There are two versions to the famed “Cardiff Giant” hoax of the 1860s. The first, as explained in Wikipedia, is a true story. The second, as written by Mark Twain, is a stylized version filled with intrigue and humor.
Jim Waddell is blending the two for a Halloween-themed tour series during October at the Mark Twain Cave.
The story originally came to life following an 1858 article in the Alta, Calif., newspaper which professed a prospector had been petrified after drinking a liquid found within a geode. The concept of a petrified man seemed plausible to some gullible folks of the era.
Wikipedia reports that George Hull, an atheist, got into an argument at a Methodist revival meeting over the passage in Genesis 6:4, stating that there were giants who once lived on earth. In response he hired workers in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to carve a 10-foot, 4 1/2-inch block out of gypsum, which he in turn shipped to Chicago. There, a German stonecutter named Edward Burghardt - under a vow of secrecy - carved the stone into the likeness of a man.
Hull and his co-conspirator stained the stone with acid and used steel knitting needles embedded in a board to poke holes in the stone, simulating pores.
The stone was shipped by rail in November 1868 to the farm of William Newell, Hull’s cousin. A year later, two men were hired to dig a well at the farm, and on Oct. 16, 1869, they found the “petrified giant.”
The story goes on to involve P.T. Barnum, a replica, charges of fraud and a failed lawsuit. The ultimate attention came from Mark Twain, who wrote a ghost story based on the incident.
Waddell, as Twain, will tell the story at 6 p.m. each Thursday through Sunday inside the Mark Twain Cave.
“The Cardiff Giant is one of the most impressive hoaxes ever played on the American public,” Waddell said.