Several of my Facebook friends have recently gotten excited about an opportunity to win some of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook stock; supposedly, you only have to “cut and paste” a particularly item to then become fabulously wealthy! Of course, this is a scam, but it is interesting to me that supposedly intelligent and well-educated people have fallen for it. Despite the technological advancements we have seen in the last two hundred years, gullible people still fall for hoaxes and frauds.
But this made me do some research into some notable hoaxes. Here are just three:
1869: A group of farmworkers preparing a foundation for a new barn unearthed a 10-foot tall stone man in Cardiff, New York (outside Syracuse). The owner of the farm, sensing a commercial opportunity, started charging visitors 50 cents each ( a significant sum in that era) to view what became known as the Cardiff Giant. Was it a petrified man, one of the giants mentioned in the Old Testament? Or was it a statue carved for use in some ancient Indian ritual?
Eventually, the farmer sold the Cardiff Giant to a local tobacco shop owner, George Hull. Hull in turn sold the Giant to a group of Syracuse businessmen who moved the statue into that city and hired a Yale paleontologist to study the statue. The Yale professor declared it a fake, which Hull had known all along, having hired someone to create the statue in order to play a practical joke on a local Methodist minister who claimed the Bible should be taken literally.
However, the Cardiff Giant remained a source of mystery and awe, largely because of the intercession of that master of showmanship, P.T. Barnum. Barnum offered to buy the Cardiff Giant – fraudulent as it was- for $60,000 from the Syracuse businessmen (who had paid over $37,500 for it). They refused to sell it to him, so Barnum had a fake of the fake created for display in his NYC museum! (Barnum is falsely credited with saying “There’s a sucker born every minute!”, but still he sensed the public’s gullibility!)
The Cardiff Giant is now in the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York (more famous for the Baseball Hall of Fame).
My next posting will look at another famous hoax, involving one of the richest men in the world.