a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A giant hoax lives on in Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – An older woman at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum ticket counter was not interested Friday in discussing power hitters or the records they broke.

Instead, she delivered a hard sell to spend extra cash to see a “petrified body” that convinced me to purchase a second ticket to a farming museum where this oddity is displayed in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“It was a big fraud all along,” she added, while I handed over $22, the cost to enter both tourist attractions.

So after making my way through the history of professional baseball, I drove about a mile down the road to take a look at this mysterious creature, as well as restored barns, period buildings and a collection of agrarian tools at The Farmers’ Museum.

But, I arrived 10 minutes before closing time and was allowed to step inside just long enough to snap a few photos of the Great Cardiff Giant that rests there on a bed of stones, surrounded by bunting and a white picket fence.

It turns out George Hull, a poor tobacco farmer, had this 10-foot-tall, 2,990-pound beast sculpted and buried on his cousin’s farm in Cardiff in 1869. The cousin, William C. “Stub” Newell, waited a year before asking a couple of guys to help him drill a well on the same spot to give birth to the tale.

The chicanery followed an argument Hull, who was an atheist, had with a fundamentalist minister over the literal interpretation of the Bible. The debated centered over a passage in Genesis about giants once roaming the Earth.

Hull later made a fortune after throngs of people paid admission to see his giant. He eventually sold the statue to a Syracuse entrepreneur for $37,500, and it continued to draw huge crowds long after a Yale professor exposed the charade. Some people apparently still viewed it as verification of the Bible, while others were certain it was an ancient statue.

Count me among the suckers who are always willing to hand over money to see these old fake freak shows.

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