Today, the Bridgeport Connecticut Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin with its image of P.T. Barnum remembers the day 147 years ago when a newspaper published information about the Cardiff Giant hoax.
In The History of Sauk County, Wisconsin by the Western Historical Company, published in 1880, an article from the first number of the Sauk County Herald addressed the Cardiff Giant:
The “Cardiff Giant” controversy, instead of subsiding like a collapsed humbug, is growing warmer and more mysterious. Below we give the Chicago Tribune’s version of the creation of “Old Cardiff,” which, if true, would seem to settle the question, and cause people to laugh loudly at one of the best-planned and most successful humbugs ever perpetrated, outrivaling the Mermaid, Joyce Heth or any of the rest of Barnum’s best.
On the other hand, we have before us a copy of the Onondaga (Syracuse) Standard, of February 2, containing ten affidavits and a copy of about as many freight bills, showing that the big iron-bound box which the Tribune assumes to have contained the gypsum giant, really contained tobacco manufacturing machinery of George Hull, our former townsman, packed with unmanufactured tobacco; and showing as straight a tracer as ever lawyer or railroad man could desire for conviction, that the said mysterious iron-bound ton-and-a-half box was conveyed to a point on the Black River Canal, south of Remson, Oneida County, and there opened in presence of Orson Davis, a reputable affiant, and that its contents were tobacco machinery and tobacco, as aforesaid, and that said contents were then transferred to a canal boat in waiting.
The supposition, on a review of this theory, is, that George Hull was smuggling his wares away from seizure by the revenue officers, he having been “confiscated” and proceeded against at Binghamton some weeks previous for having defrauded the Government.
While the erudite, keen, scrutinizing Syracuse detectives are out affidaviting their Chicago cotemporaries, we, an unpretending countryman, well acquainted with George Hull, will suggest to them the way they were fooled, as follows:
The box which they traced from Chicago to Black River Canal was not the box that started, but got duplicated by a box of similar dimensions, somewhere in the region of Cardiff; and while the giant statue was being buried one night on Newell’s farm, George Hull’s machinery, boxed at the place of somebody in league with him, was trundled right along to the Black River Canal for the very purpose of having this same tracer follow it as the same box which left Chicago.
The head or heads cunning enough to originate the giant hoax are certainly shrewd enough to mystify a people by just such a trick as this.
The Tribune says:
“In an article on the ‘Cardiff Giant,’ published in the Tribune about two months since, it was asserted that the ‘ancient individual ‘ was made in Chicago. There was sufficient ground for making the assertion at that time, but the evidence necessary to prove it could not be obtained.
“It was known to exist, however, but those who possessed the facts were unwilling to divulge them, fearing that they might in some way compromise their reputations as honest men. They read the opinions given by learned scientists as to the antiquity of the piece of gypsum, and laughed in their sleeves.
“They could not understand how people could be so easily humbugged. This cannot be wondered at, because they were workers in marble and could not tell whether the statue had been cut out by a workman or not.
“The majority of those who were present when the ‘last one of an extinct race’ was unearthed, did not know whether it was stone or a petrifaction. Hence the excitement which followed, and the interest taken in the ‘giant’ is, in a measure, excusable.
“The opinion of an eminent sculptor of New York, who was called upon by the finder (?) to examine it, was not regarded, for the reason that he maintained that it had been chiseled out. Such a thing was impossible, they said. He did not know anything.
“The learned scientists — gentlemen who have devoted years of study to unravel the secrets of antiquity — were next called upon. They confirmed the statement of the unlearned rustics, and said it was really a petrified man.
“There were some men who were incredulous, and these endeavored to explode the theories advanced by the said scientists, but, as they were in the minority, they were unsuccessful.
“Every story started by them was circulated throughout the country, and so were the refutations made by those pecuniarily interested in the ‘giant.’
“The latter individuals had the best of it, and many thousands of people in the country today firmly believe the Cardiff Giant is really a petrifaction, and that he, thousands of years ago, walked, talked, ate and slept.
“To prove that this is not true is the purpose of this article. The few men who were aware of the circumstances connected with the making of the image, have furnished the information. Their names are suppressed, but if the gentlemen now exhibiting the swindle to the people of the East want them, and the affidavit of the man who cut the figure out, they can be satisfied upon application.
“In the latter part of June, 1868, two men, one of them at present a large owner in the giant, arrived in Chicago. They had some time considered the feasibility of inaugurating a humbug, and had determined upon having something ancient — a statue so old that it would cause wonder and create such an excitement that before it subsided their pockets would be full, and their object accomplished.
“The work of cutting out the statue would have to be done secretly, and none but a man who could remain quiet was competent to do it. They searched for some time, and finally met a German who had been in this country about four years, then in the employ of a well-known sculptor of this city.
“He agreed to do the work for $75, down. A block of gypsum, twelve feet long, three feet wide and eighteen inches thick, was procured from Fort Dodge, Iowa, and placed in a gentleman’s barn near Lincoln Park, on the North Side.
“The owner of the structure was let into the secret, as was another, an assistant to the German. These were the only persons, beside the two men mentioned, who knew anything of it.
“Even the three did not know what was to be done with it when it was completed. In the latter part of July, the two commenced the work of chiseling.
“In consequence of the thinness of the stone, about a foot and a half was taken off one end of the block, in order to have a better proportioned man.
“A model was necessary, so one of the men who made the arrangements — Hull by name — who is himself a giant in size, with sufficient intellect to humbug the learned savans and wise men of the East, stripped and chose the peculiar position to suit the twisted and unfavorable position of the stone.
“The artist then inquired what was to be made, and was instructed to make anything — a monkey, a baboon, or something that would represent a man.
“So, without questioning the motives of his employers, he set to work. There was no necessity for his leaving the barn for a drink when employed, as plenty of beer was supplied him. At the close of the eighteenth day the figure was nearly completed.
“He did not work at it steadily every day, but whenever he got an opportunity during the daylight, also at night. His employers then came to look at it, but what was their surprise when they found that the artist had given the figure any quantity of hair. There were ringlets dangling from the head, long beard and patches on other parts of the body.
“Hull said that would never do— hair would not petrify. The German was puzzled, and knew not what they meant, but removed the hair at their request. In two days more the work was pronounced done by the artist, and his employers, after examining it, expressed themselves as satisfied.
“Now to make it look old. A gallon of strong acid was procured and put on him. It ate into the soft material, producing spongy-looking cavities. A quantity of English ink was then applied, and this had the effect of giving the giant the appearance of venerable age.
“The next step was packing him in a box. During the next week the box was carted to the Michigan Southern Railroad depot. It remained there for so long a time that the owners were notified to take it away, as it occupied so much room and could not be moved to make space for goods received and delivering.
“It was subsequently removed and placed aboard a schooner, which sailed for some Eastern lake port. The next heard of it was being unearthed on a farm in New York State, and an announcement of its antiquity. What has been done with it since, the public well know, and therefore repetition is unnecessary.
“The artist, who is a very modest man, and whose name is yet unknown to fame, does not consider this his best effort. This is evidenced by a remark he made when told that it was a very poor piece of workmanship. ‘Vell,’ said he, ‘they hurried me like doonder — any baker could make so goot a tings out of dough.’
“He further said, in view of these hard times, that he would be willing to take orders for duplicates from the admirers of antiquity and petrifaction at the same price, provided that the ten-acre quarry at Fort Dodge, which was purchased by Hull & Company to get the stone to make the giant, is not already exhausted by parties seeking specimens of this now celebrated stone for their cabinets.
“If the owners of the giant who perpetrated the joke on the savans, and a goodly portion of the people of the country, find that their swindle is in any way interfered with by this expose, let them secure the services of some influential newspaper, and some more affidavits and opinions of the wiseacres of science, and they may be able to sell some more stock in their enterprise.
“If they do this, as stated before, the names of men in this community — honest, responsible men, who are now acquainted with all the circumstances — will be given, backed by their affidavits, and conclusive proof will be brought forward to show the Cardiff Giant to be one of the greatest humbugs ever gotten up in this country.”
The Bridgeport Connecticut Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the Cardiff Giant.