Known as "America's Greatest Hoax," this 10-foot (3-meter) tall stone statue of a "petrified" ancient giant made its 19th-century creator, George Hull, a very rich man.
Hull was a get-rich-quick schemer and a proud atheist in a time of great religious fervor. After an argument with a revivalist preacher over the existence of giants as mentioned in the book of Genesis, Hull conceived a devious plan that would capitalize on the gullibility of the public [source: Roadside America].
In 1868, Hull hired a Chicago stonecutter to carve a massive hunk of gypsum in Hull's own likeness [source: The Farmers' Museum]. Hull then "aged" the stone with a sulfuric acid and convinced a farmer in Cardiff, New York, to secretly bury it in his backyard. A year later, Hull had the farmer dig a well, instructing the workmen to dig exactly where the stone giant was buried.
The unearthing of the Cardiff Giant caused a great sensation in upstate New York, still a hotbed of spiritual excitement. (Remember the Fox Sisters?) News of the creature spread far and wide, inciting fierce debate over the artifact's authenticity. Hull fanned the fires of speculation, taking the giant on tour and charging 50 cents for a peek. Rumor has it he made $30,000, a fortune in the 1860s [source: Roadside America].
You can still see the Cardiff Giant at The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Author's Note: 10 Famous Paranormal Hoaxes
It's easy to look back and laugh at the follies of our forebears, but much more difficult to examine our own embarrassing acts of self-deception. How quick are we to forward the amazing video of the one-winged plane making a miraculous landing? And how slow are we to recognize that the fromage-scented perfume marketed by Cheetos is, in fact, an April Fool's joke? While only a single sucker was born every day back in the 19th century, the Internet can spawn a new sucker every millisecond. Good luck out there!
- Abbott, Karen. "The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism." Smithsonian.com. Oct. 30, 2012 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-fox-sisters-and-the-rap-on-spiritualism-99663697/?no-ist
- ABC News. "Amityille Horror: Horror or Hoax?" (Jan. 16, 2015) http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=132035&page=1&singlePage=true
- Aubeck, Chris. "Desperately Seeking Rudolph." Magonia. October 2002 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://magonia.haaan.com/2010/rudolph-1/
- Barton, Steve. "Ray Santilli, Gary Shoefield Talk the Real Alien Autopsy and the New Film of the Same Name." Dread Central. Sept. 30, 2010 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.dreadcentral.com/news/19884/ray-santilli-gary-shoefield-talk-the-real-alien-autopsy-and-the-new-film-of-the-same-name/
- Bovsun, Mara. "Slaying of family in spooky Long Island house inspired 'The Amityville Horror.'" NY Daily News. Nov. 2, 2014 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/killer-spooky-long-island-house-behind-amityville-horror-article-1.1995915
- Early, Andrea. "The Little Mermaid?" The Harvard University Gazette. Oct. 17, 1996 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/1996/10.17/TheLittleMermai.html
- The Farmers' Museum. "The Cardiff Giant" (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.farmersmuseum.org/node/2482
- History.com Staff. "Salem Witch Trials." 2011 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials
- Jenkins, David. "Crop Circle Conundrum." The Telegraph. Aug. 25, 2010 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/7955868/Crop-circle-conundrum.html
- Kalman, Matthew. "The Turin Shroud is a fake... and it's one of 40: Historian claims linen cloths were produced 1,300 years after crucifixion." Daily Mail. June 10, 2012 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2157217/The-Turin-Shroud-fake-Eminent-historian-claims-40-similar-cloths-originated-1-300-years-AFTER-crucifixion.html
- Knapton, Sarah. "Turin Shroud may have been created by earthquake from time of Jesus." The Telegraph. Feb. 11, 2014 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10631973/Turin-Shroud-may-date-from-time-of-Jesus.html
- Lyons, Stephen. "The Legend of Loch Ness." NOVA. Jan. 12, 1999 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/legend-loch-ness.html
- Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. "P.T. Barnum" (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.ringling.com/ContentPage.aspx?id=45831§ion=45825
- Roadside America. "Cardiff Giant" (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2172
- Salem Witch Museum. "The Salem Witch Trials of 1692" (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/education/
- Schmidt, William E. "2 'Jovial Con Men' Demystify Those Crop Circles in Britain." The New York Times. Sept. 10, 1991 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/10/world/2-jovial-con-men-demystify-those-crop-circles-in-britain.html
- Squires, Nick. "Turin Shroud 'is not a medieval forgery.'" The Telegraph. March 28, 2013 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/9958678/Turin-Shroud-is-not-a-medieval-forgery.html
- Thurston, Herbert. "The Holy Shroud (of Turin)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912 (Jan. 16, 2015) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13762a.htm
What is a 'smocking gun'? HowStuffWorks investigates.