P.T. Barnum
P.T. Barnum, c. 1860. Image: cliff 1066 (tm)/Flickr/CC BY

In 1869, a 10-foot-4-inch so-called petrified man was dug up in upstate New York. The figure became a media sensation, even after it was determined to be a hoax. A New York artist has recreated the figure and plans to recreate the event.

‘A sucker born every minute’

Syracuse-based artist Ty Marshal has recreated the Cardiff Giant to exacting specifications out of Hypertufa, a mix of cement and peat moss, for an event entitled “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute: Re-creating the Cardiff Giant.”

Marshal described the event:

“I’m doing an artistic endeavor about the hoax. We’re recreating the giant, burying it in the ground and digging it up on Oct. 16, the 142nd anniversary of the ‘discovery.’ Of course, we have to put the word ‘discovery’ in quotes.”

Prototype of media sensationalism

Marshal sees the incident as a prototype of media sensations. The project’s website describes its motives:

“The project’s focus defines a lineage to Central New York’s history as a creative community, how religious fundamentalism has affected modern culture in Upstate New York and throughout the nation, and the origin of arts and entertainment — notably ‘pop culture’ — in the United States, and how arts and culture serves as an economic engine.”

History of the Cardiff Giant

The Cardiff Giant hoax was conceived in 1868 when George Hull, an atheist tobacco salesman, got into an argument with a minister. His aim was to prove how easy it was to dupe the public, which was his opinion of the work of the clergy.

Hull hired a sculptor named Edward Burghardt to create the figure out of gypsum on the pretext that it was to represent Abraham Lincoln. Hull then poked the statue full of nail holes to represent pores in the skin and aged it in an acid bath. After it had been buried, he hired two men to dig a well in the exact spot and “discover” the “remains.”

Many saw the figure as proof of the race of giants referred to as Nephilim in the Old Testament, and news quickly spread. People traveled from all around the country and stood in lines to glimpse the giant.

Showman P.T. Barnum was so impressed with the giant’s drawing power that he offered to buy it. But Hull had already sold the figure to a group of businessmen. When he was refused, Barnum simply had his own made, then he pawned it off to the public as the real thing.

The hoax was finally revealed when the owners of the statue took Barnum to court for saying his was the genuine Cardiff Giant. The judge ordered proof of the figure’s authenticity, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hoax continues to draw the public

But it wasn’t the end of the Cardiff Giant’s hold on the paying public.

“The brilliant thing that happened afterwards is that the guy who owned it made money by letting people see how they were duped,” Marshal explained.

And now Marshal and his team continue a proud tradition by drawing yet more crowds to see the Cardiff Giant. It will be unearthed Sunday and remain on display at the Lipe Art Park in Syracuse, N.Y.,  through Oct. 23.


Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/14/cardiff-giant-hoax-ty-marshal_n_930951.html
Syracuse Cardiff Giant: http://www.syracusecardiffgiant.com/
LHUP: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/cardiff.htm

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