I find it odd that such a minor player as the Methodist minister, the Reverend Henry Benjamin Turk is always the villein of the Cardiff Giant story. His pompous ignorance is what motivates and justifies the heroic sins of George Hull. But in Christian theology, ignorance is not one of the seven deadly sins. Greed, yes, lies, yes, lust and envy, surely, gluttony, and wrath: these are all the forgiven the sins of George Hull. Meanwhile, a fervent evangelical blind faith in a dyslexic translation was the Reverend Turk's chosen path to divinity And for obtusely following that path ad nauseam, the Reverend generally gets all the blame. Now, why do you suppose that is?
George Hull came close to being a giant himself. At six feet three inches tall, he towered half a foot above the average man of his day, and intimidated them with his broad muscular shoulders, and round face behind a slick black mustache and beneath his black, slicked back hair. But other than his size and villainous appearance, what most people remembered were George's small sharp intelligent blue eyes always darting about. His chief delight, recalled the post master in the Wisconsin Dells town of Baraboo, was expounding on the advantages of infidelity and betting on everything from pool games to local elections. In August of 1867 the tobacco warehouse George had opened four months earlier, and which he had insured to the amount of $12,000, burned to the ground, under circumstances which the insurance company thought highly suspicious. Despite George's declarations of innocence and threats of legal action, he accepted a $1,000 settlement and moved on.
According to George, he moved on to the tiny hamlet of Ackley, Iowa, because his brother-in-law who lived there had taken a consignment of 10,000 cigars, and was having trouble moving them. This could not have been surprising since Ackley had barely 300 residents. Even if every man woman and child smoked a dozen cheap cigars a day, it is difficult to envision how they could ever smoke 10,000 cigars before hacking up a lung and dropping dead.
George Hull had gotten into the business through his uncle, the front half of the Hull and Grummand Company, which had recently opened a cigar factory at Water and Henry streets in Bimginham, New York, on the Pennsylvania border. The young George needed work after a short stint in jail for selling marked cards, and the cut throat cigar business seemed a natural for him.
The 8,000 citizens of Bimingham had strict anti-union laws, encouraging local sweat shops to employ unskilled workers at starvation wages - 40 cents for a day spent rolling stale tobacco scraps and assorted agricultural detritus, dust and rodent droppings into 100 cigars that sold from three to fives cents each. It inspired a business model long on salesmanship, and short on morality.
But it was while residing with his sister and brother-in-law that George Hull briefly crossed paths with the fulcrum of his giant morality tale. According to George, “At that time a Methodist revivalist was in Ackley, and prayed all over the settlement....One night he was at my sister’s house, and after supper we had a long discussion and a hot one.” Specifically, according to George, the hot discussion centered around a quote from the King James Biblical book of Genesis, chapter six, verse four, “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”.
Besides sounding like a “Christianized” version of ancient Greek theology, the King James edition of the bible which the Reverend Turk quoted, was an English translation of a compilation written in Latin, of stories originally composed in Aramaic and Greek And as any skilled translator will tell you, and any reader of a Google translation will confirm, conveying the meaning from one language to another is as much social art as lexicography. Translating a translation only increases the inevitable misunderstandings. And in this particular text, the scholars compromised on the word “giants”, when a more precise word was “Nephilim”. But that word requires an uncomfortable explanation.
The mysterious Nephilim are mentioned only twice in the bible, this once in Genesis, and once in Numbers, chapter 13, verses 32 and 33 . “And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.'” But they also appear in the Book of Enoch, which is not part of the conical bible, but a conservative Judaic variation. The Nephilim were the products of male angles mating with human woman. This was far too close to the pagan religions Yawah was so critical of. Later Christian scholars chose to mention them only twice, hoping to avoid the theological torture required to explain them, by using the word “giants” instead. And it was on the foundation of this compromised pebble that the Reverend Turk built his temple of biblical literalism.
But to return to the theology of George Hull, “At midnight we went to bed, and I lay wide awake 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.” But, of course, there is nothing in George Hull's past which would have give any reason to believe that is what George thought. As one recent biographer put it, “ "Once Hull had an idea, he had no qualms about breaking partnerships, or laws, to get what he wanted.” And George Hull's obsession was not logic, or heaven, but money.
Five years earlier, Mark Twain had written his first humorous article for the Virginia City, Nevada “Territorial Enterprise”, which began, “A petrified man was found some time ago in the mountains south of Gravelly Ford. Every limb and feature of the stony mummy was perfect, not even excepting the left leg, which has evidently been a wooden one during the lifetime of the owner...” In Twain's story the locals want to bury the defunct stone man, but cannot separate him from the rock which has engulfed him. So, “Everybody goes to see the stone man, as many as three hundred having visited the hardened creature during the past five or six weeks.”
Twain (above) later explained his inspiration. “One could scarcely pick up a paper without finding...one or two glorified discoveries of this kind....and I felt called upon to destroy this growing...petrifaction mania with a delicate, a very delicate satire.” Except the joke did not kill the idea of a petrified man. Twain was “stunned to see the creature I had begotten to pull down the wonder-business with, and bring derision upon it, calmly exalted to the grand chief place in the list of the genuine marvels our Nevada had produced.” Over the next year, Twain's joke was reprinted as fact in newspapers across America, and even England, where it was published in “The Lancet”, the premiere scientific medical journal of the day.
It seems unlikely that George Hull realized that Twain's story, if he ever read it, was intended as a joke. In the history we have of him, George Hull does not display a sense of humor about anything that does not entail some degree of humiliation for somebody other than George Hull. In fact, a witness said George had considered “salting” an “Indian burial mound” outside of Barboo, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1867, before he ever met the Reverend Turk.
It did not even matter to Hull that there were no dead Indians in most of the Wisconsin mounds. They were drummlins, formed by moving rivers of ice more than 10,000 years earlier, proving again that the truth is more complex and fascinating than the theology of angels dancing on the head of a pin, or mating with human women.
I don't know if the native peoples got the idea for their burial mounds from the moraines, but I do know that George Hull did not get the idea for the Cardiff Giant from the maligned Reverend Turk. And we should stop blaming him for it