Cardiff Giant on display today.

Cardiff Giant

Field review by the editors.

Cooperstown, New York

The Cardiff Giant was conceived by George Hull, a cigar manufacturer and atheist, after he'd spent an evening arguing with a fundamentalist minister. Hull remembered Genesis 6:4 and its reference to "giants in the earth" and wondered if people like the minister could be convinced that a large, stone statue found in the ground was actually a "petrified giant." He decided to find out.

Hull had a statue carved in secret and used himself as the model. It was over ten feet long when finished. Hull washed it with sulfuric acid and pounded it with darning needles to make it look old, then had it buried on a friend's farm in Cardiff, NY. It cost $2,600, but Hull figured that enough people would want to see it for him to make a profit.

The exhibit includes historic photos and ads from the period.
The exhibit includes historic photos and ads from the period.

A year later, on October 16, 1869, workers hired to dig a well on the Cardiff farm instead dug up the giant. The statue was immediately denounced as a fraud but, as Hull had guessed, it was fervently defended by Christian fundamentalists and also by civic boosters in whatever city happened to be exhibiting it. The debate raged long enough for Hull to make $30,000 charging admission at 50 cents a peek. For this stroke of marketing genius, Hull has been branded a "confirmed scoundrel" by many historians.

The Cardiff Giant was so successful at making money that P.T. Barnum (father of the Fejee Mermaid) had his own giant sculpted -- a fake of the fake -- and given its own tour. It was only when both giants appeared in New York City at the same time that the hoax was finally acknowledged by everyone (The false giant, according to its current owner, can be seen at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, Farmington Hills, Michigan).

The giant, bereft of supporters, was reduced to a sideshow freak and eventually wound up in the rumpus room of a private home in Des Moines, IA. After years of haggling, the New York Historical Association bought the giant for $30,000 and brought it to Cooperstown, where it has resided at the Farmers Museum -- a place that features broom-making demonstrations -- ever since.

The giant is hidden in a tent, so to see it you'll have to pay an admission fee and fight your way past "New York State Coverlets 1790-1860" or some equivalent exhibition of historical interest. George Hull would be proud.

Also see: Battle of the Cardiff Giants

Cardiff Giant

Farmer's Museum

Address:
100 Lake St., Cooperstown, NY
Directions:
At the Farmer's Museum, a mile north of town on Hwy 80 (Lake Rd). The giant is displayed inside a small tent on the south side of the museum.
Hours:
Daily 10 am - 5 pm summer, Tu-Sa 10-4 off-season; closed Nov-Dec. (Call to verify)
Phone:
607-547-1400
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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