Did the discovery of the petrified remains of a buried giant in upstate New York in the 1860s prove the existence of actual giants? Nope, it was a hoax. Find out how George Hull pulled off one of the best hoaxes of all time with the Cardiff Giant, a hoax that gets even better when the king of hucksters P.T. Barnum gets involved.
Craig Renfroe's short film "Catalog" is an official selection at the Unnamed Footage Festival and will be screened at the film festival on March 25, 2023, in San Francisco.
You can now support us by joining Tell Me a Hoax + and help grow the podcast!
Thanks to poet and songwriter Morri Creech for our theme music!
Thanks to Mel Clayton for our art!
[00:00:00] Craig Renfroe: In 1869, a farmer discovers a buried giant in upstate New York. Is it proof of the existence of biblical giants? Is it a statue from an ancient civilization? Nope. It's a hoax. Welcome to you. Tell me a hoax, a show about the hoaxes, humbugs, and pranks that capture our imaginations. I'm Craig Renfroe, and I'm obsessed with hoaxes.
[00:00:30] Sarah Creech: And I'm Sarah Creech. And I like hoaxes, but I love when Craig tells me a hoax. So I am an avid. listener.
[00:00:38] Craig Renfroe: We do have a hoax today. But before we get to that hoax, let's talk about our definition of what is a hoax or what we're going to mean when we talk about a hoax, and for me, it's a deliberate falsehood.
Deliberate, meaning there is a hoaxer, someone who has intention, but it's not simply a lie, so it has to be something more elaborate. There has to be a level of complexity, and I want to separate it then from things like simple frauds. So we know why Bernie Madoff did what he did, right?
He just wanted to get money. But in a hoax, has to be some other motivating force aside from money, like humor or making a philosophical political or artistic point. So there's some kind of complicated deception that really captures or catches our fancy. And these hoaxes operate with some ambiguity, some doubt that allows for that capturing of the imagination.
Otherwise you'd just have, you know, your, your simple lie. Is that fair?
[00:01:39] Sarah Creech: I think that sounds like a great definition.
[00:01:41] Craig Renfroe: I also want to separate it from terms like fake news. And calling into question knowable truth or doubting institutions and experts.
So I just want to say at the start here, we believe that there is a truth that you can get at least close to. We believe in science and we don't believe all of the media is a hoax. Strangely that hoaxes reinforce knowable reality, right? That there is disinformation, but that disinformation has been discovered and proves that you can know some things.
If you're looking for something more conspiratorially minded, first off, change your life. But you know, can keep listening.
[00:02:17] Sarah Creech: I'm still listening, and I can't wait for you to tell me a hoax, and yes, we believe in the big T truth and the way that these humbugs and hucksters mess with the truth. That's what I'm here for. Is the artful play on truth. And lies and what motivates them. So I'm excited to hear what you have for me today, Craig.
[00:02:39] Craig Renfroe: Enough disclaimers. So the topic for today is the Cardiff giant which I think encapsulates that definition that we were talking about.
A great hoax that is surprising and it has a great hoaxer and has some motives aside from money, although money is there because, you know, capitalism and gets even better when P.T. Barnum shows up.
What do you know about PT Barnum?
[00:03:02] Sarah Creech: Circus?
[00:03:03] Craig Renfroe: That's okay. That's what a lot of people know, the circus. Yeah, true. Oh, okay. That's funny, funny that you should think of the that. I sent you some pictures. So if you want to look at the first picture if you want to see what PT Barnum looks like or looked like.
[00:03:20] Sarah Creech: I am now opening an email. Craig sent to me. Whoa, that's...wait.
[00:03:26] Craig Renfroe: Great.
[00:03:27] Sarah Creech: That's that famous guy?
No, not him.
[00:03:30] Craig Renfroe: Right?
[00:03:31] Sarah Creech: Who played him.
[00:03:32] Craig Renfroe: Yeah. So that's right. So there was that movie with Hugh Jackman. So what The Greatest Showman, I think, yeah right
[00:03:40] Sarah Creech: Yes. It's a big,
[00:03:41] Craig Renfroe: But PT, Barnum, actual PT, Barnum doesn't look like that. If you scroll down, you can see an actual picture of him.
[00:03:46] Sarah Creech: That guy?
Yeah. He got a serious Hollywood upgrade. He had a glow up in this movie. Very severe. looking
Yeah. And you can see the side-by-side of them.
Wow. He did not go on a keto diet for them the way. Hugh must have. Wow. Okay.
[00:04:04] Craig Renfroe: So that is PT Barnum.
If you want to see the pictures there'll be links in the show notes as well as links to all of our research for the episode. Thinking about PT, Barnum, let's play a game. Here are, okay. Here are three hoaxes. Which one did PT Barnum not pull. So PT Barnum embraced this nickname of being the prince of humbugs.
He was well-known as a huckster. That was a sort of business model. He pulled lots and lots of hoaxes. Here are some hoaxes so which one of them did he not do? One Joice Heth. This was an elderly black woman who he claimed was 161 years old and had been nurse maid to George Washington. When people stopped coming or stopped paying to see her because of that story, he rebranded her as an automaton who wasn't even human.
[00:04:56] Sarah Creech: Wow. There's a lot to unpack in that one. Okay.
[00:04:59] Craig Renfroe: The second one is the Feejee Mermaid. He would put up risqué ads in newspapers and, billboards with these bare breasted mermaids to get people to come see his exhibit of the Feejee mermaid, which in actuality was the upper half of a monkey sewn to the bottom half of a fish.
[00:05:15] Sarah Creech: Nice. I think you can still find that in Florida.
[00:05:19] Craig Renfroe: I think those are still those gaffs, as they say taxidermy hoaxes are still around His museum got so popular. He started in museums before circuses. So he,
[00:05:28] Sarah Creech: I did not know.
[00:05:30] Craig Renfroe: We're going to talk about him right now. And in the time when His museums have closed and he's still sort of in the game, but this is all about what he did for his museums.
So his museum got so popular, too many people spent too much time inside cutting into his profits. So he put up a sign that read this way to the egress, which of course meant exit. But some people thought it was a new exhibit until they went through the door, which locked behind them. And if they wanted back in, they'd have to buy a new ticket.
[00:05:58] Sarah Creech: Okay. So A, B, or C.
I think that the racism of the first one and the, just the strange othering and profiting off of her story, just going to say it feels a little true. So I'm going to say that he probably did that. And then boobs, you know, mermaid boobs. I feel like that one also seems like he probably would have done it.
The third one just feels just so capitalistic. You know, probably he could have done that too, but maybe not as crafty so I could be totally wrong. Craig, you're going to tell me which one did he not do, but I'm saying AB he definitely did those things.
[00:06:35] Craig Renfroe: Okay. So
[00:06:36] Sarah Creech: Am I so wrong
[00:06:37] Craig Renfroe: Your guess is he did not put up the sign this way to the egress to get people to leave.
We'll find the answer at the end of the show.
[00:06:44] Sarah Creech: Oh,
[00:06:45] Craig Renfroe: This is suspense, right?
[00:06:47] Sarah Creech: Too much of a cliffhanger. Can you give me a wink or something? Let me know You won't do it. He won't do it.
[00:06:52] Craig Renfroe: Poker face. So if you're, if you're listening, then you gotta wait till the end of the episode. I mean, I guess you could Google it, but don't do
[00:06:57] Sarah Creech: I'm not going to Google
[00:06:58] Craig Renfroe: Right now. Oh
[00:06:59] Sarah Creech: Nobody else should either.
[00:07:00] Craig Renfroe: no, no, just wait till the
Right. All right. We have to back up now. So, We leave PT Barnum until later in our story, because our story starts in the 1860s with George Hull. He is our hoaxer. He is having an argument.
Which he liked to do a lot with a revivalist minister? He is a successful tobacconist and an atheist.
And if you read about this story, there's a lot of times they'll just refer to him as strangely an atheist or surprisingly an atheist or something like that. It was probably unusual for him to be out as an atheist at that time and this particular area he was from this is upstate New York, they called it the Burnt Over Country, I think, where there was all this evangelical activity going on.
And lots of people were engaged in it. And so, but.
[00:07:45] Sarah Creech: New York just to clarify. Yeah. not,
[00:07:48] Craig Renfroe: Yeah, I know.
[00:07:48] Sarah Creech: Not, low country, South Carolina.
[00:07:50] Craig Renfroe: Not the, not the south. I mean, sure. I mean, you know, that's probably happening too, but in the 1860s, this is happening up there as well. Right? So there's this religious fervor going on. And lots of these traveling ministers and preachers.
So he's engaged in this conversation argument with an evangelical about the literal interpretation of the Bible. Which of course was one of the tenants of that kind of religion at the time. Hull is saying you can't believe everything is true in the Bible anymore. The minister is like, Nope, anything in here is true? So they're picking examples, and they start arguing over giants. There weren't really giants.
Even though there were lots of mentions of giants in the Bible, obviously David and Goliath. Goliath is supposed to be an actual giant, not just a big person. He points to a specific passage Genesis six, four. So would you read that first from the King James,
[00:08:38] Sarah Creech: the King James passage?
Wow. "There were giants in the earth in those. days. And also after that, when the sons of God came in and to the daughters of men and they bear children to them, the same became mighty men, which were of old men of renown."
[00:08:55] Craig Renfroe: So you can see there in particularly the, the beginning of that there were giants in the earth in those days.
[00:09:01] Sarah Creech: There is no parsing words there, there, were giants, right? it's pretty
[00:09:05] Craig Renfroe: Right. So if you're, if you're a literalist, then you're like, all right, I guess there were giants in the earth.
[00:09:09] Sarah Creech: Underlining this passage.
[00:09:11] Craig Renfroe: The part they are arguing over is really important here, particularly the wording in the earth. There is this religious fervor, but there's also the release of Darwin's work. Darwin's origin of species is published in 1859.
And the scientific community's already backing him up with lots of evidence. Paleontology made huge strides and these amazing discoveries in the 18 hundreds. part of where Hull is coming from, right? He's like, okay, here's all these examples that we can support. Darwin's work with.
We can find dinosaur bones, we can find the evolutionary track of how animals change in the ground. We're not what we're not finding in the ground in the earth are the bones of giants. Right. And so he sort of makes this case, of course, the evangelical just sticks with the Bible.
So they don't resolve this argument, but what does happen is Hull gets to thinking when he gets to thinking about how gullible people are and he begins to think about this idea. What if there was a giant in the ground. So what Hull does is he buys a huge block of gypsum in Iowa.
[00:10:15] Sarah Creech: How much did that cost?
[00:10:17] Craig Renfroe: Some people say well, he had done this to make money, but I'm not sure it was really. Again, we're talking about the motivating force, right? I think one of the things is that he just wants to pull something over on these religious people.
That he's arguing with because it did cost a lot.
[00:10:29] Sarah Creech: Worthy investment. Right?
[00:10:31] Craig Renfroe: And I don't think he would necessarily think that there's going to be a return on this investment. But he is a successful businessman. And put his money there. Oh. where his ideas are
[00:10:41] Sarah Creech: Petty cash to blow.
[00:10:42] Craig Renfroe: Right. Yeah. And so, he strangely is going to blow it on this. He has decided to buy this gypsum. He moves it from Iowa, I guess that's where that comes from that rock. And then he moves it from Iowa to Chicago to be carved. So he gets these stone workers.
He has them work in secrets. They're not supposed to tell anyone they conceal the workshop. And then he gives them the description of what he wants. He wants a giant naked man. So he goes away.
[00:11:06] Sarah Creech: And they thought that sounds perfectly normal.
[00:11:10] Craig Renfroe: Well, that's the thing. Clearly the stone workers must have known something was up. And sure they did, but I guess they didn't, they didn't speak up immediately. Right?
[00:11:17] Sarah Creech: Add that to the budget for startup costs.
[00:11:19] Craig Renfroe: Exactly. So he comes back. And I guess he didn't give them all that much detail or something.
So they made the giant look like Hull. Hull had like a full beard and hair. The giant has this hair and he's like, okay, the key to the hoax is that.
[00:11:36] Sarah Creech: He's
[00:11:37] Craig Renfroe: Going to say, there's this petrified giant.
Right. And he's like, well, they ain't gonna believe hair is petrified. So he has them chisel off all the hair.
[00:11:45] Sarah Creech: Made in my likeness. right?
[00:11:46] Craig Renfroe: Exactly.
[00:11:47] Sarah Creech: Right.
[00:11:48] Craig Renfroe: He also isn't happy with it because I guess gypsum is white and it looks real new, right? He gets to work on it.
He takes a board and he drives nails or sometimes described as needles through the board. And then he hammers this board onto the giant statue. I mean, I'm going this, this, this, this
[00:12:07] Sarah Creech: rock.
[00:12:07] Craig Renfroe: And so it makes, it makes what he thinks are pores.
And then, so he thinks, okay, well that looks more realistic, but it still looks new.
So then he pours acid all over it to distress it.
[00:12:18] Sarah Creech: A thing of beauty. And then,
[00:12:20] Craig Renfroe: And then, so it ends up it's a little over 10 feet long.
[00:12:25] Sarah Creech: Shorter than the David.
[00:12:26] Craig Renfroe: Right. And 3000 pounds. He takes this statue and under the cover of night, he takes it to his cousin's farm, which is in Cardiff, again in upstate New York. Hull's co-conspirator and cousin is William "Stub" Newell.
His nickname is Stub, and you're probably thinking it's his nickname because it's a, you
[00:12:46] Sarah Creech: offensive
[00:12:47] Craig Renfroe: you know, I mean, you probably think it's from like Moby Dick, right? One of my, one of my favorite characters Stubb from Moby-Dick.
[00:12:52] Sarah Creech: Know my brain was definitely going to much cruder.
[00:12:55] Craig Renfroe: Now it's not, it's not Moby Dick, unfortunately, although it could have been, it was out at the time, but his nickname comes from the fact that he got frostbite and he
[00:13:02] Sarah Creech: where my brain was going.
[00:13:04] Craig Renfroe: And he lost a toe.
[00:13:05] Sarah Creech: How literary, you are, and how horrible, I am.
[00:13:09] Craig Renfroe: And he lost a toe and he then took to wearing the toe on a string around his neck.
[00:13:15] Sarah Creech: That's uh, that's beautiful. That's not a hoax. that's just
[00:13:19] Craig Renfroe: this, it's
[00:13:20] Sarah Creech: capital T truth.
[00:13:22] Craig Renfroe: it's a nice character,
[00:13:23] Sarah Creech: strange.
[00:13:24] Craig Renfroe: character detail about Stub.
[00:13:26] Sarah Creech: A good detail.
[00:13:27] Craig Renfroe: Supposedly the two of them buried this giant on Stub's farm which again is a feat cause it's 3000 pounds and I guess leavers and stuff, I don't know, but they buried it three feet in the ground, and then they waited for a year. Yeah. And so if you can imagine, I mean, I know this is kids these days and they're impatient,
[00:13:48] Sarah Creech: I mean, they were on a different time frame, you
[00:13:51] Craig Renfroe: Yeah. I mean, if you can imagine someone developing a hoax and waiting a year, right. I mean,
that is, this, I know it is very impressive. Just that feat alone to me and in some way. So they wait a year and then Stub has two men come out to dig up a well.
And Stub says, Hey I wanna well dug over here.
Yup. Despite the fact the men are like, that's not the best place to dig a
[00:14:14] Sarah Creech: but I insist.
[00:14:15] Craig Renfroe: Yeah. So Stub's
[00:14:16] Sarah Creech: I am tub.
[00:14:18] Craig Renfroe: Stub. It's no, no here's good. So the men in their digging discover it on October 16th, 1869.
[00:14:26] Sarah Creech: Men, that that seems that's collateral, damage, right? Hoaxes There's collateral damage.
[00:14:31] Craig Renfroe: Sometimes I don't know that they're traumatized by this.
They probably just like, look at this.
[00:14:36] Sarah Creech: They were digging a well and found a giant.
[00:14:41] Craig Renfroe: I mean, they're pretty excited. They got something to say. And
[00:14:44] Sarah Creech: Story of their lives.
[00:14:46] Craig Renfroe: And so they come to Stub, right? And they're like, Hey, we found this thing. Reportedly Stub plays it very cool and says, oh, well maybe we should just rebury it.
And so the people were like, no, you can't do that. We have to tell people. And so they go, they tell the town, some people from the town come to see it. Within two days people are just pouring in to come see the giant and Stub was by then charging 50 cent per person.
[00:15:11] Sarah Creech: Was about to ask. Okay, good job, Stub.
[00:15:14] Craig Renfroe: There is some income coming back in the only investment.
[00:15:17] Sarah Creech: All that gypsum,
[00:15:18] Craig Renfroe: right.
[00:15:18] Sarah Creech: Mean, they needed
[00:15:19] Craig Renfroe: They needed to see it. Yeah. We're going to read a few quotes from this great collection called The American Goliath that has collected all these quotes from the time or articles from the time. So here's a quote from one paper describing the giant. I'm going to read the quote and then I'll have you look at some pictures and see
[00:15:37] Sarah Creech: Wait,
[00:15:38] Craig Renfroe: yeah, wait, so let's okay. "From top of head to instep of soul, 10 feet, three inches, foot 19, and one half inches. The reclining posture is a perfectly natural one. The limbs and feet being slightly drawn up. The figure appears as if a person had fallen there and died.
There seem to be evidences of considerable physical anguish and the position of the limbs of the body and in the tension of the nerves, as well as the contraction of the muscles, which are fully developed, the face is the only part seemingly free from traces of agony of disillusion. The expression is calm, thoughtful, almost sweet.
The high massive foreheads sets off with grand yet benevolent dignity, the well-rounded and proportion features. The countenance is a study. Beautiful. Despite its immensity, it displays a largeness of kindly feeling, not commonly surmised by fairytales of giants and giant deeds. The spectator gazes upon the grand old sleeper with feelings of admiration and awe, nothing like it has ever been seen, say all who have gazed upon it."
So do you want to take a look at some of the pictures
[00:16:51] Sarah Creech: I mean, That's pretty high praise. I'm nervous for this, for this statue. Okay. Oh, why is his penis
so accurate? Oh my gosh. I haven't never seen this. For wait a second
No, none of this is right. The ribs sticking out are creepy? The semi erect penis is beyond anything I ever needed to see. I have to tell you, why is he, why does he have a hand over his abdomen? Like. Nervous. Okay. In one of these pictures, the penis is actually blacked out. Why was that? Not in the description. Where was that? I was not prepared.
[00:17:36] Craig Renfroe: Notice, you'll notice the description did not mention
[00:17:38] Sarah Creech: that.
[00:17:39] Craig Renfroe: And I noticed you skipped right through the pictures at the beginning. So if you go through the pictures from the top-down. They have been artfully taken to avoid showing the penis. And then when they couldn't like the illustration has a fig leaf on it. And then there's one where they just do, like you say, they put a black box over it.
[00:17:55] Sarah Creech: Renaissance fig leaf.
There was I need to know the story of the penis. Was this intentional that he know that they would not report on it, that it would be scandalous. I, why include it in such vivid detail.
[00:18:11] Craig Renfroe: It is very striking. Like if you look at the actual picture of the Cardiff giant.
[00:18:15] Sarah Creech: It looks like a strap-on truly. And I'm just wondering, why did giants have penises?
Were they supposed to have male anatomy or were they supposed to not cause not human. Was this supposed to confuse people? It's confusing me right now. I'm telling you, Craig, I needed a warning. Goodness.
[00:18:41] Craig Renfroe: Sorry for no trigger warning on that.
[00:18:44] Sarah Creech: I'm putting my phone down. What was the question?
[00:18:48] Craig Renfroe: I think you answered it. I just like that very lyrical description of the giant and then seeing a picture of it.
[00:18:56] Sarah Creech: So much agony from limb to face too. All I see is agony in these photos, I don't know what they, were saying.
[00:19:03] Craig Renfroe: I know. And the one description which seems to contradict itself their reclining posture is a perfectly natural one.
I was like, I don't think so. There's one hand on his stomach. And then one behind him, his back. He doesn't look like sort of an agony, but then his face does seem almost. He's going to smile or something.
[00:19:21] Sarah Creech: He looks like he should be hula hooping. Like the way that his body's twisting and the way that his hips are positioned, He just. Nothing is natural about hula-hooping. There's nothing natural about this about this pose. so,
[00:19:43] Craig Renfroe: All these descriptions and the artful pictures they all leave out the penis, which I think is very striking. And as I said, he did ask the stone masons to make a naked man. And they did, anatomy included.
[00:19:59] Sarah Creech: Wasn't that generous? I mean, what men were they referencing? Goodness.
[00:20:07] Craig Renfroe: I mean, it's a giant right.
[00:20:08] Sarah Creech: It's a giant.
[00:20:10] Craig Renfroe: All right. So we'll, we'll come back to
[00:20:11] Sarah Creech: not know this is what you were going to be telling me today, Craig, now, now
[00:20:17] Craig Renfroe: Right? So it's a it's a good, it's good hoax. We'll come back to the penis, but let's go back to some of the quotes from the time this next one talks about people's. Interpretation of what they're seeing. It says the majority of visitors disagree with the opinion that the figure is a statue and pronounce it a petrified man.
It is claimed that no sculptor would have invented such an unheard of position and designed for a statue. No sculptor could have so perfectly imitated nature, especially in the minutia, which rendered the image, such a wonder.
[00:20:51] Sarah Creech: Wondrous indeed.
[00:20:52] Craig Renfroe: Some of the people then coming are buying Hull's hoax. They're like, this is clearly a petrified man, a petrified giant. That is playing into what he was hoping, this is then evidence for their literal interpretation of the Bible. Buying right into his gambit.
There are of course critics, but then some of these articles are
[00:21:13] Sarah Creech: to the,
[00:21:14] Craig Renfroe: those criticisms of people who think it is just a statue. And here's another one from the Syracuse daily standard. If you want to read that
[00:21:21] Sarah Creech: Yeah, I'll read that one.
"So five miles further down the valley at what is known as the Onondaga valley cemetery and a cemetery, taking up a human body from removal some years ago, it was found to be solid stone still further north, but in the same range, the corpse of a child on being taken up was found to be petrified solid stone.
It's still another case, the body of a man who had been buried a few years was taken up for removal and being found a perfect petrification. The widow had it taken home and it is retained in the house and has never been reburied. We might give names, but do not feel at liberty to do so without first consulting, family, friends, or relatives, these and other samples that might be given, prove that petrification is not uncommon in the vicinity of Cardiff, whereour 10 feet, two and a half inches. And well, proportioned giant was found." Yeah. Cardiff, you have a microclimate for petrification. Okay.
[00:22:19] Craig Renfroe: Well, I mean, I think that proves it. Is this a thing that happened in the 18 hundreds where they are just digging up people, it seems like a lot of
[00:22:26] Sarah Creech: they had a lot of time, Craig. We established their time was different than our time.
[00:22:33] Craig Renfroe: So just a lot of bodies that are being pulled out of the ground to find yeah. To find these petrified people. Yeah. And I love that you, you obviously noticed this one, but I love the wife who just takes the husband and sticks him in the corner.
[00:22:46] Sarah Creech: Like she must have really loved him to have him like spook her every time she goes to the kitchen.
[00:22:55] Craig Renfroe: It's quite, it's quite a love story. Again, the journalistic standards of, we can't give you names because, you know, we don't, we want to consult the family and
[00:23:04] Sarah Creech: Privacy, privacy, so caring.
[00:23:07] Craig Renfroe: Yes. So, of course the papers had a vested interest in this being unusual.
So they are countering some of the criticism, but there were critics and very soon, as soon as the story gets out. There was a Yale paleontologists O.C. Marsh who was a discoverer of dinosaurs. So he goes to see it. And his response is "it is of very recent origin and a most decided humbug."
He saw right through it and there's that word humbug. People might not know that humbug means trick, or deceit. Most people probably know a humbug from Scrooge, bah humbug. But he's not just saying like goldurn it or something.
What he means when he says bah humbug is that Christmas is a deceit or fraud that is taking money from him.
[00:23:49] Sarah Creech: And so
[00:23:50] Craig Renfroe: That's where we get the use of humbug and also from PT Barnum because he considered himself a master of humbugs and again, we'll get to him in a second.
Other people looking back for example, Stephen Jay Gould, who's a contemporary writer of popular science. He looked back on it and put it best. "How could a man turn to solid gypsum while preserving all his soft anatomy from cheeks to toes to penis?"
But Hull's genius, unfortunately still true today, is that people will believe despite expert opinion probably in spite of expert opinion.
Right? There was that, unfortunate quality in the American character that they didn't want to listen to an expert. This is Gould again, "Link an absurd concoction to a noble and mysterious subject. And you may prevail at least for a while." I think that's also a nice comment on hoaxes, creating this link of the absurdity to the mystery.
Some people are seeing it as this affirmation of literal truth of the Bible when science was busy bunking it. They found comfort in this giant. There were other theories some people thought it was a statue, from early settlers, or it was a statue created by Jesuits to teach indigenous people. I never could find what the lesson was teaching, but
[00:25:05] Sarah Creech: sometimes when you dig a well, you find a penis.
[00:25:10] Craig Renfroe: Because of all this controversy people want to see it. People are flocking to Syracuse and then from Syracuse out to Cardiff and. Stub is probably from orders from Hull is now charging a dollar to see the giant. Businessmen in Syracuse notice, right?
They are getting lots more traffic. They're loving that. And they want to make sure that the giant does not go somewhere else so they want to buy the giant, not to have it, but to keep it and actually move it to Syracuse because they want all that traffic.
They want all the tourists to come and support their local businesses. They try to buy it from Stub. Stub, again, probably relaying Hull's wishes declines. They eventually say, Hey, we won't, we don't even want to buy it outright. We just want to buy a controlling interest at $30,000.
Which if you can imagine at the time is a lot of money.
Hulll/Stub can't refuse that so they accept it and then it is moved, I think, into the city. Right? Put on display.
[00:26:03] Sarah Creech: at the Piatsa of Syracuse.
[00:26:05] Craig Renfroe: Perfect. Around this time enters PT, Barnum, so he hears about this
[00:26:10] Sarah Creech: How is he a part of this story? I'm ready to find out full circle.
[00:26:14] Craig Renfroe: He is a famous huckster, future circus founder, and this is from his own words. "I am a showman by profession and all the gilding she'll make nothing else of me." And his personal aim was to put money in his own coffers. Particularly the way he liked to do that was an easy money scheme.
And so there were, there weren't any that he wasn't interested in. So when he heard about the giant and again, the success of all these people coming to see it, he wants to buy it. He sends an offer; there's some discrepancy, but around 50 to $60,000 is what he offers.
[00:26:47] Sarah Creech: I'm going to double double that
[00:26:50] Craig Renfroe: Yeah, but the investors have already sort of bought it right there, bought the controlling interest at least. And they say no because again, they don't want the short money. They want the long money of people coming to support all their
[00:27:00] Sarah Creech: businesses.
I really want to go back to our budget spreadsheet. Like how much was that initial investment for?
Gypsum and very very good sculptors. They were accurate right, paid well, and then versus all of the money that poured in on the other side.
[00:27:14] Craig Renfroe: So, right. Yeah. And it was supporting the local economy. Stub, stub's family actually was making money. He would go out and pick up people from town and bring them out to the farm.
Yep. This family was selling refreshments for the line, that had formed. PT Barnum wants to get in on this, and they refused. He is not to be stopped though. So, so what he decides to
[00:27:36] Sarah Creech: plot turn,
[00:27:37] Craig Renfroe: and I love the description of this is that he sends spies to make measurements of the giant.
I like to imagine what they did. Like it's going with
[00:27:45] Sarah Creech: accused by
[00:27:46] Craig Renfroe: rulers. Yeah, I know. And they're just like
[00:27:49] Sarah Creech: Tom cruise comes down on a wire.
[00:27:51] Craig Renfroe: They're just discreetly making measurements of everything and write a little note book. Apparently once he gets all of these dimensions or, you know, whatever the report from the spies, he makes his own copy.
[00:28:02] Sarah Creech: This is ridiculous.
[00:28:03] Craig Renfroe: And this is the last picture. If you wanna look at it. It is not a great copy. So he hires one artist to make it and you can see the very
[00:28:11] Sarah Creech: What kind of stone did he use?
[00:28:13] Craig Renfroe: I'm not exactly sure. It was actually made, it was a cast, .
[00:28:17] Sarah Creech: Yeah, it looks completely different. Can we talk about how these are not the same giant, first of all, it's not a giant. And then this is a really bad ripoff. Stub should be mad. Hull's mad. Intellectual property?
[00:28:33] Craig Renfroe: At Well, it's funny you should say that. He put his on display. He is like a genius at this stuff. Right. And so what he does is he declared that the original, the one in Cardiff or the one in Syracuse maybe now is a fake and his is the true Cardiff giant.
[00:28:52] Sarah Creech: Brilliant.
[00:28:53] Craig Renfroe: And in fact he is so good.
His promotional machine is so good that eventually the Cardiff giant, the original fake goes on tour and ends up in New York where PT Barnum's is on display. PT Barnum has more people come see his fake fake.
[00:29:07] Sarah Creech: That's fabulous.
I'm, I, I can't, you know, it's like, I don't want to have respect for this kind of ingenuity because it just seems so evil almost in its inception. but it's so crafty, Like you can't help, to respect, a mastermind of this, you have to respect his game. And so, and he knows how to play a hoax, right. Or what he likes to call, prince of humbugs like his Twitter handle.
[00:29:33] Craig Renfroe: I think it would be, he would love Twitter, probably scarily so.
[00:29:37] Sarah Creech: We should resurrect him as a hoax and put him on Twitter.
[00:29:41] Craig Renfroe: He's probably there.
[00:29:42] Sarah Creech: He's out there somewhere.
[00:29:43] Craig Renfroe: The way he played it is that he is inviting the people to pay money, to be ho xed. His ad for this exhibit read, "What is it? Is it a statue? Is it a petrification? Is it a stupendous fraud? Is it the remains of a former race?" So he is sort of upfront saying, I don't know inviting you to decide for yourself.
[00:30:03] Sarah Creech: Choose your own adventure, works a little bit better. People like having agency.
[00:30:09] Craig Renfroe: Yeah. And he doesn't care what you think about it, as long as you pay him to see it.
And so obviously the businessmen in Cardiff are mad as you pointed out and they sue him,
They sue Barnum. And one of those businessmen, David Hannam. He is quoted as saying "There's a sucker born every minute."
Yeah. Either saying that, well, see, either saying it, in terms of the people going to see Barnum's giant or his view that this is the way Barnum sees people.
What's weird is if you find that quote is attributed to PT, Barnum, but it was actually said about him instead. I think it is interesting that we've sort of conflated those. And in a way, when you hear that quote used, it is with admiration sometimes, or as if this is the way that the world works.
[00:30:56] Sarah Creech: Some sort of Justification. for charging money for hoaxes. If somebody is going to fall for it. Why don't why don't we do it and being able to justify that kind of behavior? I mean, it just seems like something that he would say, right?
[00:31:07] Craig Renfroe: But it is someone calling into question his character, but now we use it as a badge of honor, that quote for him, for PT, Barnum respect we maybe have for his acumen.
And it has taken to court. There are rumors. Of course so, the judge says, "Bring your giant here and if he swears to his own genuineness as a bonafide petrification, you shall have the injection you asked for."
So he tells this to the people that brought the case, basically saying you can't sue for someone making a fake of your fake.
[00:31:36] Sarah Creech: Um, It sounds like a great use of court time.
[00:31:40] Craig Renfroe: Absolutely. By December, 1869, so if you remember this all started in October, so this is a very short run. Hull confesses. And he probably confesses because in February 2nd, 1870, the Chicago Tribune runs an article with the stone workers. So some reporters have tracked them down and have confirmed that they made the Cardiff giant.
And so I think he got word of that and just went on and revealed.
[00:32:06] Sarah Creech: Good job, journalists.
[00:32:07] Craig Renfroe: Also some people said that maybe it sounded like Stub was claiming have pulled the hoax
and Hull was mad that he's getting credit.
[00:32:14] Sarah Creech: divisions. Now we have family problems in this hoax.
[00:32:18] Craig Renfroe: So this is revealed as a hoax, but they send it on the road. It still has a life.
Because people don't want to see a petrified giant, they want to see the hoax. Right? And decide for themselves would they have been fooled by this thing. And we're still talking about it.
[00:32:31] Sarah Creech: We're still talking about it now.
[00:32:33] Craig Renfroe: It had other influences, like some of the people that came to see it. Ralph Waldo Emerson saw it.
Mark Twain wrote a story about it.
And his story, the giant's ghost is haunting someone and trying to get them to bury the statue, and the person that they're haunting starts laughing. And the ghost is like, why are you laughing? And it's like, well, that's, Barnum's fake. You're haunting the wrong statue. And then if you know Frank Baum, the writer of Wizard of Oz. He actually grew up in Syracuse, and it was thought that one of the business people who invested in the Cardiff giant was his father. So he had experience with this clearly saw it and knew about it.
And he wrote a poem called "The true origin of the Cardiff giant." Some people think that maybe being around this hoax, it influenced his version of the wizard, right? And the man behind the curtain.
So, this still has ramifications through the culture and beyond, the hoax itself or the people involved in the hoax.
So the aftermath
Hull was over the moon for having pulled this off. He decides he decides to do it again.
[00:33:41] Sarah Creech: Okay. Really? It's like when you're playing poker, just walk away when you're up. Why?
[00:33:48] Craig Renfroe: So, what do you think did next?
[00:33:50] Sarah Creech: Ideas? Is it biblically related?
[00:33:52] Craig Renfroe: Sort of.
[00:33:53] Sarah Creech: Does it have to do with the previous hoax?
[00:33:55] Craig Renfroe: It is exactly the same thing.
So he tried again in 1877. And this one was called the Solid Muldoon. He moved it to Colorado this time. He learned from the criticism he got. So he tried to make another petrified man. And again, a giant. This one was not as giant as the Cardiff giant. This one was composed, not of gypsum, but of mortar, rock dust, clay, plaster, ground bones, blood, and meat.
[00:34:23] Sarah Creech: I mean, who did he get to work on these? How much did he pay those folks?
[00:34:29] Craig Renfroe: I just loved Blood, bones, and meat.
[00:34:34] Sarah Creech: Had to get some DNA in there.
[00:34:36] Craig Renfroe: So I guess it might seem more, more like a person. It was dismissed pretty quickly. And it was interesting that he either worked with PT Barnum on. this, or again, PT, Barnum offered him money to buy it.
[00:34:48] Sarah Creech: I say uh, So this is just becoming a money-making scheme for him. like, why would he not keep repeating it? Right?
[00:34:54] Craig Renfroe: Yeah. This one was not as successful.
[00:34:56] Sarah Creech: How come?
[00:34:57] Craig Renfroe: Well, oh, one maybe the location, that this was more remote. So there wasn't as many people to come see it. It did make news but again, very quickly people thought no, this is just fake.
[00:35:07] Sarah Creech: Suckers in Colorado are only born every like five minutes.
[00:35:12] Craig Renfroe: Right, right. Not enough. George Hull died in 1902. And according to his family, he was very happy at having fooled the public.
[00:35:19] Sarah Creech: That was his life's This was his legacy,
[00:35:23] Craig Renfroe: Stub. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything about what happened to him.
[00:35:26] Sarah Creech: fine Stub also retired happily.
[00:35:29] Craig Renfroe: He felt good about the I mean, he would have something to say, you know, talk about aside from, you know, his toe around his neck I mean, he added something to his from.
PT Barnum. So as I said, he had made his name with museums, but they kept getting burned down. And yeah. And this was sort of a stop gap, but after this, he sort of goes into the circus business, as we know him now.
The giant, so the giant went on tour. It showed up in fairs. And it was eventually owned by an Iowan businessman who kept it in his rumpus room.
[00:36:02] Sarah Creech: Excuse me.
[00:36:02] Craig Renfroe: Yeah.
[00:36:03] Sarah Creech: What's a rumpus?
[00:36:04] Craig Renfroe: Like a family room, I guess, or maybe what we call a man-cave now, I guess.
[00:36:08] Sarah Creech: Um, you can't show me the picture of that statue. With that anatomy and tell me a man put it in his rumpus room and expect me to know, Craig, that that's where the family watches TV. Not where my brain fIrst went. Thanks for the
[00:36:25] Craig Renfroe: It's true. Yeah. You know, makes a nice couch. I don't know. So eventually though it does end up at the farmer's museum in Cooperstown, New York, where you can see it today.
[00:36:35] Sarah Creech: Really? Road trip.
[00:36:37] Craig Renfroe: For more, more than 50 cent. I think $15 for admission, I guess you get to see more stuff.
[00:36:42] Sarah Creech: Have you seen it?
[00:36:44] Craig Renfroe: No.
[00:36:44] Sarah Creech: Your
[00:36:46] Craig Renfroe: I know. Well, you know, I, haven't gone to Cooperstown.
[00:36:48] Sarah Creech: It's time to go, get the family and
[00:36:50] Craig Renfroe: that's true
[00:36:51] Sarah Creech: station wagon.
[00:36:52] Craig Renfroe: Yeah, that's true. And the Barnum fake supposedly ends up appropriately enough in Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum.
[00:37:01] Sarah Creech: Of alliteration
[00:37:06] Craig Renfroe: In Farmington Hills, Michigan
[00:37:08] Sarah Creech: Okay. Yeah. Both too far.
[00:37:10] Craig Renfroe: Yep. Yep. And so, and, and there's some doubt as to whether that's the original fake, because again, the artist who made that one, it was made from a mold and apparently went on to make several more.
[00:37:20] Sarah Creech: They should have broken the mold after PT. Didn't think about that.
[00:37:23] Craig Renfroe: That's true. Takeaway here?
[00:37:25] Sarah Creech: I keep thinking about what you said about the American character and how this seems to be something that's just a part of who we are. And from that time period and before. Is it just us or is it just human nature to be very gullible when an ideology that you hold dear. Maybe it's being questioned or you want to prove it right. I mean, are we just all very susceptible to wanting to defend our ideologies? And so we do so with whatever evidence necessary?
[00:37:57] Craig Renfroe: Yeah, absolutely. There's always confirmation bias. In the context of the time. Here's some evidence to support people who were feeling threatened. That their worldview was being threatened. Undermining their religious ideas about how the world worked. But I do think it's interesting also. There were other people who must've seen this, who weren't just fooled. That. I think lots of people probably went to see it just for fun, right? Yeah. I mean, some people might've paid a dollar to see a giant penis. Right? At the time. tme Um, just the oddity, right? I have spent money to go do silly things. So I don't know that the people seeing the statue were necessarily all gullible.
[00:38:34] Sarah Creech: it's hard to know though.
And it's, it's their stories don't become good clickbait. They're not good headlines. Right. The way that the newspapers were contributing to the narrative, both for and against it seems like there were far more headlines supporting the believability of this buried statue.
[00:38:53] Craig Renfroe: Right. And that certainly made a better story.
[00:38:55] Sarah Creech: It makes I mean? So I think that, that is very real and true and feels present for us today you know, so much that. The question of T truth really is one of the biggest headlines of the day. And I think that we're still in a cycle of trying to find our way to consensus and, just veracity, right?
Who can we trust? Where do we find that information? And it's hard to know. It's even, I was thinking too, when you were talking about. how once, Hull confesses, I feel like today Hull would have had to like really proven that he did it. Like where's the evidence that he actually did, that, that we would even question his confession. and the motives behind it.
That would not be sort of instant, even with the sculptors and the stone carvers supporting it. I think we are in a culture that questions, questions, questions. It feels never ending. Really.
[00:39:46] Craig Renfroe: Yeah, no, that's a good point. And maybe people at that time still believe that the Cardiff of giant was a real petrified man or giant.
And you're right. I mean Now, definitely.
The doubt that we can know whether the Cardiff giant was true or not.
One thing we can know that is true is the answer to the quiz.
[00:40:02] Sarah Creech: I know. I definitely feel now after hearing about PT, some more that I'm wrong, but I'm going to stay with my answer.
[00:40:09] Craig Renfroe: All right. So the question is, which of these hoaxes did PT Barnum not pull off? One was Joice Heth who was the supposedly 161 year old nurse maid to George Washington. Two was the Fiji mermaid, the monkey sown to a fish. And three was the "this way to the egress" where he tricked people to leave his museum with that sign.
Sorry to say, this was a trick question. He did all three of these things.
[00:40:33] Sarah Creech: Craig, unfair! You're a trickster.
[00:40:38] Craig Renfroe: Sorry.
[00:40:38] Sarah Creech: You know, right before you said that I was going to possible that he did all three of those? I believe that.
[00:40:47] Craig Renfroe: And a lot more.
[00:40:48] Sarah Creech: so we can, it's we going to talk more about him.
[00:40:51] Craig Renfroe: Yeah. I think we could do lots of episodes about PT Barnum. We're done telling you a hoax.
Join us next time on Tell Me a Hoax, but also follow or subscribe and tell your friends. Or just trick them into listening.
[00:41:05] Sarah Creech: Absolutely. I can't wait for the next episode.