

      Jason R. Manning 7 years ago from Sacramento, California


      very funny story, I too never heard of this hoax, it is even funnier the length people will go to prove someone wrong through false intention. I agree with Kim, it is a little like the prank Orson Wells played. Very good story telling, I appreciate it, great research.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Very true. The more i get into it the more I see the hoax a a part of our folklore.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 7 years ago

      dahoglund , funny what man will do , And its still there in human nature to sesationalize everything , all we have to do today is watch the media.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment and the rating. I am glad you found it interesting and informative.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I never about this before. But the history behind this looks amazing. Thanks for share with us. I really enjoy this story. Good work, my friend. Rating up!


    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I think it is fascinating for the human nature aspects. It does seem that people want to believe something and latch on to some unlikely things.Thanks for reading it and commenting.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 7 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      There's a bit of history I knew very little about. Thanks for the information. Very interesting.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the historical detail. Actually I always thought it was a great saying so I don't know why it should be a stigma.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      This is where, "P. T. Barnum Never Did Say

      "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute" but was credited with the saying... Actually, it was said by his competitor. Here's the incredible story.

      Hannum brought a lawsuit against Barnum for calling his giant a fake. When it came to trial, Hull stepped forward and confessed that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax and the entire story. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling Hannum's giant a fake since it was a fake after all. Thereafter, Hannum's name was lost to history while Barnum was left with the misplaced stigma of being the one to say "There's a sucker born every minute."

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I think there are a tradition almost. Thanks for commenting.

    • Jeremey profile image

      Jeremey 7 years ago from Arizona

      Stories like this make me wonder how suseptible to other hoaxes we all are in regards to some that may have gone on and continue to go on into the future,the people not yet aware or 'convinced" they are hoaxes. I'm being general and do not refer to anything specific, other than the way people can have the wool pulled over their eyes out of our natural curiousities of the unknown.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting. Actually the radio thing was just an adaptation of a science fiction book. The producers never realized anyone would take it seriously.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      That's hilarious! I never heard of the Cardiff giant. I still like that radio hoax about martians invading the earth. Thanks for the chuckle, dahoglund.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hoaxes seem to be an American tradition and associated with our literary figures such as Washington Irving and Mark Twain.Thanks for commenting.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Ever since I first heard of the Cardiff Giant, I was amazed at the lengths people would go to in order to create a buzz. Think of the Fiji Mermaid (A monkey with a fish tail) which was masterminded by P.T. Barnum.

      At one point, Barnum was exhibiting his own Cardiff giant in New York at the same time that the original statue was being shown just a few miles away. Both exhibits made money.

      Thanks for the fun hub.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      There were many such hoaxes. the Cardiff giant was about the biggest of its kind. Thanks for commenting

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      A similar hoax occurred in my home town of Moundsville surrounding the discovery of an object carved with figures in the Mound. The man who at that time owned the Mound was trying to make money with this hoax and had hired an archaeologist to verify the object but this scientist was bribed by the owner to aid his hoax!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for you comment.

    • chinafood profile image

      chinafood 7 years ago from china

      United States, is a very great country, although I can not go to the U.S., but I am longing for.


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