I suspect that George “the giant killer” Hull suffered from a condition known at the time as “moral insanity”. Perhaps this is why his chosen appearance - fancy dark clothes and a handlebar mustache - became the epitome of villainy for generations. His symptoms included charm, pathological lying, promiscuity and an addiction to gambling, a lack of shame or remorse and a moral versatility in his criminal and business ventures. Today he would be called a sociopath. The primary victim of his disorder was his wife, Helen. She was 16 and pregnant when they married in 1856. And she was his niece. And George's best chance for salvation.
George had begun his criminal career in his twenties, having devised a new method for marking cards. His partner would sell the decks to saloons and gambling clubs at a discount, and then George would appear as a passing salesman, to read the cards and rake in the profits. After a couple of years, George was arrested. Released from jail, his brother took him in and gave him a job in his Bimington cigar factory. George repaid the favor by seducing and impregnating his daughter, Helen.
The family helped the new husband buy a small farm five miles to the north in Port Crane, now Fenton, New York. By the time his second child, Sarah, was born in 1860, George was growing enough tobacco to both sell to his brother, and to open his own cigar shop in Port Crane. Through the four years of the American Civil War, all of George Hull's battles were personal. When it looked like his business would fail, in September of 1864, George torched his own shop and home. With the insurance money, George moved his family to Baraboo, Wisconsin, and enlisted his Iowan brother-in-law to sell his left over cigars.
At about the same time, in the tiny village of Homer, New York, Gideon Emmon was enlisting in company E of the 185th Volunteer Regiment. But Gideon's war lasted just 6 months and one battle. On the last day of March, 1865, his regiment occupied the White Oak Road, outflanking rebel positions south of Petersburg, Virginia. After digging in to its new position, it was attacked by Rebel infantry, causing just six causalities. History books record this as a mere prelude to the next day's Union victory at Five Forks, which forced the Confederate Army to abandon Richmond, and start on the road to Appomattox Court House and surrender. But Private Gideon Emmon did not participate in that victory. When he finally came home to Cardiff he had a full disability pension to compensate for his missing left arm and his shattered mind, suffered that 31 March, 1865. He treated his nightmares and pain as best he could, and worked what few odd jobs could be performed by a one armed alcoholic in a farming community. All of this made Gideon an odd hire to dig a well.
His employer on Saturday, 16 October, 1869, was William Newell, nicknamed “Stub” because of his height and stubbornness. He was described at the time as “A man of pretty good intelligence...but not an educated or learned man in any way.” A modern historian calls him “a sober, honest sort of farmer,” “a private man who certainly didn't court celebrity” and “entirely unremarkable” He was also a cousin to George Hull. At about nine that cool clear fall morning, Mr. Newell led Gideon Emmon and fellow veteran Henry Nichols, down the slope from the farm house, and around the barn, to the only dry spot in the field beyond (above). It was here that Mr. Newell told the men he wanted his new well dug. .
Either workman might have asked why a farm which already had a well between the house and the barn, wanted a second well at the edge of a swampy field, bordering the reds and yellow trees lining Onondaga creek to the north. But they were happy to have the work on such a cool day. Henry Nichols just picked up a shovel and started digging, while Gideon grabbed a bucket to tote the soil away for dumping. With just one man able to handle a shovel, it was slow work, even allowing for the loose rich black soil. It took two hours for Nichols to clear three feet of earth, and before eleven Nichols' shovel clanged against a rock. Amazingly for this region, it was the first large stone encountered, and the pair began to clear the dirt to discover the size and shape of the obstruction. They stopped when a huge white toe emerged into the light.
Gideon ran to fetch Mr. Newell, who, with a third witness, ... er workman..., was gathering stones for the lining of his new well. And as a stroke of luck, a fourth witness, John Haynes, a local farmer on his way to attend a fair in Syracuse - 12 miles to the north - just happened by at this moment. All five men rushed to the back of the Newell farm to see the toe. Newell and Haynes jumped into the hole and began to assist in the clearing of more soil. Quickly a pair of feet emerged into the sunlight. One of the men - I suspect it was Hayes – observed, “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!” The digging became frenetic. Hayes said, “as fast as they cleared the body toward the head, I cleared the dirt off about up to the hand on the belly.”
By sunset that Saturday evening, people from surrounding farms were walking over to the Newell farm to have a look. The Syracuse Journal described the excitement. "Men left their work, women caught up their babies, and children in all numbers hurried to the scene..." Sunday brought larger crowds, as people stopped by on their way to and from church. And, of course, John Haynes carried word of the discovery to the city of Syracuse. On Monday, 18 October 1869 the “Syracuse Standard” published the news under the headline “PETRIFIED”, and described the Giant in detail. “It has been...examined by physicians, and they assert positively that it must have been once a living giant. The veins, eyeballs, muscles, tendons of the heel, and cords of the neck are all very fully exhibited...Mr. Newell proposes now to allow it to rest as found until examined by scientific men. It certainly is one of the connecting links between the past and present races, and of great value.” The telegraph spread the story in minutes across the country, “A NEW WONDER” and “THE PETRIFIED GIANT” Added the Syracuse paper, “ The story has passed from one to another till very many, probably ten thousand of our citizens, have already heard of it.”
Monday morning the look-y-loos where met by large tent (above) erected over the giant, which a “Dr. Boynton” declared was actually a statue, “of a Caucasian. The features are finely cut and are in perfect harmony.”. To enter the tent and gaze upon the giant for fifteen minutes, visitors now paid 25 cents. Mr. Newell took in $220 that Monday. And with 400 visitors a day making the trek down from the rail head at Syracuse, the crowds kept growing, the average day's take was well over $500. One visitor observed, "The roads were crowded with buggies, carriages and even omnibuses from the city, and with lumber-wagons from the farms — all loaded with passengers.”. That second Sunday after its discovery, 2,600 curious viewers shuffled through the tent, now paying 50 cents each..
The visitor quoted above, Mr. Andrew White, tried to maintain his scientific detachment once he was inside, but “with the subdued light from the roof of the tent...and the limbs contorted as if in a death struggle...An air of great solemnity pervaded the place. Visitors hardly spoke above a whisper." The town's one hotel did a month's worth of business every day. Stands to sell sweet apple cider and gingerbread suddenly appeared, to tend to the crowds, a few even renting space on Mr. Newell's farm. Pamplets appeared (above), almost magically, detailing theories about where the Cardiff Giant had come from. Almost unnoticed in the crowds, George Hull slipped into the village, as did H.B. Martin. They brought with them Colonel J.W. Wood, one of P.T. Barnum's competitors.
Joseph H. Wood (above) claimed the title of Colonel thanks to his experience as an 18 year old in the 1835 “war” between Ohio and Michigan territory. He spent the next 15 years operating a “traveling museum” out of Cincinnati, then opened a stationary one in Philadelphia's old Bolivar Hotel. When that burned down in 1857, he opened a new one in St. Louis, and with a partner in 1859 opened “The Great Burlesque Circus - A Pantomimic and Acrobatic Exhibition of Dogs and Monkeys” in Chicago.
In 1862 J.H. Wood opened another museum (above) on East Clark Street in Chicago. Observed the Colonel's own publicity, it was “remarkable for its specialties.” For a mere 25 cent entrance fee, you could gaze upon “...more than sixty cases of birds, reptiles, insects, and objects from around the world, all arranged somewhat haphazardly.” On display was a model of the Parthenon, Daniel Boone’s rifle, mummies and a 96 foot long whale skeleton. Some of his exhibits were even real. “Col. Wood, the proprietor, knows he has a good thing, and that he does not hide it in the dark.”
His arrival within a week of the “discovery” of the Cardiff Giant, as it was now being called, testified to Wood's deep involvement in the creation of the fraud. And it guaranteed the rapid collapse of the entire scheme.