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 minister who was a Bible literalist. Hull remembered Genesis 6:4 and its reference to "giants in the earth" and wondered if people like the minister would be gullible enough to believe that a large, stone statue found in the ground was actually a petrified giant. He decided to find out.

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

Hull purchased a block of blue-veined gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and shipped it to Chicago, where he had it carved into a statue using himself as the model. It was over ten feet long and weighed 3,000 pounds when finished. Hull washed it with sulfuric acid and pounded it with darning needles to make it look old, then had it shipped in secret to upstate New York and buried on a friend's farm in Cardiff. It cost $2,600, but Hull figured that enough people would want to see it for him to make a profit.

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 Bible literalists 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 labeled a "scoundrel" by 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 ended up in the rumpus room of a private home in Des Moines. After years of haggling, the New York Historical Association bought the giant in 1947 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 displayed in a tent on the museum grounds, so its visitors have to wind their way past "New York State Coverlets 1790-1860" or some equivalent exhibition of historical interest -- and pay an admission fee, of course. George Hull would be proud.

Also see: Battle of the Cardiff Giants | Solid Muldoon

Cardiff Giant

Farmer's Museum

Address:
5775 State Highway 80 (Lake Rd), 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:
Summer daily 10-5; off-season Tu-Sa 10-4. Closed Nov-Dec. (Call to verify)
Phone:
607-547-1400
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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November 20, 2019

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