Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy

I love quirky history, and was surprised that I had never heard of the Cardiff Giant. 

The giant's story begins in 1869 when a farmer and his neighbors happen upon a 10-foot tall “petrified man” while digging a hole for a farm well. Cardiff, in upstate New York, quickly becomes a national sensation as curiosity seekers and scientists gather to see the discovery – for a nominal fee of course. 

And so begins the money making scheme of a lifetime!

Two-time Newbery Honor Book author Jim Murphy does a fabulous job of including not only the original story of this hoax, but the ensuing battle with P.T. Barnum over the giant and the mess of legal and financial loopholes and tricks that surrounded the giant as it changed ownership over the years.

My personal favorite piece of information was the description of how this scheme was masterminded. The giant was carved out of gypsum, transported by train then buggy to rural New York, buried in secret, then left to sit “undiscovered” for almost a full year ! I was amazed by the level of patience as well as financial investment that went into the planning of this scheme. In today's world of instant gratification it is fun to consider that in the past even thieves and tricksters worked as a much slower pace.

In addition, this story provides an interesting look at how group mentality can sway even the most logical of minds. Upon discovery world renowned scientists and doctors inspected the giant and announced that it was authentic, serving as a major embarrassment to these "experts" as time passed and its true nature was revealed. 

If you love a good scheme or quirky history I highly recommend The Giant and How He Humbugged America. Though a youth title, this book has enough details and interest to engage adult readers as well. 

Cardiff Giant. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.

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