The Giant and How He Humbugged America
By Jim Murphy
(Scholastic Press, Hardcover, 9780439691840, 112pp.)
Publication Date: October 2012
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Two-time Newbery Honor Book author has written an amazing account of one of America's most famous hoaxes!
When a 10-foot tall purported "petrified man" is unearthed from a backyard in upstate New York in 1869, the discovery immediately turns into a spectacle of epic proportions. News of the giant spreads like wildfire, and well over a thousand people come to view him in the first five days alone!
Everyone has their own idea of his true origin: Is he an ancient member of the local Onandaga Indian tribe? Is he a biblical giant like Goliath? Soon the interests of world-renowned scientists and people from around the globe are piqued as arguments flare over who he is, where he came from, and if he is real--or just a hoax.
In a riveting account of how the Cardiff Giant mystery snowballed into one of America’s biggest money-making spectacles--and scams--Jim Murphy masterfully explores the power of 19th-century media and the unexpected ripple effect that a single corrupt mastermind can produce when given a stage.
Jim Murphy is the celebrated author of more than thirty-five books for young readers, most notably TRUCE: THE DAY THE SOLDIERS STOPPED FIGHTING and THE GREAT FIRE, a Newbery Honor Winner. His carefully researched, engaging, and elegantly written nonfiction has garnered the most prestigious awards in the field. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with his wife and their two sons.
"In this carefully documented account, Murphy traces the checkered career of the “Cardiff Giant,” a 10-foot-long stone figure unearthed in 1869 in an upstate New York farmyard that was, until its unmasking as a hoax a few months later, a national sensation. Presenting evidence that almost from the outset both educated and popular opinion was divided over whether the figure was a fossilized human or a carving, an ancient relic or a modern “humbug,” Murphy shows how the controversy itself fueled the giant’s notoriety—to the extent that the figure’s “authenticity” became such a non-issue that P.T. Barnum made a bundle displaying an openly made duplicate and to this day the original and several surviving copies remain local museum attractions. He also draws thought-provoking connections with the cultural effects of the Industrial Revolution and the time’s general interest in America’s (historical or mythical) past and the progress of science to explain why the Giant(s) resonated so deeply in the popular mind. Illustrated with plenty of photos and images, and capped by summaries of the later lives of the major hoaxers, brief mentions of other pseudo-scientific hoaxes, detailed research notes, and a rich bibliography, this makes an entertaining and intriguing case study in how a seemingly minor incident can provide insight into both human psychology and large historical and cultural changes.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Librarians, teachers, and student researchers will be looking for this entertaining new work from the multi-award-winning Murphy." - John Peters, BOOKLIST starred review
"Americans eager for diversions in the post–Civil War era were easily taken in by showmen such as P.T. Barnum. In this book, Murphy (The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution) explains how another hoodwinker, George Hull, masterminded the creation and "discovery" of a giant gypsum statue of a man that had people guessing at its origins—and paying handsomely to see it. The Cardiff Giant, named for the New York town where it was unearthed in 1869, drew thousands of spectators, who believed it to be a petrified man. It even caught the attention of Barnum, who built and made money off a replica. Although a significant number of players are involved, the narrative’s 12 chapters move swiftly, with period photos helping to break up the text-heavy pages (printed in brown ink). Contextualizing this scam against the wider backdrop of the Gilded Age, Murphy adeptly explains how hoaxes like the Cardiff Giant helped accelerate reforms, such as the establishment of professional scientific organizations and journals." - PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"When a stone giant is found on a farm in upstate New York, William Newell sees the chance to get rich quickly.
On October 16, 1869, in Cardiff, N.Y., Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols went to William Newell’s farm to dig a well. After a few hours of hard digging, they hit stone and eventually unearthed a 10-foot stone man, so anatomically detailed that examiners suggested a fig leaf in case the “unclothed giant might provoke the village women to have sinful thoughts.” Was it an “old Indian”? A Stone Giant of Onondaga legend? A petrified man? Farmer Newell capitalized on the “discovery,” and before long, lines of people were paying good money for the chance to see the marvel, demonstrating that Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff were not the first to make money on people’s will to believe. Murphy effectively recreates the place and times that made the Cardiff Giant famous, building on solid and well-documented research. A generous mix of newspaper illustrations, carnival posters and photographs lend a period feeling to the thoroughly engaging volume.
After reading this fascinating story, young people will appreciate the old expression, spawned by this very hoax, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” - KIRKUS REVIEWS
Praise for Jim Murphy:
THE GREAT FIRE A Newbery Honor Book
BLIZZARD! A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
2010 Margaret Edwards Award
* "A refreshingly frank, vivid, well-researched account of a pivotal time in American history." --BOOKLIST, starred review for THE CROSSING: HOW GEORGE WASHINGTON SAVED THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
* "Spectacular!" -- KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review for TRUCE
* "An example of stellar nonfiction." -- BOOKLIST, starred review for BLIZZARD!
* "A vertiable cinematic account." -- KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review for THE GREAT FIRE