Yesterday's Magazette

4 – The Cardiff Giant Hoax

The Cardiff Giant Hoax

By Marion Tickner


In the glow of campfires, Native Americans handed down stories from generation to generation. These tales are known as legends.

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Many, many moons ago giants lived in Central New York—so the legend goes. The legend told the Indians about something that would happen in the future. “Strange white men will come in canoes. They will bring firewater. This poison drink will cause the downfall of the Indian tribes.” The Great Spirit grew so angry with the giants that he sent lightning bolts. The giants turned to stone, thus creating stone quarries around Syracuse, NY.

One giant was out of town at the time. He blamed the Indians for what had happened. To get even he planned to kill an Onondaga Indian every day.

The Indians called a meeting to plot their attack. One night they dug a deep pit near Cardiff, NY, covered it with twigs and leaves and waited.

A few mornings later, the Indians awakened as the earth rumbled and shook. When they checked, they found that the last of the giants had fallen into the pit.

In 1869, a man living in Cardiff, NY, took advantage of the legend to make a profit. What started as a practical joke ended as a hoax.

Earlier, George Hull, from Binghamton, NY, got into an argument with a minister over a passage from the Bible. “There were giants in the earth in those days” (Genesis 6:4). Hull decided to get even with the minister. He visited several stone quarries until he found just the right block of gypsum. He then hired a stonecutter in Chicago to carve it into the shape of a man.

Meanwhile, his cousin William Newell, hired two men to dig a well on his farm in Cardiff, NY. Before they reached water, however, Mr. Newell claimed that he ran out of money and stopped the work.

One dark night in November 1868, the stone giant was brought to Cardiff and buried in that very spot. The ground was then smoothed over and clover planted. A strange time to plant clover, especially in New York State. Winter came and these strange events were forgotten.

The next year Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols began to work again on that well. On October 16, 1869, they struck something hard. At first they thought they had hit a pipe. Instead they’d found something that looked like a human foot. Eventually, they uncovered the huge stone man.

“Jerusalem, Nichols, it’s a big Injun!” Emmons exclaimed.

People, remembering the legend of the stone giant, flocked to see this petrified giant. They came by wagons, stagecoaches, horses, and even by foot, paying an admission price of fifty cents. The cow shed on the Newell farm was turned into an eating place. Mr. Newell and Mr. Hull took in thousands of dollars.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., a famous physician in Boston, examined the giant. He agreed that it had all the features of a man, but it had no heart or lungs or other organs man needed to live. By December, Mr. Hull admitted that the whole thing was a hoax.

The “Cardiff Giant” is 10 ½ feet tall and weighs nearly 3000 pounds. He rests today on display in The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.


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Bibliography:

Dunn, James Taylor, The American Goliath, published by The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

Roseboom, William F. and Schramm, Henry W., They Built A City, Manlius Publishing Corp., pp 11-12.

Roseboom, William F. and Fellows, Byron F. Jr., The Road to Yesterday, published by the Syracuse Historical Society, pp 3-6.

“A New Wonder, Petrified Giant” Syracuse Daily Standard Newspaper, October 18, 1869.

Vol. 36 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2009

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