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The Cardiff Giant

Why are the American people so gullible? I believe that a large percentage of the people can be convinced to believe anything that they hear, read, or see, and often times it doesn’t take a lot to persuade them. I’m sure that many people reading this will remember the time when Orson Welles produced the frightening radio program that led a Sunday night audience to believe a flying object from another planet had landed somewhere in New Jersey, perhaps from Mars, and that strange little space people were getting out and were about to conquer the earth.
People all over the country who heard the story were scared half out of their wits; many of them contemplating suicide. I have to admit that two of my brothers and I went outside and searched the sky for O.F.Os (Orson Flying Objects). How could so many people be so gullible (the dictionary describes gullible as being derived from the word, gull, and the word gull, as, the seabird considered to be stupid). I have to admit that I was stupefied by that radio program seventy some years ago. And according to news reports at the time, I wasn’t alone. The program was not presented to scare people to death, but when one thinks of great hoaxes imposed upon the public, that program comes to mind.
What became the greatest hoax in American history came about in the year 1869, in the village of Cardiff New York, known as “The Cardiff Giant.” In that year a rumor was started, and spread across America like wildfire. It was about a petrified giant that had been discovered, and uncovered. It was rumored to have all of the features of a huge man, and was in a petrified condition, even so real as to have blue lines that resembled blood vessels In just a short time, it was reported that vehicles of every description, including wagons, buggies, men and women on foot and on horseback were converging on the Newell Farm to get a look at the Cardiff giant. And few people were disappointed at what they saw.
Under a tent was a hole about five feet deep, lay the large figure, apparently made of limestone, evidently showing the great pain it had it had suffered before dying. The figure resembled an Indian, and the Onandago Indians who lived in the area were soon spreading legends about the past, when giants roamed the hills around-about. One Indian woman told that it was the petrified body of a giant Indian profit, who had told of the day when white people would come to the land.
It was said that people who came to see the giant would speak in whispers, as they viewed the creature from the past. As the story of the giant spread, even before the days of telephones and radios, more and more people crowded the roads leading to the Newell farm. Farmer Newell and his son and brother-in-law had created quite a money maker for themselves. Everyone who went into the tent paid, and it was rumored that the money charged went into the millions of dollars, which was of course a myth. Newell said he discovered the giant when he started to dig a well, and he swore that none of his family had ever heard of it before it was found.
The great P. T. Barnum, who could see dollar signs in anything unusual offered to buy the giant. After being refused, he made one of his own, and showed it all over the country, and made a lot of money faking the fake.
Evidently farmer Newell’s conscience got the best of him, and he confessed to the world that one of his partners had found a large piece of gypsum in another part of the country that bore a close resemblance to the local limestone. He hired a German stonemason, who found the gypsum easy to carve. Then they took it to the farm, and in the dark of night, buried it.
One writer wrote that in spite of Newell’s confession, there remained those who believed in the authenticity of the Cardiff Giant.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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The Cardiff Giant

Why are the American people so gullible? I believe that a large percentage of the people can be convinced to believe anything that they hear, read, or see, and often times it doesn’t take a lot to persuade them. I’m sure that many people reading this will remember the time when Orson Welles produced the frightening radio program that led a Sunday night audience to believe a flying object from another planet had landed somewhere in New Jersey, perhaps from Mars, and that strange little space people were getting out and were about to conquer the earth.
People all over the country who heard the story were scared half out of their wits; many of them contemplating suicide. I have to admit that two of my brothers and I went outside and searched the sky for O.F.Os (Orson Flying Objects). How could so many people be so gullible (the dictionary describes gullible as being derived from the word, gull, and the word gull, as, the seabird considered to be stupid). I have to admit that I was stupefied by that radio program seventy some years ago. And according to news reports at the time, I wasn’t alone. The program was not presented to scare people to death, but when one thinks of great hoaxes imposed upon the public, that program comes to mind.
What became the greatest hoax in American history came about in the year 1869, in the village of Cardiff New York, known as “The Cardiff Giant.” In that year a rumor was started, and spread across America like wildfire. It was about a petrified giant that had been discovered, and uncovered. It was rumored to have all of the features of a huge man, and was in a petrified condition, even so real as to have blue lines that resembled blood vessels In just a short time, it was reported that vehicles of every description, including wagons, buggies, men and women on foot and on horseback were converging on the Newell Farm to get a look at the Cardiff giant. And few people were disappointed at what they saw.
Under a tent was a hole about five feet deep, lay the large figure, apparently made of limestone, evidently showing the great pain it had it had suffered before dying. The figure resembled an Indian, and the Onandago Indians who lived in the area were soon spreading legends about the past, when giants roamed the hills around-about. One Indian woman told that it was the petrified body of a giant Indian profit, who had told of the day when white people would come to the land.
It was said that people who came to see the giant would speak in whispers, as they viewed the creature from the past. As the story of the giant spread, even before the days of telephones and radios, more and more people crowded the roads leading to the Newell farm. Farmer Newell and his son and brother-in-law had created quite a money maker for themselves. Everyone who went into the tent paid, and it was rumored that the money charged went into the millions of dollars, which was of course a myth. Newell said he discovered the giant when he started to dig a well, and he swore that none of his family had ever heard of it before it was found.
The great P. T. Barnum, who could see dollar signs in anything unusual offered to buy the giant. After being refused, he made one of his own, and showed it all over the country, and made a lot of money faking the fake.
Evidently farmer Newell’s conscience got the best of him, and he confessed to the world that one of his partners had found a large piece of gypsum in another part of the country that bore a close resemblance to the local limestone. He hired a German stonemason, who found the gypsum easy to carve. Then they took it to the farm, and in the dark of night, buried it.
One writer wrote that in spite of Newell’s confession, there remained those who believed in the authenticity of the Cardiff Giant.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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