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A Colossal Hoax
The Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America
In October 1869, as America stood on the brink of becoming a thoroughly modern nation, workers unearthed what appeared to be a petrified ten-foot giant on a remote farm in upstate New York. The discovery caused a sensation. Over the next several months, newspapers devoted daily headlines to the story and tens of thousands of Americans—including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the great showman P. T. Barnum—flocked to see the giant on exhibition. In the colossus, many saw evidence that their continent, and the tiny hamlet of Cardiff, had ties to Biblical history. American science also weighed in on the discovery; and in doing so revealed its own growing pains, including the shortcomings of traditional education, the weaknesses of archaeological methodology, as well as the vexing presence of amateurs and charlatans within its ranks. A national debate ensued over the giant's origins, and was played out in the daily press.
Ultimately, the discovery proved to be an elaborate hoax. Still, the story of the Cardiff Giant reveals many things about America in the post-Civil War years. After four years of destruction on an unimagined scale, Americans had increasingly turned their attention to the renewal of progress. But the story of the Cardiff Giant seemed to shed light on a complicated, mysterious past, and for a time scientists, clergymen, newspaper editors, and ordinary Americans struggled to make sense of it. Hucksters, of course, did their best to take advantage of it.
The Cardiff Giant was one of the leading questions of the day, and how citizens answered it said much about Americans in 1869 as well as about America more generally.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Size: 5 3/4 x 8 3/4
978-0-7425-6051-2 • Paperback • November 2010 •
978-0-7425-6472-5 • eBook • December 2008 •
History / Social History
History / United States / 19th Century
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Chapter 1: A Giant in the Earth
Chapter 2: Like Wildfire
Chapter 3: The Giant Maker
Chapter 4: Cradle to the Grave
Chapter 5: Big Business
Chapter 6: Ten Thousand Stories
Chapter 7: Ugly Questions
Chapter 8: The Conquering Hero
Chapter 9: The Naked Giant
Chapter 10: War of the Stone Giants
Chapter 11: Hubbub
Chapter 12: At His Old Tricks
Chapter 13: A Tall Tale
Chapter 14: Coming Home
Engagingly written in a thorough treatment that this popular culture phenomenon has not usually received, the book would make a welcome addition to public libraries.
Highly detailed and thoroughly researched book. . . . The tale of the Cardiff Giant is a hugely entertaining one, and Tribble tells it the way it should be told, by focusing on its players. . . . The author also puts the hoax in its historical context.
Booklist, Starred Review
In Tribble's readable and thoughtful account, George Hull's spectacular, short-lived fraud reveals a great deal about American culture in an era in which frauds of all sorts abounded, and in which Americans dared to question the truthfulness of both revealed religion and modern science.
The Annals Of Iowa
Tribble has taken a humorous topic and created an excellent historical narrative that develops the incredible story within the social and intellectual climate of the times. The unusual topic and Tribble's vivid detail make this one of the finest and most entertaining historical works I have read.
Rowdy backstage tour of an outstanding 19th-century all-American scam.
American History Magazine
It is clearly the definitive work on the subject.
Fans of phony biblical giants and sideshow hooey will be pleased to know that an exhaustively researched book about the Cardiff Giant has now been published. In
A Colossal Hoax: The Giant From Cardiff That Fooled America
, author Scott Tribble not only relates the 'tall' tale of this manufactured mega-man, but also puts the craze in its proper Civil War era context.
A Colossal Hoax
is an exceptionally well-written narrative that is surely destined to become the definitive work on the Cardiff Giant, which is, itself, the definitive historical hoax in nineteenth-century America.
Kenneth Feder, Central Connecticut State University
In rich and often entertaining detail, Scott Tribble recovers the colorful case of the Cardiff Giant, along the way taking his reader on a sort of backstage tour of mid-nineteenth-century America, a place where science and faith, business and entertainment, philosophy and humbuggery could come together in some sensationally wacky ways. Astoundingly well-researched,
A Colossal Hoax
is also an absorbing and rewarding read.
Judith Richardson, Stanford University
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