Colorado Mountaineer (Conant's son was publisher!)
Petrifications (W. A. Conant)
Southern Colorado Full of Wonders
We alluded, last week, to some wonderful discoveries made by Mr. L Allen, of Rochester, N.Y. in Southern Colorado and stated that some gentlemen of the city would accompany Mr. Allen to the scene of his discoveries prepared to make other explorations and perhaps bring some of these wonders to town.
With a good substantial team with tools and provisions for several days trip, the party started early last eek and were gone four days. They report that all the statements made by Mr. Allen were more than verified. Various kinds of fruit, or what appears to be petrified fruit, were found in abundance. Specimens of all these may be found on exhibition at our office.
Further down the mound they came upon the sea turtle unearthed by Mr. Allen, and by vigorous application of spade and pick soon laid bare many more. Some of these are so absolutely perfect that no one who had ever seen one of these sea monsters would doubt for a moment that they had, in some long-forgotten age, been residents of some great salt ocean. One of the smallest of these was secured and brought to town and can also be seen at our office.
This mound, and only one the party had time to explore forms one of a vast range or rather group of great numbers of similar kind, and bars unmistakable evidence that it had once been an island of the sea. They are situated some 15 miles from the base of the Rocy Mountains and are of various sizes. The one visited by this party was estimated to be some four miles around at its base, and had about two acres on its surface covered by a thrifty growth of pine, pinyon, cedar, fir and juniper tres. They also found on its sides a species of the cactus, growing to the enormous heigh tof six feet and in full bloom. It should be mentioned also that petrified and agatized wood was foundin large quantities, specimens of which the party secured.
The cold snow storm that visited us last week prevented further researches at this time, but when the weather will admit of campingit is proposed to spend weeks instead of days, and make a thorough exploration, not only of the mound in question, but of many others in the same region.
It si the custom of easter schools and colleges to send out a professor and a class of scholars to ‘do’ our state. These persons will spend a coule of hours at Black Hawk, go through the ‘botaiul’ and finish by riding by Prof. Hull’s works, go home andmake and intelligent report. Now we would suggest that some of our eastern schools send a competent prfessor and a delegation of their best scholoars, and spend a season in this wonder land and possibly they might go home able to add several pages of interesting matter pertaining to ancient history, or solve some of the problems that divide the world.
A Colorado Giant: A Relic of Past Ages
Southern Colorado has always proved a rich field for the researches of the archaelogosit, naturalist and geologist. Ancient buildings and pottery, fossils of all kinds and minerals in endless variety have rewarded the labors of those who have searched for them, and as yet the field is new and almost undtrodden.
A few months since W. A. Conant, who has been traveling in the region of country lying southwest of Pueblo, between the city and Mace’s Hole, discovered a variety of fossils, amonth thothers a sea turtle in an excellent sate of preservation. Mr. Conant called the attention of the newspaper press of the state to his discovery and considerable comment was elicted. The matter gradually passed from the attention of the public, though Mr. Conant determined to search futher is n the same locality with the hpe of making additional discoveries. On Tuesday he arrived in the city, bringing with him a large stone figure of a man, whie he had unearthed at the head of a long dry arroya about six miles north of the residence of P.K. Doson, Esq. about 25 miles form the city. The figure was found imbedded in very hard clay, requiring vigorous use of a pick to loosen it. A dcedar tree grew near by, one of the roots of which had grown between the arm and the body of the figure, making it necessary to cut the root before removing the stature from the bed in which it had been doubtless reposed for centuries.
Mr Conant states that while setting on the ground eating his lunch in the locality above mentioned, his attention was attracted to a curious looking stone protruding from the ground. He removed the arth from aroundit and fournd a resemlacne to a human foot. He then proceeded to dig away the clay about a footin depth and soon uncovered the entire figure, and having obtained assistance brought it this city. Unfortunately in removing the figure from its bed a wooden lever was placed under the neck and the head broken off. It has, however, been neatly replaced.
At first eh discovery was supposed to be the petrified body of a human being of a gigantic stature, but closer examination proves it to be a piece of sculpture, but by whom executed or to what age it belongs no one seems to know. It is composed of a sort of slate rok colored, a dirty yellow on the outside, possibly from contact with the surrounding clay, and represents a man reclining, one arm being crossed over his breast and the other lying along his side with the hand resting on his leg. The position is easy and natural. The entire length of the statue is seven feet six inches, length of arm four feet one inch, breadth across the shoulders two feet, length of the hand twelve and one half inches length of foot thirth ninches. The weigh to the figure is about 450 pounds.
The type of human race represented is a strange one. The head, which is turned slightly to one side as is natural in a reclining position, is of the Asiatic type, a sort of cross between an ancient Egyptian and an American Indian, the cheek bones being remarkably prominent. The figure is spare and thin, much like the men in ancient Egyptian pictures, while the whole body is covered with idnetations. One remarkable feature which strikes the observer is the great length of the arms and the ape like appearance of thehands and feet. The hand which rests on the leg, if the arm were straightened, would reach to the knee, while the feet are long, flat and slim, and the great toes about two inches shorter than those in the middle of the feet.
Since the Muldoon was discovered, says the Pueblo Chieftain, we hear of petrification in various localities in this neighborhood. One man tells of a man imbedded in the rocks, another of a petrified horse, while a third has discovered a fossil elephant entire and of astonishing dimensions. ~Reprinted from Denver Tribune
A correspondent who has evidently been to see Conant’s petrified man writes to know what is the origin of the term ‘Muldoon,’ saying that he has searched all the dictionaries printed form the time the Pilgrims landed to the present day. We confess to ignorance upon the subject, unless it originated with the old Irish song about Muldoon, who, it was will be remembered was a ‘solid man.’ Since the song was written, the term, ‘a solid Muldoon,’ has come into existence. Anyone who is ‘a solid Muldoon’ is suppolsed to be a solid man ~ Denver Tribune
COLORADO MOUNTAINEER (Conant's son was publisher)
The ‘Muldoon’ A petrification
Important Letter from the Discoverer Mr. W. A. Conant
St. Joseph, MO, Oct 21, ’77.
To the Editors of the Mountaineer;
You and your readers have, without doubt, followed the fortunes of Muldoon with no little interest, and will be pleased to learn of his present status.
Negotiations have bene constantly pending between P.T. Barnum and myself, from its discovery until they were closed yesterday in the sale of one half interest to that great showman for the sum of $15,000. The sale was made to depend upon a report of an examination, to be made by some scientist in whose skill Mr. Barnum could place confidence, and on his return east he at once applied to Prof. March, of Yale college, but not being able to procure the services of that gentleman he sent Prof. I.K. Taylor who with Dr. Carpenter of this city and Prof. Paige of Council Bluffs made their examination. At an early day the report of these gentlemen will be submitted to the press and the public.
After spending many hours in and outside exampination these gentlemen procced to bore into the skull. This was done with a common drill, but at the depth of each half inch the dust or powder so removed was laid by itself each paper marked No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The whole then taken to Prof. Taylor’s room at the hotel, the proper tests applied to each, and while I will not pretend to give the scientific result—for that will appear in due time—I am permitted to say that their examination proved that the stone man could not under any circumstances be a work of art, either of ancient or modern times, and that in their opinion, there fore it was genuine petrification, or fossil man. Mr. Barnum’s agent, who arrived the day before, at once made an offer that resulted in the sael of the one half interest, but biding me to remain with it for at least six months.
These are briefly the facts which you are at liberty to place before your readers.
W. A. Conant
It was once a Great Resort
Kemp and Dunlap Days Recalled by an Old Buildings End.
Muldoon was first exhibited at 2nd and Santa Fe Ave. per article about the buildings demolition.
“Somewhere along in ’77 or ’78 the building ceased to be used as a theater and had a varied career for a time. Here it was that the famous or perhaps more properly notorious, “Solid Muldoon,” was first displayed to the public gaze. A male figure about eight fee in length, made of cement and sand, a combination of materials arranged to suit the purpose, was made in Pennsylvania and quietly shipped to Colorado. It was buried in a hill on the Beulah road not far from Peter K. Dotson’s ranch. Here it was ‘discovered’ by one Conant of Colorado Springs and proclaimed far and wide as the petrified remains of a giant man of prehistoric times. It was brought to Pueblo and Exhibited in the former variety theater. No admission fee was charged and the whole town turned out to see the new great wonder. P.T Barnum of circus fame, was in the deal from the start or was interested in ‘the find’ later and Muldoon returned east. His coming was widely herald and he attracted much attention but was soon declared a ‘faker’ and relapsed into oblivious in less time than the time disappeared from the showman king’s later curiosity, the fraud white elephant.
Patrick Ruddy in Town
A busy rancher who is making a sure go of it out Beyond Boggs Flats—Now Owns the ‘Muldoon Hill’
Patrick Ruddy who lives on a ranch 16 miles out form Bessemer on the Beulah road, was in town Monday.
It is not often he comes to town; he is too busy looking after the ranch, with all his stock, his farming and his fence building of it to come in just for the pleasure.
But he is an example of the men who are making a success of dry farming on the Flats, and he is adding to his possessions right along.
Only ten days ago he purchased another tract of land, this time he securing 240 acres from James Livessey, and curiously enough the place has a history.
“The tract embraces the “Solid Muldoon” Hill made famous by P.T. Barnum, the great showman, who caused the Cardiff Giant to be deposited there and next dug up again amid considerable excitement hearabouts, but the old settlers and citizens soon got next to the ruse and made all sorts of good natured fun of the fake. This was some 30 years ago.
But the history of the find went forth and people all over the country flocked to Barnum’s show to see the wonderful Cardiff Giant that far from being the petrified remains of a very large man, was nothing more than a huge stone chiseled after the form of a human being.
The subject was chiseled out some where back east and shipped into Pueblo, then freighted by wagon out to the low ridge of foothills a dozen miles this side of the Rocky Mountains and buried.
Some Pueblo citizen gave it the nickname of Solid Muldoon’ probably so called after a heavy weight wrestler of that day.
This is a divergence of the story of Mr. Ruddy being in tow; but it is a good opportunity to tell the Cadiff Giant story over again.
Mr. Ruddy has been in this place just a quarter of a century, he coming here direct from Ireland, and has made a success of farming and stock raising in the west.
He follow scientific method in farming and has about 200 acres under cultivation..
SOLID MULDOON, OR THE CARDIFF GIANT HEADS WEST
by Chris Root - Denver Public Library Wester History and Geneaology
In 1869, New York tobacconist George Hull perpetrated one of the most infamous hoaxes in American history. What you may not know is that on the heels of his (mostly) successful ruse with the Cardiff Giant, Hull laid out plans for an even more elaborate deception; this one directly tied to Colorado. Though the Cardiff Giant had certainly been a triumph by some measure, it hadn’t succeeded in duping the scientific community as he had hoped. So, using the last of his depleted proceeds from the sale of the Cardiff Giant,
Hull wanted to convince the scientific community that he had discovered the legendary “missing link,” and evidence of tool marks had been a dead giveaway that his first attempt had been carved. Hull was determined not to make the same mistake, so he diligently learned to make plaster molds, which he formed first on his son-in-law (until the cold and discomfort drove him to quit), and then on himself. He also developed, through trial and error, a custom mortar made of both organic and inorganic material, including ground bones and meat. When fired in a kiln, this mortar became suitably hardened, and took on a brownish tone which mimicked an appearance of antiquity.
Hull purchased a human skeleton, which he placed within the framework of the assembled molds, and used the mortar to construct a facsimile of a petrified person (well, not really a “person,” per se). The effigy was a little under 7 1/2-feet tall, with extremely long (over 4-feet long) arms, almost comically oversized feet, and a curled 4-inch tail. The finished creation was beaten with needles embedded in lead to give the appearance of pores. In addition to creating this figure, Hull also crafted a number of “petrified” fruits, as well as a fish and a sea turtle.
By the time he finished baking his creation, Hull was out of money. Remembering that P. T. Barnum had offered to purchase the Cardiff Giant, Hull reached out to see if Barnum would become an investor in his new scheme. Ultimately, Barnum fronted Hull two thousand dollars, in exchange for a whopping 75% stake in his newest undertaking. Barnum drew up a contract, dubbing their partnership “The Giant Company” and then introduced Hull to an associate, William Conant. Barnum sent the two to Colorado to do some location scouting. At this point, Hull began using an alias (most often "George Davis"), to avoid anyone making an association between the soon-to-be-made giant discovery, and the other recent giant discovery.
Ultimately, they decided that a small hill about five miles outside of Beulah, Colorado, would serve their purposes. Once they had settled on this location, they began working towards the next phase: the reveal. One of Conant’s sons, Fred, happened to be the editor of a Colorado Springs newspaper, The Colorado Mountaineer. Hull and Conant, Sr. employed the services of a local rock hound named Lewis Allen and arranged to have him “find” a number of the smaller “fossils” that Hull had created. Conant’s son then dutifully ran stories about these discoveries in his paper, seeding public perception with the notion that the region around Pueblo and Beulah was teeming with untapped archeological resources.
When the time came, the giant was shipped to Colorado Springs by rail (in a boxed marked “machinery”), and Conant, Hull and Allen surreptitiously buried it in the predetermined location. It was left for several months, both so people wouldn’t associate the large crate which had recently arrived with the sudden appearance of a petrified man, and also to let the site settle, so there wasn’t evidence of recent tampering. Hull took a back seat during the discovery and display of his creation, adopting the guise of a humble assistant to Mr. Conant, for fear that someone might recognize him for who he truly was. William Conant, and his (other) son, Will, “discovered” the figure on September 16, 1877.
With the help of Fred Conant’s paper, the news of this amazing discovery spread quickly. By a staggering coincidence, famous showman P. T. Barnum just happened to be in Denver giving a talk to a temperance organization when the discovery was made. He decided to swing down to Pueblo to check it out, since he happened to be in the neighborhood anyway, and stirred up even more public interest when he publicly offered to buy the curiosity for $20,000. Many were skeptical, while others were swayed…and, most importantly, many people were curious enough to shell out fifty cents to take a gander at the mysterious Petrified Man. The Colorado Chieftain dubbed the figure the Solid Muldoon, inspired by an Edward Harrigan's Irish ditty, which contained the line, “There goes Muldoon, he’s a solid man.”
And the solid man did go…for a while. Muldoon was paraded around Colorado and Nebraska before being ushered all the way back to New York, where oddities always drew a curious crowd. However, its lifespan was ultimately fairly short. Hull had overextended himself quite a bit during the manufacture of his humbug, his debts far exceeding the paltry two thousand that Barnum had fronted him. Hull had promised one man, E. J. Cox, half of his share in the proceeds once the Colorado Giant had been revealed. What Hull failed to mention was that by that point he only owned around 12% of his creation, having doled out parts of his portion to numerous people (either for their assistance, or their silence). When Cox discovered that he was looking at far too much of a pittance to make a dent in the amount he had shelled out (at least in the short term), Cox got rather upset, and went to the press, revealing everything he knew about the hoax, including the true identity of George Davis.
Unlike the Cardiff Giant, which still drew curious onlookers, interest dropped off almost immediately once the fraud was revealed. The Muldoon quickly faded from public attention, and nobody - not even the Beulah Historical Society - is sure what ultimately happened to the original. However, in 1976, as part of Colorado's centennial celebration, an artist recreated the figure, and the replica was buried near where the original “discovery” was made, on what is now known as Muldoon Hill, just outside Beulah. The grave marker shown at the top of the page marks its resting place.
Solid Muldoon: Petrified Prehistoric Man was an Elaborate and Daring Hoax
The Solid Muldoon is the name given to a supposedly petrified prehistoric man that was ‘discovered’ in 1877. This ‘ petrified body’ was unearthed by William Conant at Muldoon Hill, a small hill not far from Beulah, Colorado. The Solid Muldoon soon drew the attention of the public and many were willing to pay the 50¢ entrance fee to have a look at him.
The popularity of the Solid Muldoon, however, did not last for long, as it was soon revealed that it was a hoax. Once this revelation was made, interest in the Solid Muldoon plummeted and nobody is sure as to the object’s ultimate fate.
According to some sources, the Solid Muldoon was named after William A. Muldoon, a wrestler who was known as the ‘Solid Man’. Others state that the name was given to the object by The Colorado Chieftain , whose writers drew inspiration from Edward Harrigan’s well-known song, ‘Muldoon, the Solid Man’. In any case, the Solid Muldoon was the work of George Hull, a tobacconist from New York.
The Solid Muldoon was not the first hoax created by Hull. In 1869, Hull created the Cardiff Giant, one of the most infamous hoaxes in American history . The idea to create such a hoax stemmed from a long argument between Hull, an atheist, and a traveling Methodist revivalist preacher named Reverend Turk. The two men were debating about a passage from the Bible ( Genesis 6:4), in which it is written that there were once giants on earth . While Reverend Turk asserted that the Bible should be interpreted literally, Hull remained unconvinced.
The debate got Hull thinking and gave him the idea of creating the Cardiff Giant to demonstrate the gullibility of religious believers . Additionally, he saw this as a means to make some money. In short, he got a block of gypsum and hired stoneworkers to carve it into a giant. He had the Cardiff Giant buried and then ‘discovered’.
News of the ‘discovery’ spread, and many came to see it. While many religious believers saw it as proof that giants existed in the past, as written in the Bible, the Cardiff Giant managed to fool scientists as well, who believed that it was an ancient statue. Nevertheless, there were some sceptics from the start and confessions made by Hull’s stoneworkers confirmed it as a fake. Still, interest in the Cardiff Giant (which became known as ‘Old Hoaxey’) continued, but eventually waned as the century drew to its end.
A couple of years after the hoax was exposed Hull decided to try his luck again. This time he was hoping to fool the scientific community and the Solid Muldoon was to be passed off as the legendary ‘ missing link ’. He knew that a sculpture like the Cardiff Giant would not work and therefore learned to make plaster molds . Through trial and error, he created a mortar using a combination of organic and inorganic materials, including clay, meat, and ground bones .
Next, Hull needed to make molds for the various body parts of the Solid Muldoon and Hull’s son-in-law was used as a model. As the casts were being made in an icehouse, Hull’s son-in-law quit halfway due to the cold. As a consequence, the upper body of the Solid Muldoon was made from casts of Hull’s upper body. As the two men had different builds, the Solid Muldoon was unusually disproportionate.
Hull then purchased a human skeleton, placed it within the assembled molds and poured his home-made mortar into them. The Solid Muldoon was then fired in a kiln and the mortar took on a brownish tone that made it look much older than it actually was. Hull also made a number of ‘petrified’ fruits, a fish, and a turtle to accompany the Solid Muldoon. At the end of his work, Hull realized that he had run out of money and approached the famous showman, P.T. Barnum , to see if he would like to invest in his scheme. Barnum agreed and gave Hull $2000 in exchange for a 75% share in the venture.
Hull was introduced by Barnum to one of his associates, William Conant, and the men began to plan the Solid Muldoon’s ‘discovery’. Hull and Conant traveled to Colorado to find a suitable spot to bury the ‘petrified body’ and settled for Muldoon Hill. The next step was to create some hype around the area. A local rock hound by the name of Lewis Allen was hired to ‘discover’ some of the smaller ‘ fossils’ made by Hull, and this was reported in the Colorado Mountaineer , a local newspaper where one of Conant’s sons was working as an editor. This served to create an impression in the minds of the public that the area was rich in archaeological resources .
The Solid Muldoon was then shipped to the site, buried, and left for several months. On September 16, 1877, the Solid Muldoon was ‘discovered’ by Conant and another of his sons. Needless to say, the story was publicized by the Colorado Mountaineer . Public interest was roused further by Barnum, who had conveniently been in Denver. He decided to drop by to have a look at the Solid Muldoon and offered publicly to buy the petrified man for $20,000.
Hull’s hoax did not last long, however, as it was soon exposed by a man called E.J. Cox, who had been promised half of Hull’s share of the proceeds once the Solid Muldoon was ‘discovered’. What Cox was unaware of at the time was that Hull’s share was by then less than 15%. When Cox found out about this he felt that he had been cheated and exposed the whole affair to the press.
What is a Solid Muldoon?
Sally Elliott, Historian,
The name of the Deer Valley ski run "Solid Muldoon" comes from a Park City mining claim patented in 1882. But where did it originate even before the mining days?
It seems several separate events established and embellished a heroic character, "Solid Muldoon," all arising from Irish folklore. The first was a very popular song, "Muldoon, the Solid Man," written by New York Irish playwright, director, actor, lyricist and singer Edward Harrigan, half of the famous duo Harrigan and Hart. In the mid-1800s "solid" meant respectable and wealthy (and was later also associated with satirical sketches of corrupt politicians).
Next came William A. Muldoon (1852-1933), widely known as "the Solid Man" for his Greco-Roman wrestling feats and ability as a boxing and fitness trainer. He was a bugle boy and fought in the Civil War, Indian wars, and Franco-Prussian War, where he was encouraged to develop his significant talent as a wrestler. He returned to New York to serve in the police department and continue his training as a fighter. He was the inaugural Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, maintained a fitness center in White Plains and is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The most bizarre association with the name came from a story that appeared in newspapers in 1877. A giant, seven-and-a-half foot tall, prehistoric man had supposedly been unearthed in Beulah, Colorado. The mummified body was said to be the critical link between apes and human. It even had a remnant tail, thus "proving" Darwinian evolutionary theory. It was unearthed by William Conant, a former employee of P. T. Barnum, and sent on tour as the "Solid Muldoon."
As it turned out, a fellow named George Hull, perpetrator of the another hoax known as the Cardiff Giant, had created the specimen from clay, ground rocks, meat, ground bones, blood and mortar and dried it for days in a kiln. He buried it near Beulah in clay, tangled in cedar roots. The hoax wasn’t uncovered for some time, but when it was the statue was buried where it had been found and the story lives on there.
Because of all the publicity surrounding the hoax and the fame of William Muldoon, David F. Day founded a newspaper called the "Solid Muldoon" in 1879 in Ouray, Colorado, which later became the Durango Herald.
Then in 1888 Rudyard Kipling wrote a short story called "Solid Muldoon," solidifying that name within popular culture, right at the time of Park City’s mining boom.
In 1971, Bill and Karen Coleman and Richard and Patty Miller, transplants from Iowa and Ohio via Estes Park, Colorado, opened Solid Muldoon’s Saloon at 405 Main Street. To come up with a name hearkening back to the town’s mining days, they searched historical claim records. Known for its beer, bratwurst, peanuts and popcorn, weekend Bluegrass bands, and old time movies, "Muldoon’s" was a major Main Street watering hole.
Elliott, S. 2016. What is a Solid Muldoon?. [Online] Available at: https://www.parkrecord.com/entertainment/what-is-a-solid-muldoon/
Jessen, K. 2017. The Solid Muldoon hoax. [Online] Available at: http://www.reporterherald.com/columnists/colorado-history/ci_30955240/solid-muldoon-hoax
Kruse, C. 2017. The Cardiff Giant: A Stone Man's Secrets. [Online] Available at: https://www.ripleys.com/weird-news/cardiff-giant/
Root, C. 2018. Solid Muldoon, or the Cardiff Giant Heads West. [Online] Available at: https://history.denverlibrary.org/news/solid-muldoon-or-cardiff-giant-heads-west
Szalay, J. 2016. Cardiff Giant: 'America's Biggest Hoax'. [Online] Available at: https://www.livescience.com/55787-cardiff-giant.html
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By Jessie Szalay August 17, 2016
The Cardiff Giant, sometimes referred to as “America’s Biggest Hoax,” is a 10-foot-long stone figure that was touted as a petrified giant. It was created during the 1860s by George Hull, a businessman from Binghamton, New York, and briefly captured the imaginations and pocketbooks of thousands of Americans.
Paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh declared that it was a fake and on February 2, 1870, the Chicago Tribute published an exposé that included confessions from the masons who had worked on the giant. Hull walked away from the encounter with between $15,000 and $20,000, a small fortune at the time. Today, the Cardiff Giant can be seen at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Hoaxes were common during the 19th century, according to Michael Pettit’s essay in the journal Isis, "'The Joy in Believing': The Cardiff Giant, Commercial Deceptions, and Styles of Observation in Gilded Age America." The Industrial Revolution was expanding the middle class, especially in the North, which had prospered during the Civil War. In the wake of the war, many Americans were more open to ideas they associated with progress, including natural science. It was the beginning of the Gilded Age, which was characterized by optimism, materialism and individuality.
Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” published in 1859, had ignited an interest in fossils and evolution. Its conflict with established religious beliefs further enticed the public, though most Americans still held Christian beliefs. But, in the journal New York History article, “The Cardiff Giant: A Hundred Year Old Hoax,” Barbara Franco writes that "people were interested in the new sciences without really understanding them. The nineteenth century public often failed to make a distinction between popular and serious studies of subjects. They heard lectures, attended theaters, went to curiosity museums, the circus and revival meetings with much the same enthusiasm.”
This was a culture ripe for hoaxes, and no one epitomized them better than P.T. Barnum. According to James W. Cook in “The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum” (Harvard, 2001), Barnum, the self-proclaimed Prince of Humbugs, mixed real and fake artifacts in his New York City American Museum. Viewers were invited to actively participate in making judgments about the artifacts. Were they real or not? What did the viewer’s individual senses and knowledge tell him or her about the object or person on display? The Cardiff Giant offered an opportunity for similar engagement. This focus on individual interpretation was a form of entertainment that also exemplified the increased autonomy of the time, as well as the country’s (or at least the North’s) pride in democracy after the Civil War. Spectacles like Barnum’s troubled the normally firm lines of truth, religion, class, race in a way that appealed to American mass audiences in the wake of the war.
Though the Cardiff Giant appealed to a wide range of viewers, George Hull’s primary impetus for creating it was to demonstrate the gullibility of religious believers. Hull was an atheist, which, even in a time of increased interest in science, put him in a tiny minority and made him something of an outcast, according to Scott Tribble, author of “A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff That Fooled America” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), who spoke to Live Science about the Cardiff Giant.
Hull worked as a tobacconist in Binghamton, New York. In 1867, he went to Ackley, Iowa, for business and, while there, had a long discussion with a traveling Methodist revivalist preacher called Reverend Turk. They argued over the biblical passage, “there were giants in the earth in those days” (Genesis 6:4). The preacher argued that everything in the Bible, even that phrase, should be taken literally. Hull disagreed, but the preacher’s assertion got him thinking. According to Jim Murphy’s “The Giant and How He Humbugged America” (Scholastic, 2013), Hull stated that he lay in bed that night “wondering why people would believe those remarkable stories in the Bible about giants when suddenly I thought of making a stone giant, and passing it off as a petrified man.”
His trick would illustrate what he considered the ridiculousness of literal belief in such Bible stories. Hull knew about hoaxes and the successes of people like Barnum, and thought he could also make money. “Hull had been something of a social outcast, partly due to his atheism. The Cardiff Giant was his chance to stick it to his enemies and make them look foolish in a very public way,” Tribble told Live Science.
Hull couldn’t get the idea of making a stone giant hoax out of his head. He sold his business and set about making the giant a reality.
It took Hull more than two and a half years and about $2,600 to make the Cardiff Giant. He visited several states searching for the right natural materials. “Hull eventually found his stuff of giants in Fort Dodge, Iowa,” Tribble said. “He quarried a 5-ton [4.5 metric tons] block of gypsum and, at the height of summer, personally conveyed it by wagon to the nearest rail station, more than 40 miles [64 kilometers] away.
"Hull then shipped the block east to Chicago, where he already had secured a partner and a couple of stone workers for hire," Tribble continued. "Over the course of several weeks, Hull and his team fashioned the 10-foot, 3,000-lb. [3 meters, 1,361 kilograms] giant down to every last detail, including tiny pores on the giant’s surface.”
The giant had details like nails, nostrils and an Adam’s apple, clearly visible ribs, and even a hint of muscle definition. Its left leg was twisted over the right and its hand seemed to be holding its stomach in pain, though the facial expression was serene. Later, visitors would remark upon its “benevolent smile,” according to Franco. The giant originally had hair and a beard, but were removed when Hull learned that hair would not petrify. Workers applied sulfuric acid and other liquids that left it with a dark, dingy, aged hue.
Hull toured several states looking for the right “burial” location for the giant. Eventually, he settled on Cardiff, New York, about 60 miles (96 km) north of Hull’s home in Binghamton. Hull’s cousin, William C. “Stub” Newell had a farm there that Hull could use for a burial spot. Several fish fossils had been found in a lake nearby. Cardiff was also an advantageous location because, writes Tribble, that area of upstate New York had a long history of hosting religious revivals and movements. Cardiff is near the infamous burned-over district, where revivalists preached hellfire and redemption during the Second Great Awakening. Additionally, several religious leaders claimed that God had appeared in the area. The most famous of these claims came from Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. That a giant from biblical times would have been buried in Cardiff was hardly an out of place idea.
“From Chicago, the giant was moved by rail to the Binghamton area, and then brought to Newell’s farm under the cover of night,” Tribble said. “Hull promised to let Newell know when the time was right to ‘discover’ the giant. That time would come almost a year later, on October 16, 1869.”
On the determined Saturday, Hull and Newell hired two workers to dig a well at the burial site. About 3 feet (1 m) down, they hit the giant’s foot. “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!” proclaimed one of the men, according to the journal Archaeology.
Word of the giant spread quickly and by that afternoon a small crowd had gathered on the farm. By Sunday evening, it was estimated that 10,000 people had heard of the giant through word of mouth alone, Tribble said.
On Monday, Newell raised a tent over the giant and began charging visitors 50 cents a head for a 15-minute viewing (about the price of a movie ticket today). Newell averaged 300 to 500 visitors a day for a few weeks, with one Sunday bringing nearly 3,000, according to Franco. Though Newell owned the farm, Hull managed the giant business.
The Cardiff Giant is a 10-foot-long stone figure that was touted as a petrified giant. (Image credit: Public domain)
Hull decided to make a profit as quickly as possible before the hoax was revealed. On October 23, 1869, a group of local businessmen bought a 75 percent interest in the giant for $30,000, according to Franco. They moved the giant to Syracuse, New York, where its popularity continued. Train companies revised their schedules to allow longer stops in town, hotels and local businesses prospered and in local elections, “Cardiff Giant” received several votes for senator.
“Nearly every day, newspapers would publish the latest theories as to the giant’s origin,” Tribble said. “It didn’t matter whether you were an eminent scientist or a common laborer. Everyone had an opinion on the Cardiff Giant, and Americans were willing to both travel and pay to see it.”
The early Tribune article referred to the giant as a fossil and noted that petrification was the predominant hypothesis of its origins. Petrification became a leading theory about the giant. According to the Farmers’ Museum, some people immediately knew it was a fake. Others were convinced it was a statue of some kind. Dr. John F. Boynton proposed that it was a statue made by a 17th-century Jesuit priest to impress the American Indian tribes. State Geologist James Hall believed it was an ancient statue.
“People saw in the Cardiff Giant what they wanted to see." Tribble said. "For religious believers, the giant was proof of the literal word of the Bible. For scientists, whether the giant was an ancient statue or (less so) a petrified man, it was a monumental discovery. The common thread among believers was that the Cardiff Giant pointed to a new prehistory of the American continent. Depending on what you believed, the giant either connected America to the biblical past or to a heretofore-unknown Greco-Roman-styled civilization.”
Not long after the giant was moved to Syracuse, P.T. Barnum offered to buy a quarter share of the giant for $50,000. The Syracuse investors turned him down, but, undeterred, Barnum created his own fake giant and displayed it New York City, according to Archaeology. He ran deceptive ads that implied his was the Cardiff Giant. Barnum’s giant was immensely popular, more so than the original. Some historians theorize that, upon learning about the success of Barnum’s giant, David Hannum, one of the Syracuse investors, coined the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
In December 1869, the owners, including Hannum, requested a court injunction against Barnum’s exhibition, but the request was denied. Eventually, the Cardiff Giant was moved to New York. Barnum’s giant continued to make more money, and, with two “petrified giants” displayed just a few blocks from each other, it became difficult for anyone to take either giant seriously, according to Franco.
On November 25, 1869, well-regarded paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh penned a scathing rebuke of the Cardiff Giant. “It is of very recent origin, and a most decided humbug,” he wrote. One major sign of its fakery was the fact that gypsum is water-soluble. According to Tribble, this meant the giant could not have survived more than a few years in ground of Newell’s farm, which had several underground streams.
Though there had been skeptics from the beginning, Marsh’s words made an impact. Then, on February 2, 1870, the Chicago Tribune published an expose on the giant, which included confessions from the stone workers. Many considered these confessions the nail in the coffin — the Cardiff Giant was a fake.
Despite the controversy, Hull, Hannum and the other new owners, as well as Barnum, were able to keep their money and continue displaying their giants. In fact, the truth did little to dampen the public’s fascination with the giant. They continued to visit and, according to the Museum of Hoaxes, the public began referring to the Cardiff Giant as “Old Hoaxey.”
Eventually, however, interest waned. Other fake petrified men were “discovered” in subsequent years and by the end of the 1800s an oversaturated market and increased skepticism led to public indifference, according to Archaeology. In 1876, George Hull helped create another fake petrified man called The Solid Muldoon, which was again debunked.
According to Archaeology, the Cardiff Giant spent time in Massachusetts, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo — where it flopped — and Iowa before being sold to the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown in 1948, where it now lies.
Tribble described the importance of the Cardiff Giant thusly:
“More than anything, the Cardiff Giant hoax became an important cautionary tale for science. The Giant affair embarrassed a number of well-known scientists, who let their irrational exuberance and speculation get the best of them. The hoax would serve as an important reminder of the value of the scientific method. At the same time, the Cardiff Giant would hasten the emergence of archaeology as a professional discipline in the United States. Within a few decades, amateur artifact hunters and armchair theorists would yield to credentialed scholars trained in archaeological methodology. Carefully practiced and applied, this methodology would make life a lot harder going forward for the George Hulls of the world.”
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