Today in 1869, one of the most famous hoaxes of the 19th century began, when workers in Cardiff, New York supposedly uncovered the remains of a 10 foot tall man known as the Cardiff Giant.
The Giant was not an actual man and never had been.
But the guy who dreamed him up wanted people to think he was.
George Hull was a cigar maker and an atheist who wanted to trick religious people into believing he’d found a giant like the ones mentioned in the Bible.
He hired a sculptor to turn a massive block of gypsum into what looked like a sizable and preserved human body.
Then he got his cousin to bury the thing in a field and hire people the next year to dig a well on the site.
When the workers put their shovels into the ground, they hit stone and found the statue.
They figured it was a burial site for a really tall Native American whose remains had somehow been petrified by the elements.
Cardiff was actually known for its fossils, so it wasn’t totally implausible to people there that this could have happened, even if the fossilized “man” had been 10 foot tall and weighed 3,000 pounds.
People from nearby towns rushed in to see the Giant for themselves.
Some were absolutely convinced it was real; others thought it was too big to be a human, and figured it might have been a statue carved by Indigenous people or by Europeans who had traveled through the area.
Few people thought it was a hoax, at least at first.
Then some locals remembered how George Hull had come through the year before with a huge metal box holding something very heavy.
Engineers also determined that in this particular soil, gypsum would have broken up and deteriorated, which the giant clearly did not do.
By then, Hull had already made tens of thousands of dollars off the thing.
He wasn’t the only one: showman P.T. Barnum was one of several people who made a copy of the Giant and put it on display for paying customers.
At one point there were like six different exhibitions of the one true Cardiff Giant touring the country.
Hull eventually admitted to the hoax, but then he tried the whole thing all over again, burying a statue in Colorado that was 7 feet tall and had a tail.
This time, people figured out it was phony pretty much right away.
Today in 1962 Manute Bol was born.
At 7’7, he was the tallest player in NBA history, and played 12 seasons in all.
And yet, when he first came to the US from Sudan, his passport said he was just 5’2!
When a coach asked him to explain, Bol reportedly said the passport people had measured his height while he was sitting down.
“A Remarkable Deception”: The Cardiff Giant Hoax (Massachusetts Historical Society)