A ‘Relative’ Hoax

“The Cardiff Giant” courtesy of farmersmuseum.org

A couple of weeks ago, my pandemic life in quarantine led me to watch an episode of television’s The Blacklist.[1] During the program, I heard Mr. Reddington (the program’s protagonist) bemoan the fact that something (in this case, a piece of counterfeit art) was, in his words, “as phony as the Cardiff Giant.” As a native Angeleno,[2] and never having heard of the Cardiff Giant before – and additionally unsure if said giant was from Wales,[3] or indeed from Cardiff-by-the sea,[4] – I wanted to see just who (or what) this giant was, and why the heck Raymond Reddington would compare him to a work of art.

I quickly discovered that the Cardiff Giant, problematic as a work of art, was one of the largest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people. Now, I won’t bore you with too many details, but suffice it to say that the giant’s creator, one George Hull, was an atheist who got into a theological argument with a revivalist preacher sometime in the late 1860s. Their argument concerned the latter’s fervent belief that giants had once roamed the world.[5] Mr. Hull, both annoyed and amused by the argument, set out to hoodwink (for lack of a better word) his Christian adversary and, more importantly, to earn a dime or two in the process.

You see, George Hull decided to “create” his own giant. He did so by securing a five ton block of gypsum and subsequently having it carved (in secret and in exchange for a portion of the profits) into the form of a giant. From there he “weathered” the giant by various means to make it appear as old as possible. He then went into cahoots with a distant relative in (wait for it) “Cardiff,” New York, whereupon he and his kinsman buried the giant. And then he waited for a year, at the end of which he told his kinsman to hire folks to dig a well in the very place where they had buried their giant … and thus the hoax began. The giant was soon discovered, and for several years George Hull played the game well and profiteered greatly on his hoax. Even the great P.T. Barnum tried to get in on the action. Ultimately, by 1880 or so, the (now discredited) Cardiff Giant was “condemned to a storage barn in Massachusetts.”[6]

Exhumation of The Cardiff Giant in October 1869, public domain

I wondered what connection I might have (if any) to this giant hoax, to this Cardiff Giant. I mused that (at least for me) there might be a certain noble je ne sais quoi in being connected to the grandest of American hoaxes. For the most part, I’ve become a bit myopic with regard to my family’s possible connections to historical notables, the famous and infamous, a valued witch, or even to my next door neighbor – but what of a connection to something so totally fabricated or to something so unbelievably wrong? I decided that it just might be fun to see how close I could come.

I started with George Hull, but honestly I found little about old George’s ancestry (though the Hull name is a common one throughout New England).[7] I had hoped to find a connection to George Hull here, as my great-grandmother Mary E. (Kraus) Ogle has an immigrant ancestor by the same name.[8] (And truth be told, I’m not convinced that there isn’t one here.) No, Mr. Hull’s paternal lines have thus far been sort of a bust (for me) in finding any familial connection to the creator of the Cardiff Giant.

So, I decided to take a look at our “giant” creator’s maternal ancestry as well, as let’s face it, more often than not some of the better discoveries made in family history are found well-hidden in those maternal lines. To this end I was not disappointed. Working back, and on through George Hull’s mother, Ruth (Old) Hull, I hit pay dirt.[9] You see, one of Cardiff Giant “hoaxer” George Hull’s maternal great-great-great-grandmothers was Elizabeth (Stedman) Smith—who, like my biological great-grandmother Opal R. (Young) (Porter) Everett,[10]—was also a descendant of Isaac Stedman.[11] This certainly makes me distant kin to the giant’s creator.

courtesy of https://www.ripleys.com/ weird-news/cardiff-giant/

However, the giant had one secret left to tell. And this was the name of Elizabeth (Stedman) Smith’s mother – a family surname very familiar to me –Sage. Yes, the great grand hoaxer, the guy who pulled the wool over America’s scientific and evangelical eyes and made a dime off of a whole generation of spectators, was a direct descendant of David Sage[12] – just like my great-grandfather, Samuel Sage,[13] and his daughter Alta Sage.[14] I had that ‘close surname connection’ I had been looking for. And, yes, now I could claim that “our family” had helped to create the greatest hoax perpetrated upon the American public. (A very odd point of pride, to be sure!) Yes, I am a kinsman of that great American “hoaxer” George Hull – and a “cousin” (by proxy) of the one and only Cardiff Giant.[15]


[1] The Blacklist, an NBC Television series 2013–.

[2] “Angeleno” is used here to refer to someone born in Los Angeles or Los Angeles County.

[3] A reference to “Cardiff,” as the capital and largest city in Wales.

[4] “Cardiff by-the-sea” refers to a resort area in San Diego County, California.

[5] Genesis 6: 4: “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] to them, the same [became] mighty men which [were] of old, men of renown.” Numbers 13: 33: “And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, [which come] of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”

[6] As per: https://www.history.com/news/the-cardiff-giant-fools-the-nation-145-years-ago.

[7] Robert E. Hull, The Ancestors and Descendants of George Hull (1590-1659) and Thamzen Mitchell of Crewkerne, Somerset, England, Dorchester, Massachusetts, Winsdor and Fairfield, Connecticut (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1994).

[8] Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-33, 3 vols. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995), 2: 1040, for George Hull (1589-1647), immigrant ancestor of Mary E. (Kraus) Ogle.

[9] Susan S. Gascoyne and Edson B. Olds, The Olds (Old, Oulds) Family in England and America (Washington, D.C., 1915), [p.] 1915, for the ancestry of Ruth (Old) Hull.

[10] Opal R. (Young) (Porter) Everett (1895-1978), a Mayflower descendant of Hopkins, Howland, and Warren.

[11] Charles Edward Banks, The Planters of the Commonwealth… (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1961), 147, for Isaac Stedman.

[12] Elisha L. Sage and Charles Sage, Genealogical Record of the Descendants of David Sage (Batavia, N.Y., 1919).

[13] Samuel Silas Sage (1863-1947).

[14] Alta V. (Sage) (Lee) Dixon (1909-2004), my grandmother.

[15] George Hull, creator of “the Cardiff Giant” is, in this instance, a six cousin to my great-grandfather, Samuel Silas Sage; however, numerous relationships exist through several of my great-grandmothers.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.View all posts by Jeff Record