If the name George Hull doesn’t mean anything to you, then don’t feel bad. By the time he died in 1902, no one recognized his name either. Yet he is a man who claims to have once “fooled the world” and while that may be a slight exaggeration he did pull off one of the greatest pranks in American history.
George Hull was a traveling salesman. He moved around a lot of the states of America and would try to sell the cigars that he made wherever he could. Once in Iowa while trying to sell some cigars to a preacher he became embroiled in a debate about God. The man he was talking to believed that every word in the bible was to be taken literally while Hull, an atheist, felt that the words were intended as stories to teach lessons. The preacher he was talking to was so convinced that he even believed that there were once giants ten feet tall, as it said so in the bible.
Hull left that conversation astonished at the man’s beliefs and started to think of a way to prank the man, show the fallacies of religion and perhaps make some money. In the space of two years, Hull designed and orchestrated the production of a giant man, made from gypsum. He hoped to convince people that it had become petrified and frozen in stone.
Hull then spoke to his cousin in New York and asked if he could bury the statue on his land. The cousin gladly agreed as long as he could see a share of the profits. He was a farmer and there were plenty of options for places to bury it. They chose a spot near the barn where there were plenty of weeds growing so that it would appear as if the ground had been untouched for a long time.
A year later the farmer hired some locals to dig a hole by the barn to help him build a well. After a few hours of digging, they hit a stone foot. Once they found it they immediately got excited with one shouting that he had found a buried Indian. Soon the whole town arrived to see the giant man. There had been fossil deposits found in Cardiff years earlier so many were happy to presume that this giant had been petrified by the sewage nearby. The story was taking off. The giant was now real.
When one science lecturer came to say that the statue was simply a statue, our farmer played his part perfectly. He said he was tired of the debate and would simply bury it again. However, locals would not stand for it. They were proud of the statue found in their town and ‘convinced’ the farmer of its worth. He agreed and put it on display for a small price. Soon a group of businessmen offered to buy the statue for $30,000. He gladly accepted the offer and the statue started to travel across America as one of the new wonders of the world. Geologists from New York were now even believing the hype with some calling it the most remarkable find of the century!
Soon though learned people started to point out how it was clearly a fraud and that the story made no sense at all. At the same time, others were trying to get in on the money. One man offered to buy the statue but the sale was refused. Without a care in the world, this same man went and build his own replica and started to tour it around America as well. Soon fake giants were popping up in every state across the country. None of them realized that the frauds they were building were built on a fraud itself.
After a few years though people began to suspect every statue of being a fraud. Hull himself had come out at this point and admitted his scheme. He later tried to repeat the prank with a statue that had a tail in another small town but he was quickly discovered this time and lost a lot of money. He died without riches or fame but delighted in the fact that he had once fooled all of America.