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Cardiff giant

The Cardiff giant is a fake fossil of an antediluvian giant some ten feetPhoto courtesy of Ken Feder high with 21 inch feet. The "fossil" is actually a carved slab of gypsum, sculpted a year or two before its "discovery" in 1869. The fake was the idea of George Hull, a cigar manufacturer and atheist, and a distant relation Stubb Newell, who owned the farm in Cardiff, New York, where the hoax was perpetrated. Experts almost immediately suspected the "fossil" was not a fossil, but their warnings went unheeded. Scientists declaring the fake a fake did not deter visitors, who shelled out 50 cents each to see the "Goliath." Rumor had it that the "fossil" was proof of the Bible's accuracy about giants such as Goliath.  The curious came in the hundreds per day to the remote upstate New York farm for a view of Biblical history.

Within a week of its "discovery," Newell sold three-fourths of his interest in the Giant to a syndicate in Syracuse, New York, for $30,000. Business was so good that P. T. Barnum wanted to get in on the action. He offered to rent the giant for just three months to take on the road with his circus, but Newell and the syndicate wouldn't deal. So Barnum had a duplicate made and charged people to see a fake of the fake. It is said that when both were displayed in New York City at the same time, Barnum's fake of the fake outdrew the real fake (Feder: 36).

Kenneth Feder, in his book on myths and frauds in archaeology, sees the Cardiff giant episode as a familiar one:

Trained observers such as professional scientists had viewed the Giant and pronounced it be an impossibility, a statue, a clumsy fraud, and just plain silly. Such objective, rational, logical, and scientific conclusions, however, had little impact. A chord had been struck in the hearts and minds of many otherwise levelheaded people, and little could dissuade them from believing in the truth of the Giant. Their acceptance of the validity of the giant was based on their desire...to believe it. (Feder: 37)

In short, often the skepticism toward scientific experts is not rooted in the desire to believe only what the evidence supports, but in a desire to believe what one wants to believe regardless of the evidence.

The "fossil" is now on display at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where it is labeled "America's Greatest Hoax."

Barnum did not originate the expression "There's a sucker born every minute," though it has often been attributed to him. David Hannum, leader of a syndicate that purchased the Cardiff giant, was quoted as saying "There's a sucker born every minute" when he heard of Barnum's plan to display his fake of the fake.*


further reading

book

Feder, Kenneth L. (2001). Frauds, Mysteries and Myths, 4th ed. Mcgraw-Hill. (Note: page references are to the 3rd edition.)

websites

The Great Cardiff Giant by Andrew White

The Museum of Hoaxes

Last updated 15-Dec-2013

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