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Fort Dodge -
The hoax of the Cardiff Giant

From The History of the Gypsum Industry in Fort Dodge and Webster County, Iowa, by Leo V. Rodenborn

A history of the gypsum industry of Fort Dodge, Webster County, Iowa, would not be complete without some reference to the Cardiff Giant hoax that caused such a great sensation not only in this county, but in Europe as well. The following is taken from the pages of the Register and Leader of Des Moines as well as later newspaper clippings.

George Hull a native of Connecticut, was born in 1821 and early in life moved to Binghamton, NY. In the winter of 1867, while visiting friends in Baraboo, WI, the Cardiff Giant was conceived. While spending a night with a clergyman at the bedside of a sick friend, a warm dispute arose between Hull and the clergyman regarding the sons of Anak. After retiring, but before going to sleep, he had evolved the scheme to manufacture a giant that could be buried and unexpectedly discovered and passed for a petrified man.

A year or so later he went to Fort Dodge, IA, where he purchased an acre of land in Gypsum Hollow and engaged quarrymen to facture out as large a block of gypsum as possible. They succeeded in cutting out a block 12 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 22 inches thick. After 20 days and the employment of three different teamsters the block was finally loaded on a flat car and shipped to E. Burghardt's barn in Chicago. Three sculptors: Edward Salle, George Markham, and John Sampson were engaged to carve the block of gypsum into the semblance of a human form.

When the work of the sculptors was finished, Hull set about obliterating all traces of the chisel. This was accomplished by carefully rubbing the image with a wet sponge filled with sand.

Finally, Hull produced a water worn appearance that was later referred to as establishing the antiquity of the giant. The gypsum figure was pitted with minute pores by means of a leaden mallet, faced with steel needles. It was then stained with sulfuric acid, which gave it an eroded appearance of great age and shipped it to Binghamton, hauled it to the Newell farm near Cardiff and buried in an appropriate spot during the convenient absence of the Newell family. A year later in the fall of 1869, the "eighth wonder of the world" as one enthusiast called it was discovered.

The plot provided that a number of men be engaged to dig a well on the Newell farm, and it was these laborers who first saw the rude Cyclops. The "discovery" created a tremendous sensation all over New York State. Thousands of men, women and children besieged the Newell place and soon the report that a huge stone statue had been dug up was telegraphed all over the country. The news also made a sensation in England and a number of British scientists came to this country for the sole purpose of investigating the "remains."

The best as well as the most authentic description of the giant as it lay in the pit on the Newell farm, is given by our minister to Germany, the Hon. Andrew D. White in an article on the Cardiff Giant. Said Doc white: "Upon entering a tent that covered the spot we saw a large pit or grave and at the bottom of it, perhaps five feet below the surface an enormous figure, apparently of Onondaga limestone. It was a stout giant with massive features, the whole body nude, the limbs contracted as if in agony. It had a color as if it had lain long in the earth, and over its surface were minute punctures like pores. A special appearance of great awe was given it by deep grooves and channels on its underside, apparently worn by water, which was flowing in streams through the earth and along the rock on which the figure rested.

"Lying in its grave with a subdued light from the roof of the tent falling upon it, and with the limbs contorted as if in a death struggle, it produced a most weird effect. An air of great solemnity pervaded the place and visitors hardly spoke above a whisper."

Dr. White soon published his opinion that the massive figure was a hoax, but at that time excitement ran so high his theory was publicly ridiculed. "At no period of my life," he confessed "have I ever been more discouraged regarding the possibility of making right reason prevail among men."

After public curiosity had been thoroughly awakened, Hull and David Hannum, who is believed to be the original David Harum in Edward Noyles Westcott's novel of that name, formed a joint stock concern and under the admirable chaperonage of an eminent showman of the day, "Colonel" Wood by name, the Cardiff Giant was raised from his grave and exhibited in various cities. This, however, was the beginning of the end for it had not been on exhibition long before Professor March, the eminent paleontologist, pounced on it. His examination was exceedingly brief, but nonetheless thorough.

His verdict was the soul of brevity. It is of very recent origin, he declared and the most decided humbug. Against such an eminent opinion there was no appeal. People soon were putting two and two together and it was not long before they had ferreted out the facts in the remarkable hoax. Farmers were found who remembered having seen Hull hauling an immense box on the road between Binghamton and Cardiff and with affidavits from men of good character in Iowa, Hull saw the game was up and pompously confessed.

Hull cleared about $20,000 with the swindle. While the fame of the giant was at its height, P.T. Barnum desired to purchase the statue, but failing he exhibited an imitation with great success. In 1875, after it was exhibited in New York and Boston, the fraud had become so well established that revenue fell off and both Hull and his giant passed out of public notice. The giant was rediscovered in 1900 when a company of speculators redeemed it from the warehouse of an express company in a Massachusetts town and placed it on exhibition at the Pan American Exposition.

Of interest to the people of Fort Dodge was the purchase of the giant by Joe R. Mulroney on December 22, 1913. The giant arrived in the city Jan. 1, 1914. It is reported that Mr. Mulroney paid $10,000 for the giant. Louis Mulroney exhibited the giant on various tours throughout the Midwest. Mr. Mulroney then sold the giant to Hugo Schultz of Huron, S.C., who took it on a tour of the west coast, covering most of the larger cities of California. On June 22, 1922, the giant was returned to Fort Dodge and put in storage.

On Aug. 14, 1923, the giant was put on exhibition at the Hawkeye Fair and Exhibition in the city. The price to view the hoax was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.

It was reported at that time that it would remain a permanent possession of the city. Later the giant was leased to the Syracuse, NY, Chamber of Commerce for a tour of the state during the summer of 1935 and was then placed on exhibition at the New York State Fair of that year. Now, the giant reposes in the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

A replica of the Cardiff Giant was carved from a gypsum block in 1972 for display at the Fort Dodge Historical Museum and Fort.