It was in the early part of the month of Julv, 1868, that two young men came
to Fort Dodge, and took up their residence for a few days at the Old Saint
Charles hotel. They registered as George Hull of Syracuse, N. Y., and Mr.
Martin of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They pretended to be here on the mission of
studying the geological formations in the vicinity of Fort Dodge. After making
some inquiries as to the location of ledges of out-cropping rock they finally
selected a tract where there was a ledge of gypsum rock, and purchased an acre
of the land. It was their intention to do their own quarrying and work. After
several attempts to secure a block of gypsum of the desired shape and size, with
a failure added each time, they were informed that there was a man living in
the vicinity, who could probably do the job. At that time Michael Foley, a resident
of Fort Dodge, was engaged in taking out rock for the railroad, and to him
they disclosed their desire for a slab of gypsum rock of a certain size. No satisfactory
explanation was given Mr. Foley at that time as to what use was to be
made of the stone. The contract, however, was let to Mr. Foley, and he furnished
them a stone about twenty feet long, three feet wide, and eighteen inches
in thickness. The weight of the rock made the matter of transporting it a difficult
problem on account of the lack of roads at that early period. It had to be hauled
to Boone, Iowa, forty-five miles distant, at that time the nearest railroad station
to Fort Dodge.
The rock was loaded upon a wagon to which was hitched six teams of oxen.
The original contractor became discouraged with the progress that he was making,
and gave up the job, after hauling the stone as far as a point somewhere
between Brushy Creek and Homer. A second man tried the task, and in turn
failed. Arrangements were then made with two brothers, living at Border
Plains, Joel and Jerid Wilson, who after some deliberation with the principals,
chipped ofif some twelve hundred pounds of the stone, and having thus lightened
the load finally reached the railroad station at Boone with the remainder. In
hauling it the contractors had followed the stage route between Des Moines,
Boone and Fort Dodge, and the passengers saw the strange load, both in transit,
and also as it lay beside the road when abandoned by the first party, who had
agreed to transport it to Boone. Among the passengers of that early day was
Mr. A. N. Botsford, now the dean in the practice of law in Fort Dodge, and who
says that during the month of August in that year as he was coming to Fort
Dodge, he saw the men taking the chips from the stone. The stage passed the
load four times a week for three weeks while the rock was on the way to Boone.
The job cost Mr. Hull $200.00, and had it not been for his indomitable will, that
again and again overcame difficulties, it would have remained on the road.
The stone was loaded upon a flat car at Boone and billed to Chicago. It was
then taken to the stone yard of a man named Burghart on North Clark street.
Here it was placed in the hands of two German stone cutters, Saile and Menkham,
who carved it into the form of a giant, pricked it with a leaden mallet
faced with needles to give it the resemblance of the human skin, and applied a
solution of sulphuric acid to give it the appearance of age. Because the rock
had been shortened in order to lighten the weight when hauling, the sculptors in
giving it final shape, had to shorten the limbs, and in so doing were compelled to
draw up the lower limbs, giving them a strikingly contracted and agonized appearance.
Under one side there was a grooved and channeled appearance, as
though it had been washed away during the ages that it had passed through.
After the applications had been made to give it the appearance of great age, it
w-as placed in an iron case, and shipped to George Olds, Union, N. Y. It arrived
there upon the 13th day of October, 1868, and upon the 4th day of November,
it was receipted for and taken away. Its shipping weight was about 4,000
pounds, the giant itself weighing about 3,000 pounds.
From Union it was taken to a farm owned by a party b}' the name of Newell,
who proved to be the brother-in-law of Hull. The party who hauled the case
from Union station down the valley drove across the country in order that no
questions should be asked when passing the toll gates. The distance was about
sixteen miles. They reached the Newell farm at midnight in a pouring rain.
The box was first placed back of the barn and covered with hay and straw. Two
weeks later it was buried in a grave five foot deep. Here it remained until October
i6th, 1869, nearly a year from the date of its burial.
It was while pretending to dig a well upon his farm that Newell struck this
strange piece of stone, and at once created such interest as to arouse the whole
country for the time. The seriousness with which some people took the discovery
will be more interesting by reporting some of the authorities of the day
concerning the genuineness and worth to science of this great find. Dr. James
Hall, professor of geology of the University of New York said: "To all appearances
the- statue lay upon the gravel when the decomposition of the fine
silt or soil began, upon which the forest has grown for the succeeding generations.
Altogether it is the most remarkable object brought to light in this
country. Although not dating back to the stone age, it is nevertheless, deserving
of the attention of the archaeologist."
A pastor of one of the leading churches of Syracuse, said: "It is not strange
that any human being, after seeing this wonderfully preserved figure, can deny
the evidence of his senses and refuse to believe what is so evidently the fact,
that we have here a fossilized human being, perhaps one of the giants."
A lady, who was looking at the giant, remarked : "Nothing in the world
can ever make me believe that he was not once a living being."
Another prominent clergyman voiced his opinion as follows : "This is not a
thing contrived by man, but is the face of one that once lived upon the earth, "the very image, and child of God."
Dr. Boynton, a local scientific lecturer, in an address, said, that "he attributed
it to the early Jesuits." Another lecturer added to this as follows: "It is
the work of a trained sculptor, who had noble original powers ; for none but
such could have formed and wrought out the conception of that stately head,
with its calm smile so full of mingled sweetness and strength." A prominent
editor of the vicinity wrote in his editorial : "It is not unsafe to affirm that
ninety-nine out of every hundred person that have seen this wonder have
become immediately and instantly impressed that they were in the presence of
an object not made with human hands. No piece of sculpture could produce
the awe inspired by this blackened form. I venture to affirm that no living
sculptor can be produced, who will say that the figure was conceived and executed
by any human being." As an actual fact it was defective in proportion
and features, and simply a poor job of stone cutting.
Alexander AlcWorter, a resident student and graduate of Yale, took the
pains to make closer observations of the remains than others had, and succeeded,
as he presumed, in finding an inscription consisting of thirteen letters,
"introduced," as he said, "by a large cross, the Assyrian index of the Deity."
Before the last word, he thought that he perceived a flower, which he regarded
as consecrated to the particular deity Tammuz, and at both ends of the inscription
a serpent monogram and symbol of Baal. This inscription he assumed as
an evident fact, though no other human being had been able to see it. Even
Professor White, M. D., of the Yale Medical school, with the best of intentions
to see it, was unable to find it. White examined the pinholes that covered
the body, and expressed himself finally, thus : "Though I saw no recent marks
of tools, I saw evidences of design and form in the arrangement of the markings,
which suggested the idea of an inscription, and though not fully decided,
I incline to the opinion, that the Onondaga statue is of ancient origin." Against
such authority and publicity it was very difficult to create any feeling of doubt.
In the minds of many thoughtful people the giant was a fact, a reality; and so
many persons had become interested in it, that this belief was constantly increasing.
One of the first ones to oppose the idea of the reality of the giant was Hon.
Andrew D. White. Upon his first visit he proclaimed it a hoax, "because," as
he said, "there was no reason for digging a well at this place, as upon the farm
was a spring, and also a running stream convenient both to the barn and house."
He gives a description of his first visit as follows :
"And as we drove through the peaceful Onondaga valley, we saw more and
more on every side, the evidence of the popular interest. The roads were
crowded with buggies, carriages and wagons from the city and farms. When
we arrived at the Newell farm, we found a gathering, that reminded us of
the gathering at a county fair. In the midst was a tent, and a crowd was
pressing for admission. Entering, we saw a large pit, or grave, and at the bottom
of it, perhaps five feet below the surface, an enormous figure, apparently
of the Onondaga limestone. It was a stout giant with massive features, the
whole body nude, and the limbs contracted as if in agony. Lying there in the
grave, the subdued light from the roof of the tent falling upon it, and with its
limbs contorted, as if in the death struggle, it produced a most weird effect.
An air of great solemnity pervaded the place. Visitors hardly spoke above a
There was one thing about the figure, however, which puzzled Mr. White, as
he says, "and that was the grooving of the under side apparently by currents of
water, which as the statue appeared to be of Onondaga gray limestone, would
require very many years."
One day one of the cool-headed skeptics of the valley (an old school mate
of Mr. White's), came to him and with an air of great solemnity, took from
his pocket an object which he carefully unrolled from its wrappings, and said:
"This is a piece of the giant. Careful guard has been kept from the first in
order to prevent people touching it, but I have managed to get a piece of it,
and here it is." 'T took it in my hand," says Mr. White, "and the matter was
clear in an instant. The stone was not our hard Onondaga gray limestone, but
soft easily marked with the finger-nail, and on testing it with an acid, I found
it not hard carbonate of lime, but a friable sulphate of lime, a sort of gypsum,
which must have been brought from some other part of the country."
Against the opinion that the figure was a hoax various argvmients were used.
It was insisted, first, that the farmer had not the ability to devise such a fraud ;
second, that he had not the means to execute it
; third, that his family had lived
there steadily for many years, and were ready to declare, under oath, that they
had never seen the figure, and had known nothing of it, until it was accidentally
discovered; fourth, that the neighbors had never seen or heard of it; fifth,
that it was preposterous to suppose that such an enormous mass of stone could
have been brought and buried in the place without some one finding it out ;
sixth, that the deep grooves and channels worn in it by the surface water proved
its vast antiquity.
To these considerations others were soon added. Especially interesting was
it to observe the evolution of myth and legend. Within a week after the discovery,
full-blown statements appeared to the efl:'ect that the neighboring Indians
had abundant traditions of giants, who formerly roamed over the hills of
Onondaga ; and finally the circumstantial story was evolved that an Onondaga
squaw had declared, "in an impressive manner," that the statue was, "undoubtedly
the petrified body of a gigantic Indian prophet, who flourished many centuries
ago and foretold the coming of the pale-faces, and who, just before his
own death, said to those about him that their descendants would see him again."
To these were added the reflections of many good people who found in it all an
edifying confirmation of the biblical text, "There were giants in those days."
There was indeed, an undercurrent of skepticism among the harder heads in
the valley, but the prevailing opinion in the region at large was more and more
in favor of the idea that the object was a fossilized human being, a giant of
"those days." Such was the rush to see the figure that the admission receipts
were very large ;—it was e\en stated that they amounted to five per cent upon
three millions of dollars. And soon came active men from the neighboring
regions, who proposed to purchase the figure and exhibit it throughout the
Various suspicious circumstances presently became known. It was found
that Farmer Newell had just remitted to a man named Hull at some place in
the west, several thousand dollars, the result of admission fees to the booth containing
the figure, and that nothing had come in return. Thinking men in the
neighborhood reasoned that as Newell had never been in condition to owe anyhuman
being such an amount of money, and had received nothing in return
for it, his correspondent had not unlikely something to do with the statue.
These suspicions were soon confirmed. The neighboring farmers, who in their
quiet way kept their eyes open, noted a tall, lank person who frequently visited
the place, and who seemed to exercise a complete control over Farmer Newell.
Soon it was learned that this stranger was the man Hull, Newell's brother-inlaw,
the same to whom the latter had made the large remittance of admission
money. One day two or three farmers from a distance visiting the place for the
first time, and seeing Hull said : "Why that is the man who brought the big
box down the valley.'' On being asked what they meant, they said that, being
one evening in a tavern on the valley turnpike, some miles above Cardiff, they
had noticed under the tavern shed, a wagon bearing an enormous box, and when
they met Hull in the bar-room and asked about it, he said that it was some
tobacco-cutting machinery which he was bringing to Syracuse. Other farmers,
who had seen the box and talked with Hull at different places on the road
between Binghamton and Cardiff', made similar statements. It was then ascertained
that no such box had passed the toll-gates between Cardiff and Syracuse,
and proofs of the swindle began to mature.
Before the whole affair became exposed considerable time had passed. During
this time Mr. Newell had the giant on exhibition, and was charging the
curious ones fifty cents admission fee. Years afterward, Mr. Hull made the
statement that they realized about seven thousand dollars before the giant was
taken from its grave.
Spencer of Utica, and Higgins, Gillett and Westcott of Syracuse, saw that the
secret would soon leak out, offered Newell $30,000 for three-fourths interest in
the giant, leaving Newell one-fourth. Hull was still in the background and
very much disgusted. He says that Newell became so puffed up with the
importance of the secret, that he could not contain himself, and told it to several
of his relatives and friends. Hull decided to realize at once and quit. He
told Newell to close the bargain, which he did, and Newell paid Hull $20,000
as his share.
After Hull and Newell had disposed of the giant, it was taken about the
country, and in spite of the exposure, still drew large crowds. It had many
imitators, but none proved to be the attraction that the original had been.
Finally the giant became no longer a drawing card, and was stranded at Fitchburg,
Massachusetts, where it was held for storage charges until the Pan-
American Exposition at Buffalo, when it was again exhibited.
After the exposition was over, it was returned to Fitchburg, where it still
remains as part of the assets of an estate. The story of the giant formed a
part of the novel, "Your Uncle Lew" by' C. R. Sherlock.
Mr. Alfred Higgins, one of the original purchasers, from Newell and Hull,
is still living at Syracuse, New York. Cicorge Hull died at the home of his
daughter in Binghamton, New York, at the age of eighty-one years. Although
he has twice been a rich man, yet he died in poverty. Some time before 4iis
death in an interview for the "Sunday Times" of his home city, he told the
story of the giant. In answer to the question as to how the idea happened to
come to him, he said :
"It was at Ackley, Iowa, that I first conceived the idea of fooling the world
with the big stone man. I had some relatives at Ackley, and sent my sister's
husband 10,000 cigars to sell. He couldn't pay me and I went out there to see
about it. At that time a -Methodist revivalist was in Ackley, and prayed all
over the settlement. The people were too poor to pay him anything, and he
boarded around. One night he was at my sister's house, and after supper we
had a long discussion and a hot one. I was then and am now an atheist. At
midnight we went to bed, and as I lay awake wondering why people would
believe those remarkable stories in the Bible about giants, when suddenly I
thought of making a stone giant and passing it off as a petrified man. I
returned to Binghampton and sold out my business, went to Wisconsin, where
the idea continued to haunt me, and went back to New York state with my family
and finally returned to Iowa. But I didn't go near my folks at Ackley."
Mr. Hull in the remainder of the interview tells of how he carried out his
idea, how he realized a goodly sum for it, how he refused Barnum, who offered
a large amount for it, and how, although beaten in argument, he had still made a
laughing stock of the world.