Odds & Ends


A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

February 1996, No. 5

"There Were Giants"

A current Fed Ex advertisement reads, "We ship sizes you never thought of to places you never heard of." Back in June of 1868, Binghamton, New York, cigar maker George Hull had something to move that might have given today's transport company a bit of a challenge. It's not everyday someone has an object twelve feet in length, four feet wide, and two feet thick, weighing nearly a ton-and-a-half, to move a third of the way across the U. S. The rather large item was loaded into a wagon and carted forty miles away to the nearest railroad, from where it was shipped to Chicago. Modifications were made to it by craftsman Edward Burghardt. Then, in November, it was back onto a railroad car for a journey to Syracuse, New York, where it was loaded onto another wagon, which carried it off to the south.

Late the following Spring, fossil bones were uncovered on a farm near Cardiff, New York, in the Onondaga Valley. George Hull read the newspaper accounts and knew the time was right. On October 15th he contacted his cousin, William "Stub" Newell, who owned a farm near the site of the fossil findings. Stub hired two laborers to dig a new well. Perhaps going through the charade of dowsing (using a forked stick to discover underground water), he told the men where he wanted the well dug and they set to work. The next day they ran excitedly to the Newell house to report finding a stone giant buried at the well site.

Word spread quickly and Stub Newell became an entrepreneur just as quickly, charging 25¢ a person by the afternoon of the discovery. Newspapers carried the story on October 18th and by the 23rd, Hull and Newell were offering quarter shares in the supposedly fossilized, once-living "giant". By this time the viewing price had doubled and redoubled, and excursion stage coaches were making four round trips a day out of Syracuse.

Among the many visitors to the site were State Geologist James Hall, Rochester museum owner Henry A. Ward, New York State Indian expert Lewis Morgan, John Van Schaick Lansing Pruyn, Chancellor of the State University in Albany and a state senator, and Harvard scholar Alexander McWhorter. Opinion was divided as to whether the stone figure was a prehistoric statue or an actual man who had been literally petrified, somehow. The fine detail of the carving, down to hair on the legs and pores in the skin, actually a testament to Edward Burghardt's skill as a stone carver, seemed to indicate that the giant had once been alive. And didn't Genesis report that, "There were giants in those days."? An Onondaga Indian visited and speculated that his ancestors might have caught the giant in a trap dug in the earth. The theory was not rejected. The Giant did seem to be clutching his side in agony, perhaps from an internal wound suffered during his fall into the pit. McWhorter discovered scratches under the giant's arm, which he claimed were Phoenician characters meaning "Tamur, god of gods". Oh, yes, there was one other visitor - an agent of P. T. Barnum.

The business affairs of the "discoverers" were progressing nicely. Syracuse banker David Hannum (the model for novelist E. N. Westcott's fictional David Harum) formed a five man syndicate to purchase a two-thirds interest for $30,000. The Giant was moved to Albany and placed on display at the State University's Geological Hall, on November 26th. Next stop on the big fellow's itinerary was New York City's Apollo Hall, two-blocks from Barnum's museum on lower Broadway. P. T. had a surprise up his sleeve. On December 6th he unveiled "the real" Cardiff Giant. At least that's what many Manhattan newspapers claimed - Barnum had always boosted newspaper circulation in New York. Charges and countercharges flew back and fourth in a verbal barrage. David Hannum declared, "There's a sucker born every minute." Somehow Barnum ended up getting the credit for that continuing creed of showmen and hucksters. The case came to trial. Under oath, George Hull decided the time had come to call an end to the hoax. The Cardiff Giant was a fake. Barnum couldn't be sued for calling Hannum's giant a fake, because it was, and the case was dismissed.

There were a number of red faces after the trial, and today we can smile at the way the experts were taken in. But maybe, just maybe, we should take a look at the Giant himself, and speculate on what we would have decided, back in 1869.


PEARL OF AN URL

When I was growing up in western New York State we were taught about the Cardiff Giant in our high school history classes. I get the impression it's no longer taught in most area schools; the interesting is not always deemed "relevant". I began researching the topic, finding versions of the story in Carmer and in Thompson (see Bibliography, below) and decided I had enough material to base an article on. On a whim, positive I'd find nothing, I decided to go on the World Wide Web and do a Yahoo (TM) search on Cardiff Giant. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that old Rocky had a home page:

There is a good amount of interesting material at the site, including articles on other petrified men (it was a favorite pastime of journalists in the American West; Mark Twain himself perpetrated one such story) and the scientific and theological debate on giants. The site also contains a Cardiff Giant timeline and an extensive bibliography, as well as Mark Twain's A Ghost Story, in which the author interviews, and disillusions, the Giant, in a New York City boarding house. You can even jump in on a continuing new adventure of the Giant, and contribute to the ongoing tale. Be kind to giants; give the old boy a look.


EB CHRONOLOGY

A search of Eagles Byte chronologies on "nys" and "nyc" (New York State and City), and related topics, turns up the following events for 1869:

Mar 21
Theatrical producer Florenz Ziegfeld is born in Chicago, Illinois.

May 15
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton break away from the Equal Rights Association, found the National Woman Suffrage Association, in New York City.

Jul 6
Engineer John Roebling is injured at the Brooklyn Bridge construction site.

Jul 20
Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad is published.

Sep 24
The Black Friday market crash on Wall Street occurs after an attempt by Jay Gould, Jim Fisk and Abel Rathbone Corbin to corner the New York gold market.

Oct 17
New York Herald owner James Gordon Bennett gives Welsh-born journalist Henry Morton Stanley the assignment of finding missionary David Livingstone, lost in central Africa.

Nov 14
Former stage line owner John Butterfield, 48, dies in Utica, New York.

Inventors - Thomas Edison patents an improved stock ticker.

Leisure - The Mohonk Mountain House is founded by Albert E. and Alfred H. Smiley, twin brothers.

New York City - A group of independent fish merchants form the Fulton Market Fish Mongers Association, to build a permanent market on South Street. ** Architect Louis Burger enlarges the German-American School. ** 142 East 18th Street's Stuyvesant House apartment building is completed by builder Rutherford Stuyvesant. ** The American Museum of Natural History is
founded.

New York State - Chili Seminary publishes its first catalogue.**The first "skew arch" bridge is built, over Silver Creek's Jackson Street for the New York Central tracks. ** A blast furnace opens at Charlotte. ** The Erie Railroad abandons its Dunkirk car shops. Division superintendent Horatio Brooks leases the buildings and founds the Brooks Locomotive Works. ** The State Line Railroad is organized to bring Pennsylvania coal to Rochester.

Railroads - Cornelius Vanderbilt consolidates the Hudson River Railroad and the New York Central Railroad, gaining monopoly control of the tracks between New York City and Buffalo.

Religion - Utopian planner John Humphrey Noyes tells his followers it's time to begin an experimental community at Oneida, New York.

Rochester, New York - Fitzhugh Street's First Presbyterian Church is destroyed by fire. The city will build a City Hall on that site. ** The Rochester Theological Seminary begins its campus at the southeast corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street.

Transportation - Martin V. Heller builds the Port Jervis & Monticello Railroad.


TRIVIA

LAST MONTH
You were asked to identify the two types of signals for use by ships in foggy weather, and under what circumstances is each to be used? R. C. Of Pittsford, New York, came up with the correct answer - "The mechanical fog-horn is to be sounded when under way in a fog, making when on the starboard tack one blast, when on the port tack two blasts, and when with the wind abaft the beam three blasts. The bell when in a fog and under way." (Ainsley, 43rd edition)

THIS MONTH
In 1841 Phineas Taylor Barnum established his American Museum at the intersection of Manhattan's Broadway and Ann Street, on the site of a former institution. Name the institution.


E. B. SELECTED NEW YORK STATE BIBLIOGRAPHY
(more detailed versions available)

HISTORY NEWS

* * *