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1930s & Earlier / Cardiff Giant Hoax 1869
The first great hoax in American history was the Cardiff Giant. In 1868, a wealthy American tobacconist and atheist named George Hull got into an argument with a minister about a passage in the book of Genesis that claimed that giant men once walked the earth. Inspired, Hull decided to create a fake petrified giant and foist it on the gullible public. He hired men in Fort Dodge, Iowa to carve him a 10-foot long block of gypsum. (Hull told them it was for a monument to Abraham Lincoln.) Hull sent the gypsum block to a stonecutter in Chicago to have it secretly carved into the likeness of a man. Once the work was completed, Hull had the carving sent to his cousin's farm in Cardiff, New York. There Hull artificially aged his giant with acid and buried it in the ground for 11 months. On October 16, 1869, two men hired to dig a well 'found' the giant. (This photo shows it being 'exhumed' from Hull's hiding place.) The story of the giant's discovery spread like wildfire. Hull initially charged the curious public 25 cents apiece to view the giant. He later upped the price to 50 cents. Despite scientists universally claiming the Cardiff Giant to be a hoax, Hull sold it for $37,500 to a five-man syndicate headed by David Hannon and laughed all the way to the bank. (The hoax had cost Hull about $2,600, so the sale netted him more than 14 times what he had spent!) P.T. Barnum tried to buy or rent the giant from Hannon for $60,000, but his offer was refused. Not to be outdone, Barnum had his own giant made, displayed it at his museum, and declared Hannon's giant was a fake! On December 10, Hull publicly confessed to his hoax. Meanwhile Hannon and Barnum were busily suing and countersuing each other over who possessed the real Cardiff Giant. Only in America...