Many in the Beulah area know the short story of the ‘petrified’ man who was discovered on Sept. 16, 1877 on a hill now known as Muldoon Hill (approx. eight miles east of Beulah Valley). A purported ‘missing link’, the giant would make rounds in the west before heading east on a moneymaking tour, promoted by the likes of showman P.T. Barnum. The Muldoon Man was also called ‘Solid Muldoon’ by locals after hearing an Irish performer belt out the song ‘Solid Muldoon’, a reference to boxers and being a solid man.
Ten years in the making, George Hull's second giant was introduced to a culture of hardworking people who took pride in their modern life, and the progress their generation was making in fields of technology, exploration and science. At a time when people were open to possibilities, they also appreciated a good practical joke, known in that time as a “humbug”.
Reported in a wide range of local and national publications in varying lengths and perspectives since the story first broke, the well-documented hoax is now considered historically significant as an early record of “fake news.” A well-researched chapter by Walter Wyant is found in Beulah’s comprehensive history book ‘From Mace’s Hole to Beulah’ and delves into the fascinating affair, briefly mentioning an exposé.
Just five months after the discovery of Colorado’s Muldoon Man, on February 2, 1878 an exposé came through the wire from The New York Tribune and quickly picked up by The Colorado Springs Gazette. The front page article entitled, THE MULDOON, Full Exposé of the Greatest Humbug in the World serves as fascinating insight into the thought and effort that went into Beulah’s giant from the perspective of E. J. Cox (a colleague who was pushed out of the profits), and other star witnesses. The intimate and sordid details of the plot, combine with a damning list of Hull’s character flaws to make for a juicy read; an explanation so ironclad that it just might lead one to believe the exposé itself was a part of the master plan.
The entire article is included in this special 16-page edition to share a detailed read about a local legend, and highlight the exceptional lengths human beings will go to prove a point, or plot to deceive.
Elkland, Tioga County, PA, January 21, 1878
This little, isolated borough will hereafter be noted as the birthplace of the ‘petrified’ Colorado giant. Arriving here last evening a few minutes before 9 o’clock, within 20 minutes I had visited the ‘ice house’ in which the Colorado giant was molded and baked brown; had picked out of the rubbish a fragment of the foot and ankle of an elder brother of the giant, who happened to be spoiled in the making; and before midnight had learned every important particular connected with the origin and travels of this curious fraud. The Public will not feel much surprise on learning that the ingenious fabricator of the missing link is George Hull, who made the Cardiff Giant. Hull lived four years in the farmhouse opposite this country tavern, and built in the rear of it, so that it is invisible from the road, his ‘ice house’ giant manufactory. Hull’s confederate was P.T. Barnum. With all his disclaimers, it is now plain that Barnum was both wet nurse and Godfather to the Colorado giant, and furnished the money and part of the strategy to foist the humbug on what proved to be an incredulous world.
Arriving in Hornellsville, on the Erie Road yesterday forenoon, I visited E.J. Cox, justice of the peace; told him of information which made the presumption strong that the Cardiff giant and the Colorado giant were half brothers, and that he was acquainted with their origin and the whole family history. Mr. Cox said he had not hand in the manufacture of the Colorado giant, beyond lending Hull some money for the project; that he owned an interest in the humbug, but had been so misused by Hull that he felt himself no longer under obligations to keep the matter a secret.
“These papers will explode the whole affair’ he said handing me a bundle of affidavits and letters which he took from a drawer in his desk. These papers, which for the present are omitted from this narrative, are conclusive testimony of the truth of the story which Mr. Cox and others told me.
“You can verify my story’ said Mr. Cox, “by going to Elkland, 33 miles southeast from here, and just across the Pennsylvania line. There you can see the kiln in which the giant was baked, and learn a good deal from the villagers, and perhaps, Mr. Hull himself.” Mr. Cox was easily induced to accompany me, in order to save time by relating on the way the history of the fraud.
While he was procuring a conveyance, I learned form a substantial citizen of Hornellsville that Mr. Cox, who is between 38-40 years of age, had resided there the greater part of five years; that he had been a cigar manufacturer, and, by neglecting his business to engage in politics, had nearly exhausted his means. In view of that fact his Democratic friends have recently elected him justice of the peace. Mr. Cox’s reputations for fair dealing and veracity is good.
An outline of Hull’s Careers
“This affair will make a sensation where I am known,” said Mr. Cox, as we rode along. ‘My friends know that Hull ‘beat’ me out of some money, but they don’t know how or why. I never had any confidence in Hull’s business honor, but since we had been in each other’s confidence, like brother to brother, I had come to depend on his word with me. Altogether, this Colorado Giant business has cost me about $10,00 or $12,000. There was not until recently any written agreement between us. It was understood as a matter of honor that I had an interest in the giant. But when Hull sold a large share to Barnum I made him sign an agreement with me. I played my part all right till they began to crowd me out. All I wanted was my money back. I have given up all hopes of that, and now I propose that they shall hear from me.”
How long have you known Hull?
“About 18 years. He is 55 years of age, but he does not look to be over 42. He came from Connecticut when he was a young man, and brought a swindle along with hm. He was the inventor of the ‘star back’ playing cards, which are marked, and was traveling through the country with his cousin. The latter would go in advance and sell the cards, while Hull, who was fine looking, well dressed and of good address, followed and fleeced the amateur gamblers.”
“He had trouble in Binghampton, was arrested for swindling, and then paid a visit to his elder brother, who was living at Fenton, nine miles from Binghampton. His brother had two daughters who Hull had never seen. Hull made an impression on his nieces, and disgraced their family, and their the community into a state of disgust and excitement by marrying one of them, which whom he is still living, but not on the good terms that out to prevail between husband and wife. They have always lived apart from society, which could never forgive Hull for marrying his niece.”
“He settled down in Binghampton and became a cigar manufacturer. I was his foreman. In 1869 he went to Chicago and was gone 9 months without anybody’s knowing where he was. There he made the Cardiff Giant, had it buried on the farm of a nephew at Cardiff, near Syracuse. Barnum wanted to buy the gypsum giant, but Hull thought it was worth a million, and realized about $60,000 on the humbug before his nephew revealed the fraud for being treated just as Hull had treated me.”
“Hull took his money to Binghampton, erected a brick block, and engaged extensively in his business. He told me several times that he would ‘humbug the public yet!’ He was a peculiar man, and spent a great deal of money and time making experiments with gases and stone, claiming that he could discover the principles of alchemy and produce any of the metals. He read scientific books, and although he is uneducated, he had a ready mind for getting at the principle of a thing. He was a born skeptic and materialist. He used to declare that the world was a fraud, and all the people in it; that the American people were never so happy as when they were being humbugged. Darwin’s theories fascinated him, and he used to say that if he could get the scientific men quarrelling over the origin of man, and throw the religious world into a hurly-burly of doubt and controversy, he should be perfectly satisfied and win great fame. He declared that he would spend the rest of his life in working a humbug which would explode the truths of the bible and electrify the scientific world. In 1872, he was forced into bankruptcy with liabilities of $30,000. I upbraided him for allowing his business to go to wreck, but he said he must go away from mankind to carry out a project which he had been maturing.”
Hull’s Operations in Elkland
“Captain Amsbry, a cousin of Hull’s wife was living in Elkland,” continued Mr. Cox “To him Hull had previously sent about $12,000 worth of tobacco and figures, and Amsbry was conducting a cigar business in Elkland ,in his own name, with Hull’s capital. On January 18, 1873, Hull went to Elkland and I came to Hornellsville. But before that—I think in the fall of 1872— Hull went to Boston saying he had made arrangements with a publisher to issue a history of the Cardiff Giant, and wanted to stop the publication, because, as he said, he had perfected himself, so that the next time he should make a failure in that kind of business. He was gone three weeks, and, I believe, was studying models of the human body, and getting scientific knowledge.
“Hull rented 300 acres in Elkland, and pretended to carry on a farm, but did not pay express by it, and Captain Amsbry continued the tobacco business. As soon as he was established, in the summer months of 1873, he built and ‘ice-house’ about 20 x 14 and 12 feet high. In this he built an arch kiln of brick 9 x 4 and 3 ½ feet high. This was very strongly built. The ice house was tightly fastened on the sides and was provided with a small skylight. Everybody knew that Hull spent most of his nights in the ice house or to ask ‘Where’s Hull?’ the reply being ‘Hull’s gone into his hole, I guess he’ll be out in the morning.’
“A rich old man named Theodore D. Case bought the Elkland Hotel, and he and Hull wer very intimate, and as I know now Case aided Hull with money after Hull had exhausted his own means. I frequently visited Hull in Elkland and he visited me in Hornellsville. At that time he never told me exactly what he was doing, but I had my opinion. We were traveling once in the interior of the state about this time in the year. Hull was taken with the cramps, and thought he was going to die. I dosed him with croton oil. How he swore! Must I die,’ he cried ‘and let those — fellows get the best of me?... No, I can’t I’ve got too much to live for. I won’t die! I’ve got to stay!!”
“Hull secured the services of a New York sculptor, named Fitch, who wad with him several months, and was well paid, but who was discharged, as Hull told me, because Fitch hadn’t any more skill than himself. Fitch told him that if he had studied sculpture when he was young, he (Hull) would have been the greatest sculptor living. Fitch showed discontent when he was discharged and Hull had trouble with Captain Amsbry, because the latter refused to arry on the tobacco business in his name, and thus keep Hull’s property from his creditors. Hull was obliged to compromise, and he was continually in financially difficulty. So he engaged me to move to Elkland and take charge of the cigar business, I putting in what capital I had. He gave me to understand that his project was almost completed, and that he would need to go away for some time, and wanted me to look after his affairs, and promised me an interest in his success. Sometime before that I had asked him how he was getting on. ‘Well,’ he replied ‘I’ve got the old man off my hands, if he comes out done brown he’ll startle the community.’”
A view of the finished figure
“I went to Elkland January 18, 1877,” said Mr. Cox. “About the 1st of February Hull said his work was done, and on the evening of March 11 he came to me, all enthusiasm, and said” ‘Cox, I want you to see the old man; we’ve got him out alright.’ He gave me to understand that the giant had been baking a whole year. And I think Hull made his own charcoal.
“When I entered the ice house the giant was lying on a board supported by two stout saw horses. A derrick like structure stood over the kiln, and had been used to take the giant out. Barrels of plaster of paris, ground, bone ground stone, clay and other materials, were in the corners, and there were many plaster molds lying about on the shelves.
“Hull was in ecstasies. The giant was dimly outlined by the light of an old coal stove. Said he, ‘Cox, I would give $100 if you could have been with Case and me the night we took him out. We had a rope around his neck, and a pulley up there, and how we worked and tugged away on the rope. I went through torture-my whole existence hung by that rope. It seemed as if I lived a thousand years while we were pulling him out, and when he hung up thereby the neck, I tell you he looked alive; he looked as if he were going to talk! Don’t tell me that the people won’t be fooled by this!’ So Hull went on in the most extravagant talk.
“Hull called my attention to the four inches of tail which adorned the extremity of the figure’s backbone, and struck a match, so that I could see it plainly. Said he, ‘Cox, look at that tail I take hold of it! Then, rising, for we were stooping, he exclaimed, ‘That tail alone is worth a million.’
“I called his attention to the fact that the man was not perfect. He struck matches to show me the differences in the toes. He said it would not do to have the man perfect; that there was nothing perfect about it. It had been made so as to have it not like anything ever discovered of the human or brute creation. The arms, he said, were made disproportionately long, so as to make it appear something between a man and an ape. He explained how he had used two hundred and fifty gross of steel needles, which had been fastened in lead, a dozen or so at a time, and with these he had gone over the entire surface of the figure, before it was baked, producing that ‘goose skin’ appearance which was puzzled scientific men.
“‘Suppose,’ said I, ‘some scientists proposes to go into him, what are you going to do?’ ‘Oh,’ said Hull, ‘I’ve got that fixed’ and he pointed at two places where, he said, the scientists could have a foot of surface to work on, where they would be sure to strike bone. ‘If they want to go in anywhere else,’ said he, ‘we shan’t let ‘em.’”
Mr. Barnum Becomes Interested
“I think Hull must have spent $10,000 to $12,000 in making his experiments and molding and baking his giant,” said Mr. Cox. “Case also had invested heavily I the speculation. Hull had succeeded in making a stone giant, for the baked composition was just like stone, but it was a white elephant on his hands. He had no money to plant it with. This led him to apply to Barnum, whom he visited at Bridgeport, Conn. When he returned Hull said that Barnum said he wasn’t going to buy a pig in a bag, and he would send out a man to look at Hull’s invention.
“Barnum did send George Wells; of Bridgeport, who came quietly, stopping at Case’s hotel and let it be understood that he was a horse trainer who came to look at some ‘Hambletonian stock’ in the neighborhood. Case took him out driving, and in the evening he was taken into the ice house where he viewed the wonder. He departed on the early morning train. Hull told me that Barnum, if he was satisfied, was to pay $2,000 down, and have a certain share in the giant, and share the expenses of planting, etc. He also said that Wells had expressed himself as more than satisfied; in fact, he was perfectly astounded and believed Barnum would buy.
“The bargain was made; and the day after I saw the giant—that is March 12—the giant was wrapped with a great many yards of cotton cloth, and put in a stout box well hound with iron, which was provided with a false bottom on steel springs. The box was marked ‘fine machinery,’ and directed to Bridgeport, Conn, I think to George Wells. At midnight it was put in a wagon and taken to Addison, eleven miles distant on the Erie road. Hull made a second visit to Bridgeport, where on March 26, an agreement was drawn up and aligned by the stockholders of the Giant Company, Barnum, Hull, Wells and Case.”
Burying the Giant
“I think their first intention,” Mr. Cox continued, “was to bury the giant in some isolated Connecticut valley, but Barnum said it would never do, and Hull, when he returned, said they had changed their plans, and were going to plant the giant in the Rocky Mountains. Hull said they must have some fossilized objects to be dug up near the spot where the giant was to be planted. I managed it so that a boy who had caught a big snapping turtle sold it to Robert Trayer who kept the rival hotel. Then I went to Trayer and bought the turtle for a dollar; killed it, and with it Hull molded a turtle out of the same substance of which the giant is composed. A salmon-trout was also imitated, and the turtle and trout were subjected to a three week’s baking in a sheet iron oven and retort made expressly for the purpose.
“Hull went to New York, April 8, and joined W. A. Conant, who was in Barnum’s employ. They shipped the giant to Colorado Springs, and then reshipped it as local freight in Pueblo. Hull was absent about six weeks, and on his return told me that the giant was successfully planted. I believe that Conant was a doctor or professor in charge of a party in search of geological specimens. Conant remained to watch the deposit, and got a position as station agent on the Santa Fe Railroad.
“Some time after his return, Hull told me that the giant was just as ready to dig up then as it would be in five years, but that Barnum had gone to Europe and would not be back til August. In June, Hull got a letter from Conant charging him with being indiscreet, for a hunter had told him (Conant) that the tall man (Hull) had said he wouldn’t be surprised if they found a petrified man there some day. Hull denied this. I tried to reach a settlement with Hull. To make the sale to Barnum he had been obliged to conceal from Barnum my knowledge and interest. I could make no arrangement with Hull, getting only promises, and I told him I would have my pay or wash my hands of the whole business, and when he got ready to bring the giant to the surface, he would have to keep an eye on me.
“I had returned to Hornellsville and engaged an attorney to look after my interest. In August Barnum returned from Europe and went to Colorado ostensibly to look after his stock farm and lecture on temperance. His real object was to be near at hand when the giant was exhumed. Hull knew it would never do to have the Cardiff Giant man recognized as having anything to do with the Colorado Giant, so he assumed the name of George H. Davis, cut his hair short, shaved his moustache, put a hump on his back, and disguised himself as a stoop-shouldered farmer. I had timed Hull in his travels, and sent an affidavit to Conant, showing up n the fraud, so it would reach him about the day I supposed the giant would be dug up.
“I subsequently got letters both from Hull and Conant, urging that matters be hushed up until they could see and settle with me. Here are the letters–the originals. I was not disposed to take any more promises, and so telegraphed to Hull that if he attempted to move the giant I would expose the affair. He returned post haste, arriving in Hornellsville Sept. 4. I met him on the street, but should not have known him if he had not spoken to me; he was cleverly disguised. I refused to have anything to do with him, and sent hm to my attorney. Before the latter he brandished a revolver and threatened to shoot me, and then offered to settle by giving me one-twenty-sixth part of his interest. He drew up a contract to that effect, and then returned immediately to Colorado.
“When Hull reached Pueblo he found that the Conant, who, as he expressed it had been fooling with the giant, had broken off the head and one leg. Hull was enraged, and a quarrel ensued. However, the giant was skillfully mended, and the discovery was made according to the plan. Barnum appeared on the ground, and offered $20,0000 for the ‘find,’ which Conant refused with scorn. The people began to laugh at Barnum, and he offered a reward of $10,000 to any man who could prove that the giant was made by chisel. Of course he had them there; then came the test. Hull told me that Barnum paid Professor Taylor $100 and his expenses to go out and bore into the giant. Hull had lent an attentive ear to the talk of scientific men, and was astonished to lean that a kind of crystal ought to be found on boring into the arm of a petrified gian. Hull obtained crystal to correspond, and by sleight of hand exchanged it for the dust of the boring implement which was first handed to him by Professor Taylor.”
Mr. Cox said, in concluding his story, “When the giant arrived in Quincy, IL. Barnum, who was then in Washington, ordered it to be brought to New York, and its subsequent history is known.
What is said at Elkland.
The last twelve miles of the ride over the hills to Elkland was traversed in darkness. A few minutes before 9 o’clock Mr. Cox left me at Robert Trayer’s hotel, in Elkland and drove three miles back to a tavern his way home, in order not to excite the suspicion of Hull by his presence in teh village. Mr. Trayer was asked if he thought George Hull was the maker of the Colorado Giant.
“Every man and child in the village knows he has been making something of the kind,” he replied. “I can show you the building behind the house, just across the way, where the work was done.”
I accepted the offer to view the ice house by lantern-light, and found everything as described by Mr. Cox. The arched cover of the kiln had been removed, and cabbages were lying three or four deep on one side. There was a box of plaster of parts in one corner, and in another we picked up a part of the foot and ankle of a composition giant. It looked like plaster of paris, but it was a little darker and emitted a disagreeable odor.
“The children call this the giant house,” said MR. Trayer. “When the kiln was made, Hull told the mason to build it strong, as he was going to make it hotter than hell. We all knew that Hull was busy with some secret work here, for months at a time. He bought a skeleton of a man. He had several pails of blood sent to him from Corning. He used several hundred eggs, which with the blood, I suppose, were mixed in with the pondered stone, ground sand, clay and plaster of paris, which were ground at Westfield. Then they bought a turtle of me and a turkey of one of the neighbors in the summer, when it wasn’t fit to eat, and also killed a calf that was in no condition to butcher. The box that Hull sent to the railway station at Addison, weighed 950 pounds, and when I heard of the weight of the Colorado Giant, which was about what the contents of that box weighed, I said to myself that Hull was the originator of that humbug. Hull has been away from home for the last two weeks., but thee are two or three in the village who know all about it.”
Captain Amsbry, the cousin of Hull’s wife, was next seen. He talked reservedly He did not speak favorably of Hull. He said he knew nothing of his own personal knowledge about the Colorado Giant, except that Hull had been at work on something and had often said he would improve on the Cardiff Giant, and humbug the people yet. HE had told Hull that the scheme would not succeed; that no one could humbug the people twice in the same way, in the same generation.
On the way back to Trayer’s hotel I stepped into the bar room of the Elkland Hotel, and found Theodore D. Case, the proprietor, and one of the stockholders in the giant, and William Potter, a confidant in the transaction, alone and about to retire. They looked dazed when I asked them if Hull could have made the Colorado Giant, and invited me to a seat at the fire. I concealed the extent of my knowledge and enjoyed their subterfuges.
“Have you see the stone,” said Mr. Case interrupting himself, pulling his silk hat over his eyes, and looking into the fire, ‘What is it made of? What does it look like?’ What has Hull been making in his ice house?”
“I understand,” said Mr. Case, “That he has been at work on some invention. He patented a harness snap that slipped through his hands, and the man who git it made a million.”
“Yes,” spoke Mr. Potter, “he has been making a patent hay rake, too. He has been engaged on it a long time.”
“The boys out there say they have picked up plaster hands and feet near the ice house.”
Mr. Case laughed at this, which was addressed to him, and said, with sarcastic tone: “It’s a pity they didn’t save ‘em, isn’t it, so they could compare them with this stone man, and see if they were the same?”
I told him I had just found one of the pieces, and added to the unpleasant feeling which was creeping over him by asking if he knew a New York sculptor named Fitch.
“No;” he replied, without once looking at me straight in the face, and added “Hull couldn’t have got no stone about here big enough to make that giant.”
“But they say it’s not natural stone; that it’s a composition; also that Barnum has an interest in it.”
“They do, do they? It puzzles them, does it?” Added Case. “Well, if it is a humbug, it would be about right, wouldn’t it, to have Barnum leading off?”
“Yes,” piped in Potter, “and the people seem to think as much of Barnum as if he’d never humbugged ‘em.”
“Did Hull and Mr. Cox, of Hornellsville, have any trouble?” I asked of Mr. Case, who took a hasty glance from under his hat and replied, drawlingly: “Let me see, it appears to me they did.”
“The Cardiff Giant is worth almost as much as a curiosity now, as it was before the fraud was discovered,” I suggested. “Yes,” chimed in Potter, before Case’s eye could hold him, “and I tell you what it is, if I had made this stone-man, I believe I’d tell just how it was made, and come out with everything.”
After more talk of this character, I left the two men to guess at the extent of my information, and returning to Trayer’s Hotel found a valuable witness in the person of a young man named Louise W. Fenton, who said he helped to put the giant in the wagon when it was taken to the station. He was reserved at first, saying that he would like to see George Hull get his money back, but so far as ‘Old Case’ was concerned, he would like to see the affair exploded.
“It’s a wonder to me,” he said, “that the secret hasn’t leaked out before. Hull, Case, Potter, myself, and Charley Babcock, the son in law of Hull, loaded the box on the wagon. Babcock and I were together a good deal and he told me all about the ice house. They made two giants; the first was broken through the back in getting it out of the kiln and spoiled. The last one was in the oven about six months. Charley Babcock said most of the material was got in Elmira, and that it didn’t cost more than $50. But Hull spent several thousand dollars experimenting. Besides the eggs and blood and ground bones and stone and sand and plaster, I think Hull used some acids on it. I don’t think he had a retort. A piece of man’s skull was put in the head, and bones were inserted in numerous places in the limbs. I knew they were going to take it in to the Rocky Mountains. The first intention was to put it in some cave, but Hull said it would have to be buried in swampy ground to take out the strong smell there was about it. Babcock said Hull’s first project was to make some kind of strange animal, and Charley and I talked of making such an animal ourselves.
~ Special Correspondence New York Times.
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