AUGUST   2020


Friday, March 20, 2015


I know that both Phineas T. Barnum and George Hull each possessed “the ingenuity to dupe, diddle, defraud and gull a whole continent.” But Barnum rebelled against those, like Hull, who held their customers in contempt. “I don't believe in duping the public”, Barnum wrote, . “but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.” He always tried, he said, to give them more than their money's worth in entertainment. On the day the Cardiff Giant saw the light again on Mr; Newell's farm - 16 October 1868 - the self proclaimed “Prince of Humbug” was trying to rebuild his American Museum in New York City, after it had burned down for the third time  The man who brought America and the world “Tom Thumb”, the Feejee Mermaid, Jenny Lind “The Swedish Nightingale” (above), and Chang and Eng, “The Original Siamese Twins”, was finding the revival harder every year.
That fall  P.T.  traveled to cast a professional eye upon the giant still in the ground. Barnum saw the road south from Syracuse “jammed with wagons, stage coaches, horses and people on foot, all bound for Cardiff to take a glimpse at the giant.”  And he paid admission into the tent to gaze upon the great stone face, and feet and over sized circumcised penis. Before boarding the train back to New York City, Barnum (above) told a reporter, “They must not call me the Prince of Humbugs after this. That beats anything I ever did in my life.” But was it the appearance of the giant which made Barnum wary? Was it the presence in Cardiff of his competitor, Colonel Wood? Or did it have something to do with the immoral amoral always black clad mocking presence of George Hull?
As the money began to roll in a member of George Hull's inner circle announced he wanted out.  H.B. Martin, the blacksmith from Marshalltown, who had suffered the month long 40 mile odyssey across Iowa with George, had suffered enough. Maybe he was experiencing an attack of morality, maybe the rising publicity made him nervous, or maybe his brother Frank needed financial help in opening a planned grocery in Ackley, Iowa. Whatever his reason, Martin asked George Hull to buy out his share in the giant, whereupon he disappeared back to Iowa, and was never heard from again in this giant tale
He missed getting rich by a week. The giant had cost Hull and Martin less than $3,000 (Fifty thousand in 2014 dollars). Originally George Hull had ½ share of the giant – it had been his idea - while Newell and Martin each had ¼ share. Buying Martin out had cut into George's profits, and he needed an immediate influx of cash. His cousin, “Stub” Newell still had physical possession of the stone behemoth, and every day increased the chance the farmer would realize the old axiom that possession was nine tenths of the law. Luckily for George, an entrepreneur from Homer, New York stepped up eager to solve his problem: the square jawed David H. Hannan.
He was one of the biggest land owners in Courtland County, New York. Our old friend Mr. Andrew White, described Hannan (above) as “...a horse-dealer in a large way...” (think used car salesman) “...and banker in a small way” (think loan shark). White described Hannan as “keen and shrewd...who had fought his way up from abject poverty, and whose fundamental principle, as he asserted it, was "Do unto others as they would like to do unto you, and–do it first.”.”
Hannan's partners were a whose-who of Syracuse society. Dr. Amos Wescott (above)  was a successful dentist who had served a term as mayor of Syracuse in 1860. Amos Gilbert's family had settled in the area in 1810, and remained powerful in the Baptist church, with the pentagonal rounded out by William Spencer and Benjamin A. Son. Each had invested $5,000 (ninety thousand in 2014 dollars) in the joint venture, and the second week of the exhibition they paid Hull and Newell $23,000 cash ($400,000 in 2014) for a ¾ share of the giant. It seemed a safe in vestment. In two weeks in the out-of-the-way village of Cardiff, the Giant had sold $7,000 in tickets, at 50 cents apiece.
On Sunday, 5 November 1869, the Cardiff Giant was winched out of his temporary grave...
...and loaded into a wagon for the 12 mile journey to Syracuse. He was greeted at the city limits by a marching band playing “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” by Handel. 
His new home was in an exhibit hall on Vanderbilt square, across the street from the open air New York Central Railroad station (above). The next day, Monday, 6 November, 1869,   6,000 people paid $1 each to stare down at the impassive great stone face, and feet and penis, profiting in one day what had taken an entire week to match in Cardiff. The New York Central railroad added a 10 minute delay to all trains passing through Syracuse, long enough to give passengers time to cross the street and gaze upon the impassive gypsum.
One poet wanted the giant to explain himself. “Speak out, O Giant! stiff, and stark, and grim, Open thy lips of stone, thy story tell; And by the wondering crowd who pay thee court. In thy cold bed, and gaze with curious eyes On thy prone form so huge, and still so human, Let now again be heard, that voice which once, Through all old Onondaga's hills and vales, Proclaimed thy lineage from a Giant race, And claimed as subjects, all who trembling hear. “ One whom the giant spoke to was Galusha Parsons, a lawyer of “most excellent character, sterling integrity, and with much aggressive force”. More importantly, Parsons was from Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The 41 year old Parsons (above) was returning from Washington, having made oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Beeson  v Johns.  He had also just been elected as a state representative for Webster County, Iowa.  Taking advantage of the ten minute stop over in Vanderbilt Square to visit the famous Cardiff Giant., Parsons recognized the stone as home grown. He immediately cabled his political ally Mr. Benjaman Gue, the editor of the Fort Dodge “North West”.  Parsons told Gue, “I believe it is made of that great block of gypsum those fellows got at Fort Dodge a year ago, and shipped east.”
Gue (above) quickly uncovered the truth. The 28 July, 1868 edition of the “Boone Standard” had contained an account of the curious 11 feet 3 inches long, 3 feet 2 inches wide, 1 foot by 10 inches thick, 3 ½ tons of gypsum, shipped to Chicago. But rather than rush into print, editor Gue dispatched reporters to Chicago, to hunt down the sculpture of the giant, and to New York state, to hunt for George Hull's fingerprints.
Meanwhile, over its six week stay in Syracuse, the giant maintained an average of 10,000 visitors a week, at a dollar each. The curious ranged from day laborers to miners, politicians, secretaries, and even Professor O.C. Marsh. The latter – joined by 24 year old Fillmore Smith, a mining engineer - had the audacity to put in print that gypsum was soluble in water, which meant the smooth features of the giant could not have laid in the damp ground behind Mr. Newell's barn for hundreds or thousands of years without dissolving. Marsh labeled the giant “A most decided humbug”.
Our old friend, Andrew White (above), who would one day help found Cornell University, had touched on a more prosaic reason not to believe in the giant. Back in October, he had pointed out, “there was no reason why the farmer should dig a well in the spot where the figure was was convenient neither to the house nor to the barn”  He called the giant “undoubtedly a hoax”. So why was anyone still believing in it?
In fact there was not one Cardiff Giant, there were many. In post revolutionary America, up state New York was the birth place of new religions and the revival of the Great Awakening for many others: the astounding Joseph Smith and his bookish Mormonism, the precipitate diurnal Seventh Day Adventists, the passionate celibacy of the Shakers, the faux spiritualism of the three Fox Sisters, the postponed second coming of the Millerites, and the coitus interrupters of the Oneida post renaissance utopians. These Christian sects had Genesis, 6:4 on their side, “There were giants in the earth in those days...”
To the religious the Cardiff Giant was a fossil, a petrified man, a physical validation of faith. The passionate poet Ralph Waldo Emerson called it “a bona fide petrified human being..” Another preacher explained, “This is not a thing contrived of man, but is the face of one who lived on the earth, the very image and child of God.”
A Yale Divinity student, Mr. Alexander McWhorter, viewed the giant in Syracuse and believed he was obviously a statue. As proof, he found several lines of Phonetician carved into his thigh. Luckily, Mr. McWhorter could read ancient Phonetician, and translate the tale of ancient sailors blown to a distant shore (and 400 miles inland) who had carved the giant to memorialize their survival. Nobody else who could read Phonetician could find any on the giant. But lots of people who could not, were willing to believe the ancient language was there.
At a gathering of “experts” in Syracuse, judged by an audience who paid $10 apiece to witness the debate, the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes drilled into the giant's head (behind the ear, so as not to disturb the esthetics) and found nothing but solid stone. The giant, said Holmes, was a statue, but “of great antiquity.” Holmes was followed on the platform by Eramus Dow Palmer, a sculpture. He declared the giant was indeed a statue, but a really bad one, done by a recent amateur. Before Palmer could finish his artistic destruction of the giant, Cyrus Cobb, a competitor of Mr. Palmer's, leap onto the platform and announced “Any man who calls this a humbug brands himself a fool!”  The lecture hall dissolved into shouts and accusations, and one man began beating the living daylights out of the art critic, Palmer.
Once the assailant was arrested, and the hall cleared, a reporter cornered farmer “Stub” Newell, and asked what it all meant. Was the giant a petrified man, an ancient statue, or a cheat?   Newell shrugged and explained, “You pays your money and you takes your chance. They got to see my giant. They got to hear four geniuses at two dollars and fifty cents per genius, and also saw a good fight. That seems like a fair value to me.”

To the Syracuse syndicate – horse trader Hannen, Dr. Westcott, et al -  the melee was delightful news. After tripling their investment, they were ready to take the giant on the road.
- 30 -

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


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.
- 30 -

Blog Archive