The Cardiff Giant

THE GREAT

CARDIFF GIANT

Discovered at Cardiff, Onandaga Co., N. Y., is now on Exhibition in the

Geological Hall, Albany,

For a few days only.

HIS DIMENSIONS.

Length of Body, 10 feet, 4 1/2 inches.
Length of Head from Chin to Top of Head, 21 inches.
Length of Nose, 6 inches.
Across the Nostrils, 3 1/2 inches.
Width of Mouth, 5 inches.
Circumference of Neck, 37 inches.
Shoulders, from point to point, 3 feet, 1 1/2 inches.
Length of Right Arm, 4 feet, 9 1/2 inches.
Across the Wrist, 5 inches.
Across the Palm of Hand, 7 inches.
Length of Second Finger, 8 inches.
Around the Thighs, 6 feet, 3 1/2 inches.
Diameter of the Thigh, 13 inches.
Through the Calf of Leg, 9 1/2 inches.
Length of Foot, 21 inches.
Across the Ball of Foot, 8 inches.
Weight, 2990 pounds.

ALBANY, November 29th, 1869.

1869 broadside; fonts and layout not identical to original. The picture above comes from another source. [Special Collections, New York State Historical Association.] Figleaf supplied by the artist. The pictures below are also from other sources. White's chapter had no illustrations. The first part of this chapter was retained here because it establishes the local color of that historical time so well.


The Cardiff Giant,
Chapter LVI of
Andrew White's Autobiography.

From White, Andrew D. Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White. New York, The Century Co. 1917. In two volumes.

This e-text is from volume 2 p. 465-485. Scanning errors corrected by Donald E. Simanek, Lock Haven University. Please advise of any suspected errors, which I can check against the original book. Send comments to the address shown to the right.

White spells Phoenician as Phenician, and often uses the punctuation: ",–". Other spelling variants may surprise some readers. "Intrusted" is a legitimate variant of "entrusted". The spelling "fust" reflects a colloquial spoken variant of "first", quite common when this was written.

CHAPTER LVI
THE CARDIFF GIANT:
A CHAPTER
IN THE HISTORY
OF HUMAN FOLLY
–1869-1870

THE traveler from New York to Niagara by the northern route is generally disappointed in the second half of his journey. During the earlier hours of the day, moving rapidly up the valleys, first of the Hudson and next of the Mohawk, he passes through a succession of landscapes striking or pleasing, and of places interesting from their relations to the French and Revolutionary wars. But, arriving at the middle point of his journey,–the head waters of the Mohawk,–a disenchantment begins. Thenceforward he passes through a country tame, monotonous, and with cities and villages as uninteresting in their appearance as in their names; the latter being taken, apparently without rhyme or reason, from the classical dictionary or the school geography.

And yet, during all that second half of his excursion, he is passing almost within musket-shot of one of the most beautiful regions of the Northern States,–the lake country of central and western New York.

It is made up of a succession of valleys running from south to north, and lying generally side by side, each with a beauty of its own. Some, like the Oneida and the Genesee, are broad expanses under thorough cultivation; others, like the Cayuga and Seneca, show sheets of water long and wide, their shores sometimes indented with glens and gorges, and sometimes rising with pleasant slopes to the wooded hills; in others still, as the Cazenovia, Skaneateles, Owasco, Keuka, and Canandaigua, smaller lakes are set, like gems, among vineyards and groves; and in others shimmering streams go winding through corn-fields and orchards fringed by the forest. Of this last sort is the Onondaga valley. It lies just at the center of the State, and, although it has at its northern entrance the most thriving city between New York and Buffalo, it preserves a remarkable character of peaceful beauty.

It is also interesting historically. Here was the seat–the "long house"–of the Onondagas, the central tribe of the Iroquois; here, from time immemorial, were held the councils which decided on a warlike or peaceful policy for their great confederation; hither, in the seventeenth century, came the Jesuits, and among them some who stand high on the roll of martyrs; hither, toward the end of the eighteenth century, came Chateaubriand who has given in his memoirs his melancholy musings on the shores of Onondaga Lake, and his conversation with the chief sachem of the Onondaga tribe; hither, in the early years of this century, came the companion of Alexis, de Tocqueville, Gustave de Beaumont, who has given in his letters the thoughts aroused within him in this region, made sacred to him by the sorrows of refugees from the French Revolution.

It is a land of peace. The remnant of the Indians live quietly upon their reservation, Christians and pagans uniting harmoniously, on broad-church principles, in the celebration of Christmas and in the sacrifice of the white dog to the Great Spirit.

The surrounding farmers devote themselves in peace to their vocation. A noted academy, which has sent out many of their children to take high places in their own and other States, stands in the heart of the valley, and little red school-houses are suitably scattered. Clinging to the hills on either side are hamlets like Onondaga, Pompey, and Otisco, which in summer remind one of the villages upon the lesser slopes of the Apennines. It would be hard to find a more typical American population of the best sort–the sort which made Thomas Jefferson believe in democracy. It is largely of New England ancestry, with a free admixture of the better sort of more recent immigrants. It was my good fortune, during several years, to know many of these dwellers in the valley, and perhaps I am prejudiced in their favor by the fact that in my early days they listened very leniently to my political and literary addresses, and twice sent me to the Senate of the State with a large majority.

But truth, even more than friendship, compels this tribute to their merits. Good influences have long been at work among them: in the little cemetery near the valley church is the grave of one of their early pastors,–a quiet scholar,–the Rev. Caleb Alexander, who edited the first edition of the Greek Testament ever published in the United States.

I have known one of these farmers, week after week, during the storms of a hard winter, drive four miles to borrow a volume of Scott's novels, and, what is better, drive four miles each week to return it. They are a people who read and think, and who can be relied on, in the long run, to take the sensible view of any question.

They have done more than read and think. They took a leading part in raising regiments and batteries for the Civil War, and their stalwart sons went valiantly forth as volunteers. The Onondaga regiments distinguished themselves on many a hard-fought field; they learned what war was like at Bull Run, and used their knowledge to good purpose at Lookout Mountain, Five Forks, and Gettysburg. Typical is the fact that one of these regiments was led by a valley schoolmaster,–a man who, having been shot through the body, reported dead, and honored with a public commemoration at which eulogies were delivered by various persons, including myself, lived to command a brigade, to take part in the "Battle of the Clouds," where he received a second wound, and to receive a third wound during the march with Sherman to the sea.

Best of all, after the war the surviving soldiers returned, went on with their accustomed vocations, and all was quiet as before.

But in the autumn [1] of 1869 this peaceful region was in commotion from one end to the other. Strange reports echoed from farm to farm. It was noised abroad that a great stone statue or petrified giant had been dug up near the little hamlet of Cardiff, almost at the southern extremity of the valley; and soon, despite the fact that the crops were not yet gathered in, and the elections not yet over, men and women and children were hurrying from Syracuse and from the farm-houses along the valley to the scene of the great discovery.

I had been absent in a distant State for some weeks, and, on my return to Syracuse, meeting one of the most substantial citizens, a highly respected deacon in the Presbyterian Church, formerly a county judge, I asked him, in a jocose way, about the new object of interest, fully expecting that he would join me in a laugh over the whole matter; but, to my surprise, he became at once very solemn. He said, "I assure you that this is no laughing matter; it is a very serious thing, indeed; there is no question that an amazing discovery has been made, and I advise you to go down and see what you think of it."

Next morning, my brother and myself were speeding, after a fast trotter in a light buggy, through the valley to the scene of the discovery; and as we went we saw more and more, on every side, evidences of enormous popular interest. The roads were crowded with buggies, carriages, and even omnibuses from the city, and with lumber-wagons from the farms–all laden with passengers. In about two hours we arrived at the Newell farm and found a gathering which at first sight seemed like a county fair. In the midst was a tent, and a crowd was pressing for admission. Entering, 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 gray limestone. It was a stone 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. An especial appearance of great age was given it by deep grooves and channels in its under side, apparently worn by the water which flowed in streams through the earth and along the rock on which the figure rested. Lying in its grave, with the 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. Visitors hardly spoke above a whisper.

The giant exhumed in 1869. From a stereo photograph by Calvin O. Gott.

The Newell Farm, 1869. The tent over the Giant is at the right.
[Onondaga Historical Association.]

The exhibition tent behind the barn on the Newell Farm.
[Onondaga Historical Association.]

The Cardiff Giant on display.
From The Onondaga Giant.

Coming out, I asked some questions, and was told that the farmer who lived there had discovered the figure when digging a well. Being asked my opinion, my answer was that the whole matter was undoubtedly a hoax; that there was no reason why the farmer should dig a well in the spot where the figure was found; that it was convenient neither to the house nor to the barn; that there was already a good spring and a stream of water running conveniently to both; that, as to the figure itself, it certainly could not have been carved by any prehistoric race, since no part of it showed the characteristics of any such early work; that, rude as it was, it betrayed the qualities of a modern performance of a low order.

Nor could it be a fossilized human being; in this all scientific observers of any note agreed. There was ample evidence, to one who had seen much sculpture, that it was carved, and that the man who carved it, though by no means possessed of genius or talent, had seen casts, engravings, or photographs of noted sculptures. The figure, in size, in massiveness, in the drawing up of the limbs, and in its roughened surface, vaguely reminded one of Michelangelo's "Night and Morning." Of course, the difference between this crude figure and those great Medicean statues was infinite; and yet it seemed to me that the man who had carved this figure must have received a hint from those.

The Cardiff Giant at the Farmers Museum, 1960s. From a postcard.

It was also clear that the figure was neither intended to be considered as an idol nor as a monumental statue. There was no pedestal of any sort on which it could stand, and the disposition of the limbs and their contortions were not such as any sculptor would dream of in a figure to be set up for adoration. That it was intended to be taken as a fossilized giant was indicated by the fact that it was made as nearly like a human being as the limited powers of the stone-carver permitted, and that it was covered with minute imitations of pores.

Therefore it was that, in spite of all scientific reasons to the contrary, the work was very generally accepted as a petrified human being of colossal size, and became known as "the Cardiff Giant."

The giant on display at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown, New York. 2005.

One thing seemed to argue strongly in favor of its antiquity, and I felt bound to confess, to those who asked my opinion, that it puzzled me. This was the fact that the surface water flowing beneath it in its grave seemed to have deeply grooved and channeled it on the under side. Now the Onondaga gray limestone is hard and substantial, and on that very account used in the locks upon the canals: for the running of surface water to wear such channels in it would require centuries.

Against the opinion that the figure was a hoax various arguments were used. It was insisted, first, that the farmer had not the ability to devise such a fraud; secondly, that he had not the means to execute it; third, that his family had lived there steadily for many years, and were ready to declare under oath that they had never seen it, and had known nothing of it until it was accidentally discovered; fourth, that the neighbors had never seen or heard of it; fifth, that it was preposterous to suppose that such a mass of stone could have been brought and buried in the place without some one finding it out; sixth, that the grooves and channels worn in it by the surface water proved its vast antiquity.

To these considerations others were soon added. Especially interesting was it to observe the evolution of myth and legend. Within a week after the discovery, full-blown statements appeared to the effect that the neighboring Indians had abundant traditions of giants who formerly roamed over the hills of Onondaga; and, finally, the circumstantial story was evolved that an Onondaga squaw had declared, "in an impressive manner," that the statue "is undoubtedly the petrified body of a gigantic Indian prophet who flourished many centuries ago and foretold the coming of the palefaces, and who, just before his own death, said to those about him that their descendants would see him again." [2] To this were added the reflections of many good people who found it an edifying confirmation of the biblical text, "There were giants in those days." There was, indeed, as undercurrent of skepticism among the harder heads in the valley, but the prevailing opinion in the region at large was more and more in favor of the idea that the object was a fossilized human being–a giant of "those days." Such was the rush to see the figure that the admission receipts were very large: it was even stated that they amounted to five per cent upon three millions of dollars, and soon came active men from the neighboring region who proposed to purchase the figure and exhibit it through the country. A leading spirit in this "syndicate" deserves mention. He was a horse-dealer in a large way and banker in a small way from a village in the next county,–a man keen and shrewd, but merciful and kindly, 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 fust. [3] A joint-stock concern was formed with a considerable capital, and an eminent showman, "Colonel" Wood, employed to exploit the wonder.

A week after my first visit I again went to the place, by invitation. In the crowd on that day were many men of light and leading from neighboring towns,–among them some who made pretensions to scientific knowledge. The figure, lying in its grave, deeply impressed all; and as a party of us came away, a very excellent doctor of divinity, pastor of one of the largest churches in Syracuse, said very impressively, "Is it not strange that any human being, after seeing this wonderfully preserved figure, can deny the evidence of his senses, and refuse to believe, what is so evidently the fact, that we have here a fossilized human being, perhaps one of the giants mentioned in Scripture?"

Another visitor, a bright-looking lady, was heard to declare, "Nothing in the world can ever make me believe that he was not once a living being. Why, you can see the veins in his legs." [4]

Another prominent clergyman declared with ex cathedra emphasis: "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." [5] And a writer in one of the most important daily papers of the region dwelt on the "majestic simplicity and grandeur of the figure," and added, "It is not unsafe to affirm that ninety-nine out of every hundred persons who have seen this wonder have become immediately and instantly impressed with the idea that they were in the presence of an object not made by mortal hands.... No piece of sculpture ever produced the awe inspired by this blackened form.... I venture to affirm that no living sculptor can be produced who will say that the figure was conceived and executed by any human being." [6]

The current of belief ran more and more strongly, and soon embraced a large number of really thoughtful people. A week or two after my first visit came a deputation of regents of the State University from Albany, including especially Dr. Woolworth, the secretary, a man of large educational experience, and no less a personage in the scientific world than Dr. James Hall, the State geologist, perhaps the most eminent American paleontologist of that period.

On their arrival at Syracuse in the evening, I met them at their hotel and discussed with them the subject which so interested us all, urging them especially to be cautious and stating that a mistake might prove very injurious to the reputation of the regents, and to the proper standing of scientific men and methods in the state, that if the matter should turn out to be a fraud, and such eminent authorities should be found to have committed themselves to it, there would be a guffaw from one end of the country to the other at the expense of the men intrusted by the State with its scientific and educational interests. To this the gentlemen assented, and next day they went to Cardiff. They came; they saw; and they narrowly escaped being conquered. Luckily they did not give their sanction to the idea that the statue was a petrifaction, but Professor Hall was induced to say: "To all appearance, the statue lay upon the gravel when the deposition of the fine silt or soil began, upon the surface of which the forests have grown for succeeding generations. Altogether it is the most remarkable object brought to light in this country, and, although not dating back to the stone age, is, nevertheless, deserving of the attention of archaeologists. [7]

At no period of my life have I ever been more discouraged as regards the possibility of making right reason prevail among men.

As a refrain to every argument there seemed to go jeering and sneering through my brain Schiller's famous line:

"Against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain." [8]
At no period of my life have I ever been more discouraged as regards the possibility of making right reason prevail among men.

There seemed no possibility even of suspending the judgment of the great majority who saw the statue. As a rule, they insisted on believing lt a "petrified giant," and those who did not dwelt on its perfections as an ancient statue. They saw in it a whole catalogue of fine qualities; and one writer went into such extreme ecstatics that he suddenly realized the fact, and ended by saying, "but this is rather too high-flown, so I had better conclude." As a matter of fact, the work was wretchedly defective in proportion and features; in every characteristic of sculpture it showed itself the work simply of an inferior stone-carver.

Dr. Boynton, a local lecturer on scientific subjects, gave it the highest praise as a work of art, and attributed it to early Jesuit missionaries who had come into that region about two hundred years before. Another gentleman, who united the character of a deservedly beloved pastor and an inspiring popular lecturer on various scientific topics, developed this Boynton theory. He attributed the statue to "a trained sculptor... who had noble original powers; for none but such could have formed and wrought out the conception of that stately head with its calm smile so full of mingled sweetness and strength." This writer then ventured the query, "Was it not, as Dr. Boynton suggests, some one from that French colony,... someone with a righteous soul sighing over the lost civilization of Europe, weary of swamp and forest and fort, who, finding this block by the side of the stream, solaced the weary days of exile with pouring out his thought upon the stone?" [9] Although the most eminent sculptor in the State has utterly refused to pronounce the figure anything beyond a poor piece of carving, these strains of admiration and adoration continued.

There was evidently a "joy in believing" in the marvel, and this was increased by the peculiarly American superstition that the correctness of a belief is decided by the number of people who can be induced to adopt it–that truth is a matter of majorities. The current of credulity seemed irresistible.

Shortly afterward the statue was raised from its grave, taken to Syracuse and to various other cities, especially to the city of New York, and in each place exhibited as a show.

As already stated, there was but one thing in the figure, as I had seen it, which puzzled me, and that was the grooving of the under side, apparently by currents of water, which, as the statue appeared to be of our Onondaga gray limestone, would require very many years. But one day one of the cool-headed skeptics of the valley, an old schoolmate of mine, came to me, and with an air of great solemnity took from his pocket an object which he carefully unrolled from its wrappings, and said, "There is a piece of the giant. Careful guard has been kept from the first in order to prevent people touching it; but I have managed to get a piece of it, and here it is." I took it in my hand, and the matter was made clear in an instant. The stone was not our hard Onondaga gray limestone, but soft, easily marked with the finger-nail, and, on testing it with an acid, I found it, not hard carbonate of lime, but a soft, friable sulphate of lime–a form of gypsum, which must have been brought from some other part of the country.

A healthful skepticism now began to assert its rights. Professor Marsh of Yale appeared upon the scene. Fortunately, he was not only one of the most eminent of living paleontologists, but, unlike most who had given an opinion, he really knew something of sculpture, for he had been familiar with the best galleries of the Old World. He examined the statue and said, "It is of very recent origin, and a most decided humbug.... Very short exposure of the statue would suffice to obliterate all trace of tool-marks, and also to roughen the polished surfaces, but these are still quite perfect, and hence the giant must have been very recently buried.... I am surprised that any scientific observers should not have at once detected the unmistakable evidence against its antiquity." [10]

Various suspicious circumstances presently became known. It was found that Farmer Newell had just remitted to a man named Hull, at some place in the West, several thousand dollars, the result of admission fees to the booth containing the figure, and that nothing had come in return. Thinking men in the neighborhood reasoned that as Newell had never been in condition to owe any human being such an amount of money, and had received nothing in return for it, his correspondent had, not unlikely, something to do with the statue.

These suspicions were soon confirmed. The neighboring farmers, who, in their quiet way, kept their eyes open, noted a tall, lank individual who frequently visited the place and seemed to exercise complete control over Farmer Newell. Soon it was learned that this stranger was the man Hull,–Newell's brother-in-law,–the same to whom the latter had made the large remittance of admission money. One day, two or three farmers from a distance, visiting the place for the first time and seeing Hull, said, "Why, that is the man who brought the big box down the valley." On being asked what they meant, they said that, being one evening in a tavern on the valley turnpike some miles South of Cardiff, they had noticed under the tavern shed a wagon bearing an enormous box; and when they met Hull in the bar-room and asked about it, he said that it was some tobacco-cutting machinery which he was bringing to Syracuse. Other farmers, who had seen the box and talked with Hull at different places on the road between Binghamton and Cardiff, made similar statements. It was then ascertained that no such box had passed the toll-gates between Cardiff and Syracuse, and proofs of the swindle began to mature. But skepticism was not well received. Vested interests had accrued, a considerable number of people, most of them very good people, had taken stock in the new enterprise, and anything which discredited it was unwelcome to them.

Transporting the Giant to Syracuse. Engraving from Harper's Weekly, Dec. 4, 1969.

It was not at all that these excellent people wished to countenance an imposture, but it had become so entwined with their beliefs and their interests that at last they came to abhor any doubts regarding it. A pamphlet, "The American Goliath," was now issued in behalf of the wonder. On its title-page it claimed to give the "History of the Discovery, and the Opinions of Scientific Men thereon." The tone of the book was moderate, but its tendency was evident. Only letters and newspaper articles exciting curiosity or favoring the genuineness of the statue were admitted; adverse testimony, like that of Professor Marsh, was carefully excluded.

Before long the matter entered into a comical phase. Barnum, King of Showmen, attempted to purchase the "giant," but in vain. He then had a copy made so nearly resembling the original that no one, save, possibly, an expert, could distinguish between them. This new statue was also exhibited as "the Cardiff Giant," and thenceforward the credit of the discovery waned.

The catastrophe now approached rapidly, and soon affidavits from men of high character in Iowa and Illinois established the fact that the figure was made at Fort Dodge, in Iowa, of a great block of gypsum there found; that this block was transported by land to the nearest railway station, Boone, which was about forty-five miles distant; that on the way the wagon conveying it broke down, and that as no other could be found strong enough to bear the whole weight, a portion of the block was cut off; that, thus diminished, it was taken to Chicago, where a German stone-carver gave it final shape; that, as it had been shortened, he was obliged to draw up the lower limbs, thus giving it a strikingly contracted and agonized appearance; that the under side of the figure was grooved and channeled in order that it should appear to be wasted by age; that it was then dotted or pitted over with minute pores by means of a leaden mallet faced with steel needles; that it was stained with some preparation which gave it an appearance of great age; that it was then shipped to a place near Binghamton, New York, and finally brought to Cardiff and there buried. It was further stated that Hull, in order to secure his brother-in-law, Farmer Newell, as his confederate in burying the statue, had sworn him to secrecy; and, in order that the family might testify that they had never heard or seen anything of the statue until it had been unearthed, he had sent them away on a little excursion covering the time when it was brought and buried. All these facts were established by affidavits from men of high character in Iowa and Illinois, by the sworn testimony of various Onondaga farmers and men of business, and, finally, by the admissions and even boasts of Hull himself.

Against this tide of truth the good people who had pinned their faith to the statue–those who had vested interests in it, and those who had rashly given solemn opinions in favor of it–struggled for a time desperately. A writer in the "Syracuse Journal" expressed a sort of regretful wonder and shame that "the public are asked to overthrow the sworn testimony of sustained witnesses corroborated by the highest scientific authorities–the only sworn witness being Farmer Newell, whose testimony was not at all conclusive, and the highest scientific authority being an eminent local dentist who, early in his life, had given popular chemical lectures, and who had now invested money in the enterprise.

The same writer referred also with awe to "the men of sense, property, and character who own the giant and receive whatever revenue arises from its exhibition "; and the argument culminated in the oracular declaration that "the operations of water as testified and interpreted by science cannot create falsehood." [11]

But all this pathetic eloquence was in vain. Hull, the inventor of the statue, having realized more money from it than he expected, and being sharp enough to see that its day was done, was evidently bursting with the desire to avert scorn from himself by bringing the laugh upon others, and especially upon certain clergymen, whom, as we shall see hereafter, he greatly disliked. He now acknowledged that the whole thing was a swindle, and gave details of the way in which he came to embark in it. He avowed that the idea was suggested to him by a discussion with a Methodist revivalist in Iowa; that, being himself a skeptic in religious matters, he had flung at his antagonist "those remarkable stories in the Bible about giants"; that, observing how readily the revivalist and those with him took up the cudgels for the giants, it then and there occurred to him that, since so many people found pleasure in believing such things, he would have a statue carved out of stone which he had found in Iowa and pass it off on them as a petrified giant. In a later conversation he said that one thing which decided him was that the stone had in it dark-colored bluish streaks which resembled in appearance the veins of the human body. The evolution of the whole affair thus became clear, simple, and natural.

Up to this time, Hull's remarkable cunning had never availed him much. He had made various petty inventions, but had realized very little from them; he had then made some combinations as regarded the internal-revenue laws referring to the manufacture and sale of tobacco, and these had only brought him into trouble with the courts; but now, when the boundless resources of human credulity were suddenly revealed to him by the revivalist, he determined to exploit them. This evolution of his ideas strikingly resembles that through which the mind of a worthless, shiftless, tricky creature in western New York–Joseph Smith–must have passed forty years before, when he dug up "the golden plates" of the "Book of Mormon," and found plenty of excellent people who rejoiced in believing that the Rev. Mr. Spalding's biblical novel was a new revelation from the Almighty.

The whole matter was thus fully laid open, and it might have been reasonably expected that thenceforward no human being would insist that the stone figure was anything but a swindling hoax.

Not so. In the Divinity School of Yale College, about the middle of the century, was a solemn, quiet, semi-jocose, semi-melancholic resident graduate–Alexander McWhorter. I knew him well. He had embarked in various matters which had not turned out satisfactorily. Hot water, ecclesiastical and social, seemed his favorite element. [12] He was generally believed to secure most of his sleep during the day, and to do most of his work during the night; a favorite object of his study being Hebrew. Various strange things had appeared from his pen, and, most curious of all, a little book entitled, "Yahveh Christ," in which he had endeavored to demonstrate that the doctrine of the Trinity was to be found entangled in the consonants out of which former scholars made the word "Jehovah," and more recent scholars "Yahveh"; that this word, in fact, proved the doctrine of the Trinity. [13]

He now brought his intellect to bear upon "the Cardiff Giant," and soon produced an amazing theory, developing it at length in a careful article. [14]

This theory was simply that the figure discovered at Cardiff was a Phenician idol; and Mr. McWhorter published, as the climax to all his proofs, the facsimile and translation of an inscription which he had discovered upon the figure–a "Phenician inscription which he thought could leave no doubt in the mind of any person open to conviction.

That the whole thing had been confessed a swindle by all who took part in it, with full details as to its origin and development, seemed to him not worthy of the slightest mention. Regardless of all the facts in the case, he showed a pathetic devotion to his theory, and allowed his imagination the fullest play. He found, first of all, an inscription of thirteen letters, introduced by a large cross or star–the Assyrian index of the Deity." Before the last word of the inscription he found carved "a flower which he regarded as consecrated to the particular deity Tammuz, and at both ends of the inscription a serpent monogram and symbol of Baal."

This inscription he assumed as an evident fact, though no other human being had ever been able to see it. Even Professor White M.D., of the Yale Medical School, with the best intentions in the world, was unable to find it. Dr. White was certainly not inclined to superficiality or skepticism. With "achromatic glasses which magnified forty-five diameters he examined the "pinholes" which covered the figure, and declared that "the beautiful finish of every pore or pinhole appeared to me strongly opposed to the idea that the statue was of modern workmanship." He also thought he saw the markings which Mr. McWhorter conjectured might be an inscription, and said in a letter, "though I saw no recent tool-marks, I saw evidences of design in the form and arrangement of the markings, which suggested the idea of an inscription. And, finally, having made these concessions, he ends his long letter with the very guarded statement that," though not fully decided, I incline to the opinion that the Onondaga statue is of ancient origin." [15]

But this mild statement did not daunt Mr. McWhorter. Having calmly pronounced Dr. White "in error," he proceeded with sublime disregard of every other human being. He found that the statue "belongs to the winged or `cherubim' type"; that "down the left side of the figure are seen the outlines of folded wings–even the separate feathers being clearly distinguishable"; that "the left side of the head is inexpressibly noble and majestic." and "conforms remarkably to the type of the head of the mound-builders"; that "the left arm terminates in what appears to be a huge extended lion's paw"; that "the dual idea expressed in the head is carried out in the figure"; that "in the wonderfully artistic mouth of the divine side we find a suggestion of that of the Greek Apollo." Mr. McWhorter also found other things that no other human being was ever able to discern, and among them " a crescent-shaped wound upon the left side," "traces of ancient coloring" in all parts of the statue, and evidences that the minute pores were made by "borers." He lays great stress on an "ancient medal" found in Onondaga, which he thinks belongs "to the era of the mound-builders," and on which he finds a "circle inclosing an equilateral cross, both cross and circle, like the wheel of Ezekiel, being full of small circles or eyes." As a matter of fact, this "ancient medal" was an English penny, which a street gamin of Syracuse said that he had found near the statue, and the "equilateral cross" was simply the usual cross of St. George. Mr. McWhorter thinks the circle inclosing the cross denotes the "world soul" and in a dissertation of about twenty pages he discourses upon "Baal," "Tammuz," "King Hiram of Tyre," the "ships of Tarshish," the "Eluli," and "Atlas," with plentiful arguments drawn from a multitude of authorities, and among them Sanchoniathon, Ezekiel, Plato, Dr. Döllinger, Isaiah, Melanchthon, Lenormant, Humboldt, Sir John Lubbock, and Don Domingo Juarros,–finally satisfying himself that the statue was "brought over by a colony of Phenicians," possibly several hundred years before Christ. [16]

With the modesty of a true scholar he says, "Whether the final battle at Onondaga... occurred before or after this event we cannot tell"; but, resuming confidence, he says, "we only know that at some distant period the great statue, brought in a `ship of Tarshish' across the sea of Atl, was lightly covered with twigs and flowers, and these with gravel." The deliberations of the Pickwick Club over "Bill Stubbs, His Mark" pale before this; and Dickens in his most expansive moods never conceived anything more funny than the long, solemn discussion between the erratic Hebrew scholar and the eminent medical professor at New Haven over the "pores" of the statue, which one of them thought "the work of minute animals," which the other thought "elaborate Phenician workmanship," which both thought exquisite, and which the maker of the statue had already confessed that he had made by rudely striking the statue with a mallet faced with needles. Mr. McWhorter's new theory made no great stir in the United States, though some, doubtless, took comfort in it; but it found one very eminent convert across the ocean, and in a place where we might least have expected him. Some ten years after the events above sketched, while residing at Berlin as minister of the United States, I one day received from an American student at the University of Halle a letter stating that he had been requested by no less a personage than the eminent Dr Schlottmann, instructor in Hebrew in the theological School of that university,–the successor of Gesenius in that branch of instruction,–to write me for information regarding the Phenician statue described by the Rev. Alexander McWhorter. In reply, I detailed to him the main points in the history of the case, as it has been given in this chapter, adding, as against the Phenician theory, that nothing in the nature of Phenician remains had ever been found within the borders of the United States, and that if they had been found, this remote valley, three hundred miles from the Seas barred from the coast by mountain-ranges, forests, and savage tribes, could never have been the place chosen by Phenician navigators for such a deposit; that the figure itself was clearly not a work of early art, but a crude development by an uncultured stone-cutter out of his remembrance of things in modern sculpture; and that the inscription was purely the creation of Mr. McWhorter's imagination.

In his acknowledgment, my correspondent said that I had left no doubt in his mind as to the fact that the giant was a swindle; but that he had communicated my letter to the eminent Dr. Schlottmann, that the later avowed that I had not convinced him, and that he still believed the Cardiff figure to be a Phenician statue bearing a most important inscription.

One man emerged from this chapter in the history of human folly supremely happy: this was Hull, the inventor of the "giant." He had at last made some money, had gained a reputation for "smartness," and, what probably pleased him best of all, had revenged himself upon the Rev. Mr. Turk of Ackley, Iowa, who by lungpower had worsted him in the argument as to the giants mentioned in Scripture.

So elate was he that he shortly set about devising another "petrified man" which would defy the world. It was of clay baked in a furnace, contained human bones, and was provided with "a tail and legs of the ape type"; and this he caused to be buried and discovered in Colorado. This time he claimed to have the aid of one of his former foes–the great Barnum; and all went well until his old enemy, Professor Marsh of Yale, appeared and blasted the whole enterprise by a few minutes of scientific observation and common-sense discourse.

Others tried to imitate Hull, and in 1876 one–William Ruddock of Thornton, St. Clair County, Michigan–manufactured a small effigy in cement, and in due time brought about the discovery of it. But, though several country clergymen used it to strengthen their arguments as to the literal, prosaic correctness of Genesis, it proved a failure. Finally, in 1889, twenty years after "the Cardiff Giant" was devised, a "petrified man" was found near Bathurst in Australia, brought to Sydney, and exhibited. The result was, in some measure, the same as in the case of the American fraud. Excellent people found comfort in believing, and sundry pseudo-scientific men of a cheap sort thought it best to pander to this sentiment; but a self-trained geologist pointed out the absurdity of the popular theory, and finally the police finished the matter by securing evidences of fraud. [17]

To close these annals, I may add that recently the inventor of "the Cardiff Giant," Hull, being at the age of seventy-six years, apparently in his last illness, and anxious for the glory in history which comes from successful achievement, again gave to the press a full account of his part in the affair, confirming what he had previously stated, showing how he planned it, executed it, and realized a goodly sum for it; how Barnum wished to purchase it from him; and how, above all, he had his joke at the expense of those who, though they had managed to overcome him in argument, had finally been rendered ridiculous in the sight of the whole country. [18]

Endnotes (these were footnotes in the original).

[1] October 16.

[2] See "The Cardiff Giant Humbug," Fort Dodge, Iowa, 1870, p.13.

[3] For a picture, both amusing and pathetic, of the doings of this man, and also of life in the central Now York villages, see "David Harum," a novel by E. N. Westcott, New York, 1898.

[4] See Letter of Hon. Galusha Parsons in the Fort Dodge Pamphlet.

[5] See Mr. Stockbridge's article in the "Popular Science Monthly," June, 1878.

[6] See "The American Goliath," Syracuse, 1869, p. 16.

[7] See his letter of October 23, 1869, in the Syracuse papers.

[8] "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens." Jungfrau von Orleans, Act III, scene 6.

[9] See the Syracuse daily papers as above.

[10] See Professor Marsh's letter in the "Syracuse Daily Journal," November 30, 1869.

[11] See letter of "X" in the "Syracuse Journal," republished in the Fort Dodge Pamphlet, pp. 15 and 16.

[12] The main evidence of this is to be found in "Truth Stranger Than Fiction: A Narrative of Recent Transactions involving Inquiries in Regard to the Principles of Honor, Truth, and Justice, which Obtains in a Distinguished American University," by Catherine E. Beecher, New York, 1850.

[13] See: "Yahveh Christ, or the Memorial Name," by A. McWhorter, Boston, 1857.

[14] See McWhorter, "Tammuz and the Mound-builders," in the "Galaxy," July, 1872.

[15] The italics are as in the original.

[16] See the "Galaxy" article, as above, passim.

[17] For the Ruddock discovery see Dr. G. A. Stockwell in the "Popular Science Monthly" for June, 1878. For the Australian fraud see the London "Times" of August 2, 1889.

[18] For Hull's "Final Statement" see the "Ithaca Daily Journal, January 4, 1898.


Other References.

Franco, Barbara. The Cardiff Giant, a Hundred Year Old Hoax. The New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York. Reprinted from New York History, October 1969.

Hering, Daniel W. Foibles and Fallacies of Science. Van Nostrand, 1924. p. 206-209. One drawing of the giant.

White, Andrew Dickson. Century Magazine, October, 1902.


A footnote about William Burkhardt, the stone-cutter who carved the statue of the giant.


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