Thursday, April 29, 2010

Looking Back On 1,000 Entries; THE STORY OF THE CARDIFF GIANT (July 23, 2009)



For some time I'd been thinking about reposting some of my personal favorite entries from this blog as kind of a "look back" at the first 1,000 articles. Some regulars may never have seen these, and a few of the entries may help to provide insights to something topical- hopefully. Though this blog deals with political issues, most know that I do branch out into other areas. The following repost is from last summer, July 23, 2009. Some comments on this blog ask the question, "How does (fill in the blank of a politician or media gasbag) get away with it?". I think in this entry you'll see clues to the answer. Most people have a belief system that cannot be touched or altered no matter what you do- a very religious person will hang on their faith, the conspiracy theorist will believe despite any conflicting evidence, and the guy who thinks that he was abducted by aliens will see little green men behind every event on planet earth. Let's take a look at one of the great hoaxes in American history, The Cardiff Giant. The bottom line with this story is that many people will believe a fraud to be true, even after the fraud has been exposed. And to paraphrase Yogi Berra, "nobody can stop 'em".

"The American People Love To Be Humbugged"; The Incredible Story of the Cardiff Giant (July 23, 2009)



While writing a previous entry about the "birther" movemement I kept having the same recurrent thought; that there is a segment of the American population who will believe even the most ridiculous or improbable scenario. Birthers believe that Barack Obama was not American born, but is indeed Kenyan. When confronted with pictures of his birth certificate, with the raised seal, and with copies of his birth announcement from a local paper from Honolulu these people continue to say that both are frauds, hoaxes, and these documents are forgeries. They somehow forget that if these were truly forgeries, don't you think that (A) Hillary Clinton or (B) John McCain would have found out and used that to derail The Obama Express?

I personally think that birthers are of the same mentality who think WWE wrestling isn't scripted, and its on the level. They're not alone. We have conspiracy theorists involving the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing, Elvis Presley's death, Jim Morrison and Andy Kaufman faking their demise...and the granddaddy of 'em all, the JFK assassination

There's something in human nature....and in our American character....that really wants to believe in nonsense. Birthers are an example, so are the "Dittoheads" of Mr.Limbaugh. And its not a new phenomenon. PT Barnum figured it out a long time ago. Barnum once said, "The American people love to be humbugged". This was reportedly said when he was trying to sell the American people that his Cardiff Giant was the REAL Cardiff Giant, not the one that was being displayed in Syracuse, NY. Everyone knew that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax, a fake...but Barnum had people spending good money to see that he had the one and only AUTHENTIC fake. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll backtrack, and tell you the story.

It was October 16, 1869. On William A. Newell's farm in Cardiff, NY two workers were digging a well when they struck something hard. They dug up what appeared to be a 12 foot tall statue of a man....or was it a statue? Newell declared that The Giant was a petrified man. Soon he erected a tent around The Giant, and charged at first 25 cents a head to see the Cardiff Giant. Genesis 6:4 said, "There were giants in the earth in those days." And Newell played that hand in promoting The Giant- he was part of a race that walked the earth, because the Bible said so. The crowds were at first hundreds, and then thousands, as the God fearing folks from even hundreds of miles away heard the news and had to see the Cardiff Giant.

And of course, Mr. Newell doubled the admission price to fifty cents per person.

A group of Syracuse businessmen saw a cash cow when they saw one. They bought the Cardiff Giant from Newell for $37,500. This was probably more money than farmer Newell could expect to earn in a lifetime. The new owners moved the Cardiff Giant to downtown Syracuse, and raised the price of admission again. Business boomed downtown, and all was well...at least for awhile.

Since the Giant was moved to a larger city and gained more notoriety, new questions arose about what the Cardiff Giant really was. A paleontologist from Yale, Othniel C. Marsh, decided to check it out. And to be brief...it "hit the fan".

Marsh noted that there were fresh chisel marks on the 12 foot stone man. This "petrified man" was actually only a few months old, probably cut from local rock in one of the area's quarries.

The news of this hoax broke....and a tobacconist from Binghamton named George Hull decided to come clean and tell the truth; for $2,600 he had a crude statue of a giant cut from stone....with the help and collusion of his cousin, William Newell....and then buried on Newell's farm. Hull was an atheist who got into an argument with a fundamentalist preacher who believed that every word in the Bible must be taken literally- even the passage about "giants" who once walked the earth. So Hull decided to show just how easy it is to fool Americans, particularly those who were entrenched in biblical dogma. And he wanted to make a few bucks on the hoax.

Now with the exposure of the fraud, the story should be over. But to borrow a line from a certain TV football analyst....not so fast, my friend.

The whole world knew the Cardiff Giant was a fake; but the crowds kept coming to downtown Syracuse to see it- and paying money to do so.

Its at this point that Phineas T. Barnum came into the picture. PT's American Museum in New York City had recently burned to the ground, and he needed to get some new exhibits for his next venture. He was a showman who displayed many "curiosities", more than a few of dubious origin. Barnum offered to buy the Cardiff Giant for $60,000. The owners of The Giant refused Barnum's offer.

After he was rebuffed in his attempt to buy The Cardiff Giant, Barnum decided to build his own replica of The Giant. Then he placed ads in various newspapers stating that his Cardiff Giant was the REAL Cardiff Giant In other words, his fake Giant was the REAL fake Giant, and the Syracuse fake Giant was a "fake" fake Giant.

When the owners of the Syracuse Cardiff Giant heard this development, one of them said, "Well, I guess there's a sucker born every minute". That quote is usually erroneously attributed to PT Barnum. The Syracuse group tried to sue Barnum, but the presiding judge threw the case out of court.

And still....people came to see the Cardiff Giant(s)....even to this day. Barnum's version is now at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum near Detroit, while Hull's "original" is at The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

Credits; much of the information for this entry came from The Museum of Hoaxes.. In addition the book Finding Oz by Evan I Schwartz was an inspiration to examine the topic. His book on the life of L. Frank Baum and the creation of The Wizard of Oz is great read, and a fantastic look at life in the 19th century, and how Baum's characters and stories were created and came to life. Check out the website...you won't want to leave it.

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