The Cardiff Giant was one of the most famous hoaxes in United States history. It was a 10-foot-tall (3.0 m) purported “petrified man” uncovered on October 16, 1869, by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P.T. Barnum are still on display.
The giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about Genesis 6:4 stating that there were giants who once lived on Earth.
The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. In 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter claiming that a prospector had been petrified when he had drunk a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers also had published stories of supposedly petrified people.
Hull hired men to carve out a 10-foot-4.5-inch-long (3.2 m) block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired Edward Burghardt, a German stonecutter, to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.
Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant’s surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. In November 1868, Hull transported the giant by rail to the farm of William Newell, his cousin. By then, he had spent US$2,600 on the hoax (nearly $46,000 in 2015 dollars, adjusted for inflation).
Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and on October 16, 1869 they found the giant. One of the men reportedly exclaimed, “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!”