The Giant and How He Humbugged America

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Overview


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:...

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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Ages 10–14. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"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

 

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
This is a superlative look at a "humbug" that occurred in New York State in 1869 when a local farmer dug up a ten foot tall man/statue, offered the paying public an opportunity to see it, and then dealt with the backlash of the public realization that the petrified giant was not all he was made out to be. The book introduces us to the main "characters" who were part of one of the best scams of all time; the farmer and his fellow con artists, the scientists who came to weigh in on the authenticity of the giant, and the entertainment entrepreneurs who were interested in owning the giant themselves in order to make money. In his typical style of blending subtle humor with exacting research, the author produces a highly entertaining and informative view of this situation in American history. Cartoons, photographs, and newspaper articles provide primary source documentation that further illustrates the wonder of the petrified giant and the reaction to his existence. This book is a great addition to any school library, especially with the current focus on Common Core standards and the importance of informational text in the classroom. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—Murphy investigates a clever and successful scheme during the 1800s, sharing with readers how several men in upstate New York were able to fool the public and make thousands of dollars. When William Newell decided to have a well dug on his farm, the men hired to do the digging became quite excited when a 10-foot giant was uncovered in the field. Experts called in to determine the origins-whether a statue or petrified giant-couldn't agree. There were those who believed it was possibly a giant from the local Onondaga Indian tribe or a giant like Goliath from the Bible. Crowds gathered, and, in a matter of days, thousands came to see for themselves the amazing giant upon hearing about it by word of mouth and newspaper reports. Readers will question the origins of the giant until about halfway through the book, when hints of the truth slowly expose the actual origin of the Cardiff giant, keeping them enthralled with the strange turn of events. As this was also the time in history of other questionable events, doubters and naysayers did exist. So did other men wanting to cash in on the opportunity, creating an even greater exhibition. Photos, a cast of characters, additional information on other famous hoaxes, research on the topic, and extensive source notes complete this fun, exciting, and lively account.—Susan Shaver, Hemingford Public Schools, NE
Kirkus Reviews
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." (research notes, source notes, bibliography, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439691840
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2012
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 359,858
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1210L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


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.
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