Podcast Episode 242: The Cardiff Giant


In 1869, two well diggers in Cardiff, N.Y., unearthed an enormous figure made of stone. More than 600,000 people flocked to see the mysterious giant, but even as its fame grew, its real origins were coming to light. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Cardiff giant, one of greatest hoaxes of the 19th century.

We’ll also ponder the effects of pink and puzzle over a potentially painful treatment.


Edgar Rice Burroughs invented a variant of chess for a book set on Mars.

Due to an unfortunate edict, a ladder in Jerusalem has remained unmoved for 200 years.

Sources for our feature on the Cardiff giant:

Scott Tribble, A Colossal Hoax, 2008.

Nate Hendley, The Big Con, 2016.

Magnus Magnusson, Fakers, Forgers and Phoneys, 2007.

Brian Innes, Fakes & Forgeries, 2005.

Mark Rose, “When Giants Roamed the Earth,” Archaeology 58:6 (2005), 30-35.

Barbara Franco, “The Cardiff Giant: A Hundred Year Old Hoax,” New York History 50:4 (October 1969), 420-440.

James Taylor Dunn, “The Cardiff Giant Hoax,” New York History 29:3 (July 1948), 367-377.

Michael Pettit, “‘The Joy in Believing’: The Cardiff Giant, Commercial Deceptions, and Styles of Observation in Gilded Age America,” Isis 97:4 (December 2006), 659-677.

Julian D. Corrington, “Nature Fakes,” Bios 27:3 (October 1956), 159-169.

Kat Eschner, “The Cardiff Giant Was Just a Big Hoax,” Smithsonian.com, Oct. 16, 2017.

Jessie Szalay, “Cardiff Giant: ‘America’s Biggest Hoax,'” Live Science, Aug. 16, 2016.

Ruth Mosalski, “Cardiff Giant Turned Out to Be Really Big US Hoax,” South Wales Echo, Jan. 21, 2017, 24.

Gerald Smith and George Basler, “Hull Earned a Spot in ‘Con Man’s Hall of Fame,'” [Binghamton, N.Y.] Press & Sun-Bulletin, Oct. 6, 2014, 4.

Ed Kemmick, “‘Petrified’ Man Was Big Attraction in Turn-of-the-Last-Century Montana,” Billings Gazette, March 13, 2009.

Bill White, “Cardiff Giant, Piltdown Man — And Now Heydt Man,” [Allentown, Pa.] Morning Call, March 10, 2001, B3.

“It Was a Giant Joke, Now Largely Forgotten,” Associated Press, Nov. 14, 1999, L3.

Roger Munns, “19th Century Hoax Now Just an Interesting Relic,” Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1997, 11.

Harvey Berman, “Prehistoric Giant Was a Hoax,” [Montreal] Gazette, May 18, 1991, J8.

Bob Hughes, “The Cardiff Giant: How a Great Hoax Came to Life in a North Side Barn,” Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1985, 10.

“Cardiff Giant in Suit,” New York Times, April 18, 1949.

Louis C. Jones and James Taylor Dunn, “Cardiff Giant Again,” New York Times, May 23, 1948.

“‘Cardiff Giant’ Sale Barred by Fort Dodge,” Associated Press, Aug. 4, 1934.

“Syracuse Plea Fails to Get Cardiff Giant,” Associated Press, Dec. 6, 1930.

Ruth A. Gallaher, “The Cardiff Giant,” The Palimpsest 2:9 (1921), 269-281.

“Gigantic Hoax Fools Scientists,” El Paso [Texas] Herald, June 8, 1912, 10.

“The Cardiff Giant: A Hoax That Took,” Coeur d’Alene [Idaho] Evening Press, April 15, 1910, 4.

Frank Lewis Ford, “The Last of a Famous Hoax,” The Scrap Book 3:2 (April 1907), 221-223.

“Cardiff Giant Fake Recalled by Death of the One of the Sculptors,” Butte [Mont.] Inter Mountain, Nov. 8, 1902, 14.

“Cardiff Giant Fake,” [Marshalltown, Iowa] Evening Times-Republican, Nov. 6, 1902, 2.

Andrew D. White, “The Cardiff Giant,” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 64:6 (October 1902), 948-955.

“The History of the Cardiff Giant,” Scranton [Pa.] Tribune, June 24, 1899, 11.

“Cardiff Giant Fraud,” Salt Lake [Utah] Herald, April 23, 1899.

“He Made the Giant,” Reading [Pa.] Eagle, Feb. 10, 1889, 2.

“The Cardiff Giant,” in The History of Sauk County, Wisconsin, Western Historical Company, 1880, 547-552.

“More About the Colorado Cardiff Giant,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 1877.

“The Cardiff Giant’s Carpet-Bag,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 1876.

W.A. McKinney, “The Cardiff Giant,” English Mechanics and the World of Science, 22:562 (Dec. 31, 1875), 393-394.

“The Cardiff Giant Again,” New York Times, May 11, 1874.

“Can a Married Woman Hold Property in a Cardiff Giant?” St. Louis Democrat, Dec. 12, 1872.

“The Cardiff Giant,” College Courant 5:22 (Dec. 11, 1869), 347.

“The Cardiff Giant,” Harper’s Weekly 13:675 (Dec. 4, 1869), 776.

“The Cardiff Giant a Humbug,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, December 1869 meeting, 161-163.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Today the giant resides at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Listener mail:

“About Us,” Town of Chicken (accessed March 15, 2019).

“ptarmigan,” Oxford Living Dictionaries (accessed March 15, 2019).

“ptarmigan,” Dictionary.com (accessed March 15, 2019).

“Chicken of Chicken, Alaska” (accessed March 15, 2019).

Wikipedia, “Chicken, Alaska” (accessed March 15, 2019).

Danny Payne, “Paint the Town Pink: Iowa’s Unusual Tactic of Messing With Its Opponents,” Sports Illustrated, Sept. 24, 2015.

Rick Brown, “Hayden Fry Jokes About Health, Pink Locker Room,” Des Moines Register, Aug. 30, 2014.

Mark Snyder, “Michigan Football Covers Iowa’s Pink Visitors Locker Room,” Detroit Free Press, Nov. 12, 2016.

Mark Wogenrich, “Penn State Readies for Iowa and Its Soothing Pink Locker Room,” [Allentown, Pa.] Morning Call, Sept. 19, 2017.

Alexander G. Schauss, “The Physiological Effect of Color on the Suppression of Human Aggression: Research on Baker-Miller Pink,” International Journal of Biosocial Research 2:7 (1985), 55-64.

Wikipedia, “Baker-Miller Pink” (accessed March 16, 2019).

Oliver Genschow, et al., “Does Baker-Miller Pink Reduce Aggression in Prison Detention Cells? A Critical Empirical Examination,” Psychology, Crime & Law 21:5 (2015), 482-489.

Morwenna Ferrier, “This Colour Might Change Your Life: Kendall Jenner and Baker-Miller Pink,” Guardian, Jan. 10, 2017.

Natalie Way, “In the Pink: The Secret Wall Color for Dropping Pounds and Calming Down,” realtor.com, Jan. 12, 2017.

Jake New, “The Meaning of Pink,” Inside Higher Ed, Aug. 29, 2014.

Kabir Chibber, “Sports Teams Think the Color Pink Can Help Them Win,” Quartz, Aug. 22, 2018.

“Norwich City Paint Carrow Road Away Dressing Room Pink,” BBC, Aug. 20, 2018.

“Norwich City Stats,” FootyStats (accessed March 19, 2019).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Neil de Carteret, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 241: A Case of Scientific Self-Deception


In 1903, French physicist Prosper-René Blondlot decided he had discovered a new form of radiation. But the mysterious rays had some exceedingly odd properties, and scientists in other countries had trouble seeing them at all. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of N-rays, a cautionary tale of self-deception.

We’ll also recount another appalling marathon and puzzle over a worthless package.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 240: The Shark Papers


In 1799 two Royal Navy ships met on the Caribbean Sea, and their captains discovered they were parties to a mind-boggling coincidence that would expose a crime and make headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the shark papers, one of the strangest coincidences in maritime history.

We’ll also meet some Victorian kangaroos and puzzle over an expedient fire.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 239: The Man-Eaters of Tsavo


In 1898, two lions descended on a company of railway workers in British East Africa. For nine months they terrorized the camp, carrying off a new victim every few days, as engineer John Patterson struggled to stop them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll track the “man-eaters of Tsavo” and learn what modern science has discovered about their motivations.

We’ll also consider more uses for two cars and puzzle over some prolific penguins.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 238: The Plight of Mary Ellen Wilson


In 1873 a Methodist missionary in New York City heard rumors of a little girl who was kept locked in a tenement and regularly whipped. She uncovered a shocking case of neglect and abuse that made headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell how one girl’s ordeal led to a new era in child welfare.

We’ll also outsource Harry Potter and puzzle over Wayne Gretzky’s accomplishments.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 237: The Baseball Spy


Moe Berg earned his reputation as the brainiest man in baseball — he had two Ivy League degrees and studied at the Sorbonne. But when World War II broke out he found an unlikely second career, as a spy trying to prevent the Nazis from getting an atomic bomb. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Berg’s enigmatic life and its strange conclusion.

We’ll also consider the value of stripes and puzzle over a fateful accident.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 236: The Last Lap


In 1908 a 22-year-old Italian baker’s assistant arrived in London to take part in the Olympic marathon. He had no coach, he spoke no English, and he was not expected to challenge the elite runners at the top of the field. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Dorando Pietri on the most celebrated race in Olympic history.

We’ll also ponder the Great Mull Air Mystery and puzzle over a welcome murder.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 235: Leon Festinger and the Alien Apocalypse


In 1955, aliens from the planet Clarion contacted a Chicago housewife to warn her that the end of the world was imminent. Psychologist Leon Festinger saw this as a unique opportunity to test a new theory about human cognition. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow him inside a UFO religion as it approaches the apocalypse.

We’ll also try to determine when exactly LBJ became president and puzzle over some wet streets.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 234: The Dig Tree


In 1860 a party of explorers set out to traverse the Australian continent, but bad management and a series of misfortunes sent it spiraling toward tragedy. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Victorian Exploring Expedition and its dramatic climax at Cooper’s Creek.

We’ll also try to validate Archimedes and puzzle over an unlucky thief.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 233: Flight to Freedom


In 1978 two families hatched a daring plan to escape East Germany: They would build a hot-air balloon and sail it by night across the border. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow their struggles to evade the authorities and realize their dream of a new life in the West.

We’ll also shuffle some vehicles and puzzle over a perplexing worker.

See full show notes …