Saturday Scenes

Thu 21 October 2010

A Sucker Born Every Minute

Filed under: #satscene —— Sylvia @ 15:17

On the 16th of October in 1869, two men who were digging a well in Cardiff, New York hit something hard. “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here,” said one. They kept digging and pulled out a 10-foot (3 metre) fossilized human figure. William Newell, the owner of the land, charged 25 cents to view the petrified giant. Buggies, carriages and stagecoaches brought droves of interested viewers, all happy to pay for a quick glimpse. Newell raised the price to 50 cents.

The Cardiff Giant

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?

Then Newell and his cousin George Hull, the man who had created the statue in the first place, sold Cardiff Giant to a five-man syndicate headed by David Hannum. Hannum’s group purchased the Cardiff Giant for $30,000. By now the spectacle was recieving national attention and P.T. Barnum offered Hannum $50,000 for the statue. Hannum turned him down.

The Cardiff Giant was not just one hoax but two. Once P.T. Barnum saw the size of the crowds rushing to see this miracle, he created a plaster replica which he then claimed was the real petrified man. Hannum – who believed that his giant was authentic – then sued Barnum for claiming that the giant was a fake. Barnum continued to insist that his plaster statue was the original Cardiff Giant and that Hannum’s was the fake. Crowds rushed to visit Barnum’s “authentic” Cardiff Giant. It is at that point that Hannum, in great disgust, apparently said the phrase which became misattributed to Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

As the court case heated up, Hull realised that the days of the hoax were over. Having made his money, he stepped forward and admitted the hoax. Both giants were revealed as fakes. Even then, many hoped that the swindle might yet be disproven:

The Cardiff Giant

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.

Yes, damn that Farmer Newell, claiming our fossilized giant was a fake with no further evidence than he buried it there with his cousin…

Moral of the story? If you want the real thing, you should stick to Saturday Scenes.

On the 16th of October 2010, these incredible photographs were taken:

And here are our submitters, not a sucker in the bunch!

Would you like to see your photograph featured here?

Simply take a photo on a Saturday and tweet it to @SatScenes! Every week I retweet the Saturday Scenes and then collect them all for a special post here. We’d love to see yours.

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