What do you call an artistic reproduction of a hoax? Syracuse artist Ty Marshal is resurrecting The Cardiff Giant, perhaps the greatest hoax perpetuated in nineteenth-century America, or at least the greatest hoax involving a Giant. Back in 1869, George Hull, a scurrilous trickster, fooled wagonloads of New Yorkers into believing that the petrified form of a 10-foot (3-metre) giant had been uncovered from the ground. How could they be so gullible?
The Americans who thronged to see the fake Giant were convinced of the truth of biblical texts such as Genesis 6.4 and Numbers 13.33, which mention giants walking the earth in ancient times. Back in the nineteenth century, it seems that many Americans were prepared to dismiss the findings of scientists (who deemed the Cardiff Giant to be a fake) and favour the fundamentalist preachers who proclaimed it to be evidence of the “truth” of the Bible. Those must have been strange times!
The original giant was created by George Hull, an atheist who created the hoax after attending a Methodist gathering in which parishioners professed to believe that biblical giants once walked the Earth.
“Hull wanted to juke people,” Marshal said. “He wanted to see how easy it was for them to believe something.”
The giant was buried and later discovered on the property of Hull’s cousin, William Newell, who put a tent around the giant and charged 25 cents to see it. After the Syracuse Journal reported on the giant, Newell raised the price to 50 cents and people came “by the wagonload.”
According to Natural History magazine, Hull, a cigar manufacturer from Binghamton, quarried a large block of gypsum in Iowa, and had marble cutters carve it into the rough likeness of a man. Hull drove darning needles into a wooden block to hammer the statue, hoping to simulate pores. He then dumped sulfuric acid on it to simulate erosion.
- Tim Fenster, “Syracuse man to recreate biggest US hoax ever: Cardiff Giant”, The Post-Standard, 20 July 2011
According to Ty, “The sculpture will be fabricated at the Gear Factory on Syracuse’s Near Westside, with an opening at Lipe Art Park on October 16th, 2011, exactly 142 years from the date of the original unearthing. Following the opening, the sculpture will be toured to various locations throughout Central New York for approximately 4 – 6 weeks.” If you think this is a worthy artistic cause, give Ty some money so he can afford some gypsum to make it with, and enough beans and rice to live off for a month or two: www.kickstarter.com/profile/tymarshal.
The Cardiff Giant is the subject of a recent book by Scott Tribble: A Colossal Hoax: The Giant From Cardiff that Fooled America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). You can still see the original Cardiff Giant at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York.