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Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast where I make at least two men shut up and let me tell them a story.I'm your host this week, Jenn, and with me are (introduce each host and their blurb) I'm Shea, and this week I learned that barn owls were super excited when humans finally invented barns. I'm Aaron, and this week I learned that most of us are constantly surrounded by ancient giants… but no one cares because trees are boring.
A Most Decided Humbug
“Some old Indian has been buried here!”In fact it was a 10ft tall giant, made of stone, lying in a weirdly contorted manner, but with a serene expression on his big ole face. Despite looking like a first-timer’s practice sculpture, people were very bored in those days and word traveled quickly. After it was fully excavated people began to flock to the farm for a view. From history.com, the Syracuse Journal later wrote:
“Men left their work, women caught up their babies, and children in numbers, all hurried to the scene where the interest of that little community centered.”Since Cardiff was already known for its fossil deposits, many surmised that the body was an ancient man that had been petrified by the waters of a nearby swamp. While early examinations appeared to confirm this theory, a Syracuse-based science lecturer later declared the giant was not a man, but rather a statue possibly carved by French Jesuits centuries earlier. As the speculation mounted, Stub Newell played the part of the humble farmer with aplomb. He even vowed to re-bury the giant and forget about it until his neighbors “convinced” him that the discovery might have some historical value.” Yes, Stub made a spectacle of being reticent about housing the giant, but he pretty quickly had a big tent set up over the hole and began charging $0.25 per view. In addition to thinking he may be a fossilized person, Biblical literalists were thrilled with the idea of real giants, proving that the verse in Genesis that references giants is real and true and good. (The verse that states “there were giants in the earth in those days.”) With the numbers of thrill-seekers growing and the price per head ballooning to $0.50, it didn’t take very long before entertainment folks started sniffing around. Stub decided to sell his stake in the giant for $23,000 to a group headed by David Hannum, who then moved the big guy to Syracuse, NY. Of course, who could have a 19th century freaky discovery without alerting the big top showman himself, PT Barnum. Smelling the potential for profit, Barnum offered the Syracuse group $50,000 (a stupidly huge amount of money at the time), that was surprisingly turned down. Of course, knowing PT, he packed up his bag, said ‘thanks, anyway!’ and went home. Ha! Whatever! Barnum instead pulls a switcheroo, creates his own goofy and poorly sculpted stone giant, which he begins to to market in NYC as the ‘orignal Cardiff giant’. Hannum decides to sue, Barnum laughs really loudly all the way to the bank. (In fact, he laughed all the way through history: Hannum, in reference to those paying to see Barnum’s version of the giant, was quoted in one newspaper as saying “There’s a sucker born every minute”. But who is that quote always attributed to…?) Taking a quick step back from the showmen making their money off gullible people and no one understanding how fossils work, let’s go back to 1867 and introduce George Hull, a man that really can’t let an argument go. Like at all. It was this year that the contrarian tobacconist got involved in a heated argument with a Methodist revivalist preacher. Hull, an avowed atheist, was really not dealing well with having a long talk with a biblical literalist and left the conversation ready to make a monkey out of them all. Hull travels to Iowa and begins his plan. From legendsofhistory.com “He purchased an acre of land along Gypsum Creek. Then he hired men in Fort Dodge to carve out a 12 foot long, by 4 foot wide, block of gypsum that was 2 feet thick. Telling the local men it was for a monument to Abraham Lincoln, he then had the block shipped to Chicago, where he hired Edward Burghardt, a German stonecutter, to secretly carve it into the likeness of a man. The giant had details like nails, nostrils and an Adam’s apple, clearly visible ribs, and even a hint of muscle definition. Its left leg was twisted over the right and its hand seemed to be holding its stomach in pain, though the facial expression was serene. Later, visitors would remark upon its “benevolent smile,”. The giant originally had hair and a beard, but were removed when Hull learned that hair would not petrify. Workers applied sulfuric acid and other liquids that left it with a dark, dingy, aged hue. After they were finished, Hull then secretly shipped the carved block to Cardiff, New York, where it was put into a pit and buried on land owned by his cousin William ‘Stub’ Newell. Hull’s total cost in setting his plan in motion was $2,600, which would equate to over $42,000 in 2016.” About a year later, Stub sets the second part of the plan into motion by digging a second well. And here we are. Hannum has decided to sue Barnum for disparaging his big, weird stone lump but when taken to court the judge had no time for these shenanigans. From history.com:
“The judge hearing the case just said “Bring your giant here, and if he swears to his own genuineness as a bona fide petrification, you shall have the injunction you ask for.” In other words: You can’t really have a fake of a fake.”It turns out nothing really ever worked out well for poor Hannum. By the time the lawsuit was at the point of ‘you show me your giant, I’ll show you mine’, it was pretty much understood that the Cardill giant was a big ole fakey fake. To finish it up, from livescience.com: “Paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh declared that it was a fake and on February 2, 1870, the Chicago Tribute published an exposé that included confessions from the masons who had worked on the giant. Hull walked away from the encounter with between $15,000 and $20,000, a small fortune at the time. Today, the Cardiff Giant can be seen at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York.”
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The Solid Muldoon and more Giants
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