Photos of a hoax: The Cardiff Giant

July 2, 2007

David Carlson's pinhole camera photo of a sign promoting the Cardiff Giant

The Cardiff Giant was a great hoax of the 19th century. George Hull, a cigar maker in upstate New York, hired a Chicago sculptor to make a large statute of a man. He then buried the statue on a friend’s farm, and year later hired workmen to dig a well where the statue was buried, and of course the well-diggers “discovered” the statue. Hull’s intent was to hoax Bible literalists who talked about giants in the ground, based on Genesis 6:4.When the statue was discovered, it was claimed to be a petrified giant, evidence of giants living in America. The stone piece was put on traveling display.

The hoax was discovered. That only increased the desire to see the statue, and the price to see it was raised. P. T. Barnum tried to buy the thing, and when his offer was refused, initially he created a hoax of the hoax for his own display.

The Cardiff Giant is on display today at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown, New York (also home of the Baseball Hall of Fame). Barnum’s fake fake is on display at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Cardiff Giant on display at Cooperstown, New York

The photo at top was created with a grant from the Vermont Council on the Arts by David Carlson, whose website is here (his work is for sale — some of the photos would be good conversation starters in history classrooms) It’s a photo made with a pinhole camera, a camera without a lens. The second photo is from Roadside America, showing the Cardiff Giant as displayed today.

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