Richie Partington's Reviews > The Giant and How He Humbugged America

The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim  Murphy
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Jul 20, 2012

it was amazing

Richie’s Picks: THE GIANT AND HOW HE HUMBUGGED AMERICA by Jim Murphy, Scholastic Press, October 2012, 112p., ISBN: 978-0-439-69184-0

"'A fortune was made with a bit of good-natured deception,' said Barnum."
--from THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM by Candace Fleming (2009)

“Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes”
-- The Tubes, “She’s a Beauty”

“Not only did the ten-thousand-copy first edition of The American Goliath sell out in the first few weeks, but the crowds continued to pour into little Cardiff. To make extra money, Lydia Newell sold gingerbread cookies and sweet cider to those waiting on the viewing line. Down the road a bit, a neighbor wanted to feed both horses and humans and hung out a sign that advertised ‘Warm meals, Oysters and Oats.’
“Already villagers were building two taverns within five hundred feet of the Newell farm to quench the thirsts of visitors; one tavern was named The Giant Saloon, the other The Goliath House.”

Ha! You ain’t seen nothing yet!

When two laborers digging a well in 1869 for Cardiff, New York farmer William “Stub” Newell happened upon a ten-foot-tall stone man buried underground, and some learned individuals immediately concluded that it was a petrified giant, word spread like wildfire and the greenbacks began pouring into Cardiff like a tidal wave.

As did his contemporary, P.T. Barnum, Newell made quite a profit with what turned out to be a deception on Newell’s part and on the part of some unscrupulous guys who’d hatched the plot to create and bury the giant, and cut Newell in for a share.

“But in the end, they saw exactly what they wanted to see.”

Author Jim Murphy suggests that the impact upon American society of the Industrial Revolution, an inferiority complex on the part of America (who was the new kid in relation to the rich cultural heritages of European nations), and the desires of some to believe in the giants from The Bible, are all factors contributing to the public being so easily duped by those responsible for the Cardiff Giant.

What we should, of course, learn from this fascinating history lesson is that we need to fully and independently investigate amazing claims that come our way before buying into them. When we read something, hear something from a friend, or come upon information through the media or online, we need to consider the source, try to understand what agenda is driving the person or persons disseminating the information, and we need to try to independently verify what it is that we are being sold.

“And then we told them wealth would trickle down!”
--caption on widely-circulated photo of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and their advisors having a hearty laugh

Murphy also shows how investors in the giant were defrauded because applicable laws did not exist at the time to safeguard them. More sophisticated readers will recognize the parallels between this situation and that of the financial collapse of 2008, where investors were caught up in unregulated investment schemes that so seriously damaged Wall Street, financial institutions, and individual investors.

"'First Mr. Barnum humbugs them, and then they pay to hear him tell how he did it.'"
--from THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM by Candace Fleming (2009)

I’m wondering how many of us have ancestors who actually traveled to Newell’s farm, or to one of the stops on the traveling exhibit, and paid to see The Cardiff Giant. Here in the twenty-first century, there is no room and no excuse for being so easily humbugged. THE GIANT AND HOW HE HUMBUGGED AMERICA is a great lesson in information literary, scientific method, and the need for appropriate government oversight.

It is also a really entertaining read to boot.

Richie Partington, MLIS
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