JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I think the greatest insight into the black heart and soul of George Hull, a “confirmed scoundrel”, in the words of a one critic, came when he put his giant plan into action. In the summer of 1867, several months before George's alleged epiphany with the Reverend Turk in Ackley, a blacksmith from 35 miles south of Ackley,  in Marshalltown,   named H.B.. Martin, signed into room 11 at the St Charles Hotel in the tiny outpost of Fort Dodge, Iowa. The village had only 700 souls or so, so Martin's behavior stood out.
Martin closely examined buildings clad in the local gypsum, and was seen walking outside of town, pausing to visit those places where the Des Moines River and its tributaries had sliced open the glacial loess and revealed the beds of gypsum (above)  below. Seventy million years earlier a tongue of an inland sea had invaded this land, advancing again and again, leaving behind after each evaporate retreat a dry chalky precipitate, layered beds of gypsum, up to 300 feet thick. Martin asked few questions, and avoided sharing his own concerns with the locals. And after a few days, Mr. Martin checked out of the St. Charles Hotel, and disappeared
One year later, on Saturday, 6 June, 1868, Mr Martin returned to the St. Charles Hotel, this time registering as a resident of Boston, Massachusetts. And he was accompanied by a tall, broad shouldered, fellow dressed well but all in black,  named George Hull, who gave his address as Birminham, New York. On Monday, 8 June, the two visited Mr. C.B. Cummings, who owned an outcrop along Soldier Creek, north of town. The pair explained they were looking for a sample of the geologic wonders of Fort Dodge, to be displayed in New York City. How much, they asked, would the old man charge to supply a single block of his gypsum, 12 feet long, 3 or 4 feet wide and 2 or 3 feet thick.
Cummings assumed he was dealing with idiots. He explained that besides being expensive, such a block would weigh three tons. There were no wagons in Iowa that could carry that weight to a rail head on the abysmal Iowa roads. Hull and Martin assured Mr. Cummings that price was no object. Cummings smelled trouble and told the pair to buy their giant block from somebody else.
Hull and Martin doggedly shifted their activities to the south of Fort Dodge, where they leased a small “improved” one acre lot and hired a man to cut a 12 foot block by 4 feet by 3 feet off the a gypsum ledge hanging over Gypsum Creek. The quarry man, Mike Foley, took their money and offered no suggestions on the practicality of their scheme. He split $15 with his friend, George Webber, and two other men to help him load the three ton block onto a heavy duty wagon. It took four horses to pull the block, and on Sunday, 14 June, 1868 they started toward the nearest rail head, 40 miles to the south, at Boone, Iowa, then called Montana, Iowa.
It would take them 43 days to get there, at an average speed of of less than a mile a day. First the wagon broke down, just as Mr. Cummings had warned it would. Hull and Martin, with the assistance of Foley, managed to fashion repairs and strengthen the wagon. But the first bridge they came to collapsed under the load, damaging the wagon again. It took a few days to make those repairs, after which the three men struggled to muscle the wagon and its three ton block across the stream, and up the opposite bank. Once on solid ground, Hull allowed Foley to shorten the block, shaving its weight by over a ton. I'm willing to bet the poor horses, if they could have spoken, would have thanked Mr. Hull.
The entire journey was a test of endurance,   a “Fitzcarraldo” trial of sweat and blood and determination, a journey  to Hull and back, and no less admirable because it was not being suffered in an humanitarian effort. Perhaps never in human history was so much been suffered by so few for so long,  just to cheat so many out of so much. But on Monday, 27 July 1868, the exhausted horses staggered into Boone/Montana, Iowa and dragged the wagon and block and the exhausted pair of would-be crooks up to the Northwestern Railroad station. Freight charges were paid, and the block was loaded into box car number 447. The next day it started its journey east.
Mike Foley left the party in Boone. He used his payment to invest in a livery stable in Fort Dodge, which he ran for several years. H.B. Martin disembarked as the train passed through his hometown of Marshalltown. That little berg had wanted to call itself Marshall, but Henry County beat Marshall county to the municipal moniker, and the 1862 fix of Marshalltown was the best the town fathers could conceive. In that same spirit, the exhausted Martin paused to recover, while the black hearted George Hull accompanied their precocious cargo on to Chicago.
Literally on the shore of Lake Michigan, George Hull had found a sculpture who was willing to create his giant. German immigrant Eduard Gustave Burkhardt had made a good living cutting headstones and carving angels and figureheads, working in a barn in the center of the Old City Cemetery, between North Clark Street and the lake, in what is today Lincoln Park. 
But in 1866, with cholera killing 5% of the population of Chicago every year because bodies were decomposing in soggy ground adjacent to the source of the city's drinking water, (Lake Michigan) Cook County banned any new burials in the old cemetery, and Eduard found his business moving out to the private suburban cemeteries. He was glad to get the assignment from Hull, grateful he and his two apprentices , Henry Salle and Fred Mohrman, had paying work for another month. None of them ask many questions.
Hull stayed at the “Garden City”, a “third rate hotel” in downtown Chicago, but spent most of his time in Burkhardt's studio, where, legend has it, he served as the model for the face of his giant (above)  - sans mustache, of course. Like a child playing with a new chemistry set, as the sculptors chipped away and then smoothed the shaped gypsum with sandpaper, Hull experimented with stains to give the emerging giant an aged appearance, and applied sulfuric acid to the back of the head to suggest immersion in water. Darning needles were even used to simulate pours in the giant's skin. The carving took seven weeks, and when finished was 10 feet, 4 ½ inches tall, 3 feet 1 ½ inches broad at the shoulders, and was down to a fighting weight of just under 1 ½ tons. On 22 September, 1868, the giant was boxed and labeled as “finished marble”, and shipped by rail to a Mr. George Olds,  in Union City, New York.
To his credit - if that is the correct term - Eduard Burkhardt never claimed his work on the fraud. But because Eduard died a few years later, and his business went bankrupt and was sold off in 1875, the shame of a failed business got mixed up with his participation in the fraud, and the Burkgardts never publicly recognized Eduad's willingness to feed his family and workers by whatever means necessary. Blaming the immigrant sculptor for the success of George Hull's fraud is no less absurd than blaming the Reverend Turk for inspiring the fraud.
On Tuesday, 13 October, 1868 the eleven foot long wooden crate arrived on the New York and Erie railroad at the tiny station of Union (now Endicott) New York, just ten miles west of Bimingham. It sat there for three weeks, until Wednesday, 4 November, when a tall man with a round face, sharp blue eyes and a black mustache, identifying himself as George Olds, arrived to claim the huge package. He and another man supervised the loading of the box into a heavy duty wagon, pulled by a team of four horses. And they immediately set off on the road north, toward Syracuse.
Experience had better prepared George Hull and H.B. Martin for this journey - the burden was half the weight and the roads of upstate New York were in far better condition than those on the Iowa frontier. The pair stopped overnight at an inn run by a Mr. Luce, and the next day continued 30 miles up the Tioughnioga River valley, passing through the village of Homer. Here, George Hull happened to run into an acquaintance, who greeted him by name and asked what he was transporting. George told him castings and cut the conversation off. 
The encounter spooked Hull, and 15 miles further north up the road, at the village of Tully, Hull checked into the hotel on the shores of Green Lake. Martin continued on alone. On the rainy Monday evening of 9 November, 1868, the giant approached its destination, ½ mile west of the tiny village of Cardiff, across Kennedy Creek, on the farm of William C. "Stub" Newell.
Mr. Newell had prepared the ground, digging a five foot deep, 12 foot long trench in a low spot behind his barn, hidden from any prying eyes. The wagon was left in a stand of woods until after nightfall, when it was backed up to the trench. Hull had arrived to help, having walked all the way from Tully. The crate protecting the giant was broken down, and the statute allowed to slide off the wagon and into the earth. Some quick work in the mud, and in the morning Martin returned the hired wagon and horses to Union, and caught the next train for Chicago. The morning of 10 November, George Hull reappeared at his hotel in Tully, soaking wet and covered in mud. He checked out and returned to his home in Birmington, New York. 
But as Sherlock Holmes would have said – “The Game was afoot.”
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