Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/June 1878/The Cardiff Giant, and Other Frauds


THAT great hoax, the Cardiff giant, was conceived by one George Hull, a tobacconist of Binghamton, New York. It was the out-growth of a controversy held one evening in 1866 between Hull and a Rev. Mr. Turk, of Ackley, Iowa, regarding the former existence of giants in the earth, in which the latter proved victorious, his ready tongue and loud voice easily bearing down and overwhelming his opponent. Hull retired at a late hour, and, being chagrined with his defeat, lay awake the greater portion of the night, thinking of the extreme gullibility of the world in matters where the Bible could be cited as evidence, and in planning how to turn this peculiarity to his advantage. The result was, that he decided upon producing an image which should, after being buried and exhumed, pass muster as a fossil man of unusual size, being assured that such men as his late opponent in argument would aid not a little in contributing to the final success of the undertaking.

In 1868, having studied the subject carefully and completed his arrangements, Hull associated himself with one Martin, and proceeded to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to procure a suitable block from which to carve his image. An acre of quarry-land was purchased, and work commenced, but only to be soon abandoned, owing to the extreme friability of the stone, and the persistent annoyance of the curious and inquisitive inhabitants of the neighborhood. Martin, now thoroughly disgusted, withdrew from the project; but Hull, hearing of another gypsum-bed in a more retired locality, on the line of the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad, then in process of construction, went thither, and the following Sunday engaged the foreman of the railroad-gang to employ his men in quarrying out as large a slab as the nature of the ground would permit, paving for the labor with a barrel of beer. The result was a slab weighing three and a half tons, measuring twelve feet in length, four in breadth, and twenty-two inches in thickness. With almost incredible difficulty and labor the block was transported over forty miles of terrible road to Montana, the nearest railroad-station, where it was shipped to E. Burghardt, Chicago, who had been engaged to grave the image. On its arrival at that city, it was moved to Burghardt's barn, which had been prepared for its reception, and two men at once set to work upon it—one, Edward Salle, a German; the other, an American named Markham. It was Hull's desire to represent a "man who had laid down and died;" but, as he entertained doubts as to the universal acceptation of the "fossil-man" theory, it was decided to produce an image that might also pass for an ancient statue. This combination of designs was the cause of that curious feature which attracted notice and provoked discussion when the giant came to be exhibited, viz., the lack of hair.

The last of September the stone-cutting was finished, but the work was far from being completed, having the appearance of newness peculiar to freshly-cut gypsum. The figure was now subjected to long and patient rubbing with sand and water, which produced the water-worn appearance so often cited as incontrovertible evidence of extreme antiquity. The pores of the skin were imitated by carefully pecking the entire surface with leaden hammers faced with needles, giving the peculiar "goose-flesh" which puzzled so many. There still remained an appearance of freshness, which was finally obviated by bathing with writing-fluid, and afterward washing with sulphuric acid, giving the desired appearance of antiquity. Packed in sawdust, the giant, now weighing 3,720 pounds, was shipped to Union, New York, where it arrived October 12, 1868. Meantime Hull proceeded to Salisbury, Connecticut, to inspect a newly-discovered cave, in which he hoped to bury and resurrect his giant, but was discouraged by the price demanded. Suddenly remembering that fossil bones had recently been discovered near Syracuse, New York, he now visited a relative, one Newell, living in the locality, at Cardiff, and opened the enterprise to him, proposing to bury the giant upon his farm. Newell at once accepted the terms proposed—one-fourth interest—and it was decided to inter the image near the barn, where a well had formerly been projected.

All being arranged satisfactorily, Hull returned to Union, November 4th, and shipped the "fossil" for Cardiff by four-horse team, under the charge of his nephew, Tracy Hull, and one Amesbury. On the evening of the 9th of the same month the heavily-laden team arrived, attracting little attention, owing to the darkness and rain, though the peculiar appearance of the iron-bound case and its apparent weight, from the amount of motive power demanded in transportation, had excited considerable curiosity and comment on the road. The box was unloaded and concealed in a pile of chaff, and a few nights later the giant was lowered into its resting-place by means of a derrick.

In October, 1869, nearly a year having elapsed, Hull wrote Newell to "find the giant;" when, in accordance with prearranged plans, two neighbors, Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, were engaged to sink a well; one Woodmansee was secured to stone it, and Newell, aided by one Parker, began drawing stone. Suddenly the shovel of Nichols struck a hard substance, which, in clearing away, proved to be a massive stone foot, calling forth from Emmons the exclamation, "Jerusalem, Nichols, it's a big Injun!" As the earth was cleared away, revealing the outlines, several neighbors, chancing that way, were summoned to view the wonder. This was the nucleus of a crowd which numbered thousands a few hours later.

It has been asserted that the earth showed no signs of having been excavated so recently as the year previous; but one John Hagan, who was among the first of the sight-seers, in a sworn affidavit says: "I took a shovel and got down into the hole, and as fast as they uncovered the body toward the head I cleared the dirt off about up to the hand on the belly. When we were clearing off from the upper portion of the body, the earth cleaved off from the sod and fell upon the body. I said, 'Boys, this is the spot where he was put down.' No reply was made, but Mr. Newell stepped around, and, taking a shovel, trimmed the sod down square with where it came off."

The following day, Sunday, four medical men of the neighborhood, of scientific pretensions, investigated the subject, swallowing the hoax without the least difficulty, pronouncing it to be a "petrified man." Later it was examined by Dr. Boynton, of Syracuse, a man possessed of some antiquarian knowledge, who decided it to be a statue "made some three hundred years ago by the Jesuit fathers," and at once offered $10,000 for it. This and more tempting offers were declined, as sightseers at half a dollar per head were apparently unlimited in number. However, Newell, in compliance with Hull's order, sold a three-fourths interest to half a dozen citizens of Syracuse for $30,000. A show-man was now placed in charge, and, in the way of advertisement, invitations were sent to Prof. Agassiz, Prof. Hull (State geologist), S. B. Woolworth (secretary of the university), etc. November 3d a large delegation of scientific men assembled from different parts of the State for deliberate and thorough inspection, who at once pronounced it a statue, the State geologist declaring it to be of great antiquity. Prof. Ward, who filled the chair of Natural Sciences in the Rochester University, said, "Although not dating back to the stone age, it is nevertheless deserving the attention of archæologists." A prominent clergyman wrote, "This is not a thing contrived of man, but is the face of one who lived like all the earth; the very image and child of God;" thus confirming the impression Hull received from his discussion with the Rev. Mr. Turk.

Suddenly a series of reverses overtook the giant. Prof. O. C. Marsh, of Yale College, gave it a telling blow by stating that gypsum is soluble in 400 parts of water, yet the surface of the giant was smooth and little dissolved, though surrounded by wet earth, proving that the burial must have been of very recent date. He also found other indications of fraud, which had escaped the notice of the State geologist, and other scientists; as recent tool-marks, in places where they could not be easily effaced, and adjoining water-worn surfaces. This was corroborated by Palmer, the sculptor. Soon letters were received from parties who had observed the four-horse team and load on its way to Cardiff; then one from Fort Dodge, detailing the operations in that neighborhood; and, finally, the statement of Markham, one of the stone-cutters, was obtained. Hon. Lewis Baldwin, a gentleman well versed in archaeology, remarked that the giant could neither be a finished statue nor petrifaction, as it had no hair, though complete in other respects. At last the climax was reached, which connected the person who obtained the stone from the neighborhood of Fort Dodge with the giant, by Newell drawing the money received from the Onondaga County Bank in a draft payable to Hull's order.

Yet, for a time, all this discussion only helped to advertise the exhibition, which had been removed to Syracuse, where it was visited by such throngs of people as to require special trains on all the railroads. Says Mr. McKinney, in speaking of the pecuniary returns, "The giant yielded an income equal to the interest of $3,000,000 at seven per cent., and large bids were offered for its purchase, as high as $25,000 being offered for one-eighth interest."

But the blows given soon began to tell. Barnum, having in vain attempted to purchase a share, and obtain the management of the exhibition, bargained with a Syracuse sculptor for an unfinished imitation, which, when completed, was placed in Wood's Museum, New York, and extensively advertised and puffed by means of a pamphlet description of the original. He denounced the Syracuse exhibition as a humbug, claiming himself to be possessor of the "only true and original Cardiff giant." An application was made to Judge Barnard, of Erie Railroad fame, for an injunction against Barnum; but that functionary replied that he had been in the "injunction business," but had "closed out."

Soon the giant came to New York, only to find itself supplanted. After a few days, it was shipped to Boston, where the excitement bade fair to break out again, from the furor created by the learned men of the modern Athens. Ralph Waldo Emerson pronounced it beyond his depth, astonishing, and undoubtedly ancient. Cyrus Cobb, the artist and sculptor, declared that any man who called the giant a humbug "simply declared himself a fool." On the 4th of February a number of Solons visited the giant as an official body. They examined it long and patiently; the exterior was tried with acids; the head bored into, and the compass carried around it in search of iron. The conclusion arrived at was very satisfactory, and undoubtedly true, as it was decided to be a "piece of stratified gypsum, probably very old." The subject invaded the Boston clubs, and one whole evening was occupied by the president of the "Thursday Evening Club" to prove that the giant was modern, because its features were Napoleonic!

But a few weeks elapsed ere the proofs of the frauds perpetrated became incontrovertible, and the Cardiff giant was consigned to popular oblivion.

The Colorado stone man proves to be a veritable brother of the giant, having been begotten by the self-same father. Hull cleared some $60,000 by the latter, with which he embarked in business in Binghamton, New York, by which every dollar was lost. Of late he has been given to the pursuit of experimental chemistry, and, taught by the popular views of Darwin, as expounded by the public press, he began planning to again astonish the good people of the United States. This seemed to take great hold upon his mind, and he frequently remarked that he would like to set the scientific men quarreling as to the origin of man, and throw the religious world into a vortex of doubt and controversy.

Finally his ideas and experiments assumed a definite form, and he proceeded to put them in execution. Forming a partnership with one Case, who possessed the funds requisite for the enterprise, an hotel was bought in Elkland, a little mountain-town in Northern Pennsylvania, and, as a blind, it was announced was to be converted into a summer resort and mountain sanitarium. In the rear of the hotel a brick building was erected, ostensibly as an ice-house; but in reality as a kiln and workshop. Here, one after the other, two figures were constructed, the principal composition of which was ground stone, pulverized bones, clay, plaster, blood, and dried eggs, the whole, when modeled, being baked in the kiln for two weeks. The first was irretrievably broken in removing it from the furnace; but the second proved more successful, greater care having been taken in its construction. In it bones were inserted in different localities, including fragments of skull in the head. Cox, one of the confidants of the scheme, thus details the parturition of the image, as communicated to him by Hull:

"Cox, I would give a hundred dollars if you could have been with Case and me the night we took him out. We had a rope around his neck, and a pulley up there; and how we worked and tugged at the rope! I went through torture—my whole existence hung by that rope. It seemed as if I lived a thousand years while we were pulling him out; and when he hung up there by the neck, I tell you, he looked alive; he looked as if he was going to talk! Don't tell me the people won't be fooled by this!" (A tail, four inches in length, was one of the appendages of the monstrosity.) "Cox, look at that tail; take hold of it! That tail alone is worth a million! I made a difference in the toes, because it would not do to have him too perfect. The arms we made proportionately longer than the legs, so as to resemble the ape type. We propose to let the scientific men bore into him, but they must confine themselves to certain parts of his body, and there we have fixed him by putting in bones."

At this time, having exhausted their funds, the worthies applied to Barnum for means to bury their prodigy, who advanced $2,000 for the purpose. But where to place him was the query! Barnum declared that Connecticut would not do, for to resurrect him in a State so celebrated for humbugs in the way of "basswood hams," "wooden nutmegs," "fraudulent clocks," and the "Great American Show-man," would at once ruin the enterprise.

Finally Colorado, the "Wonder State," was decided upon, and the stone man sent thither and buried along with a turtle and salmon trout of like composition. Next one Conant visited the Rocky Mountains as a geologist, and, at the proper time, discovered the image. Barnum, happening (!) to be lecturing on temperance in Colorado at the time of the discovery, announced that he would give $20,000 for the "find;" but., this offer, of course, was rejected with scorn. Barnum now gave Prof. Taylor $100 to bore into the image and report. Hull, who had heard from scientific men that boring into a true fossil would show crystals, adroitly substituted crystal dust for that obtained, while the professor's attention was otherwise engaged; and all seemed to be going on swimmingly. Finally Prof. Marsh was again called upon for an opinion, and at once detected the fraud, calling attention to the fact that the image presented a rotundity of figure incompatible with the theory of one who had died and become fossilized, in which case the abdomen would naturally be sunken and collapsed. Remembering the Cardiff hoax, this decision caused the people to fight shy of the exhibition. Ultimately suspicion was confirmed by the admissions of Cox, Case, Babcock, and others connected with the enterprise, who, falling out among themselves, at once spread the facts far and wide, in their desire to injure each other; thus forever blasting all hopes of financial success.

Another would-be candidate for archæological and pecuniary honors was one William Ruddock, of Thornton, St. Clair County, Michigan, who in 1876 manufactured, from water-lime, sand, and gravel, a "petrified man," which was claimed to have been found in the gravel-pits of Pine River. Ruddock's pecuniary resources being exceedingly limited, he contented himself with a figure less than four feet in height, with arms folded across the breast; the model having evidently been taken from an "effigy in lava," which illustrates one of J. Ross Browne's sketches of Iceland, as published in Harper's Magazine. This hoax obtained some local celebrity, and even found its way into the general press. Several rural clergymen made it an especial topic in their Sunday discourses; and certain agricultural papers, backed by letters from these same teachers, assured the world that the "Pine River man" was no Cardiff giant, but a bona-fide "creation of God!" But even all this evidence failed to make Ruddock's fossil remunerative, and it was sold to the proprietor of a third-rate side-show for a mere trifle.

After these attempts, it is safe to assert that no ignorant person will again attempt a "prehistoric man," either with or without a caudal appendage. And it is probable that no scientist will be guilty of such an imposition. The greatest wonder is that no counterfeits of the only true fossil men discovered—those of the Mentone caves in France—have reached this country. With their success in the manufacture of artificial stone, the Chinese could doubtless produce a figure that would defy any but the most thorough scientific scrutiny. As John is given to such little games, it would not be at all surprising if he should yet enter the field.