FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. (Great Lakes News) – This week’s “Road Trip of the Week” starts in New York, but ends in Michigan.
In 1869, a farmer in upstate New York hired workmen to help him dig a well. While working, they struck something solid. After several hours of excavation work, the laborers revealed a 10-foot tall, 3,000 pound petrified giant human.
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The news spread like wildfire. These God-fearing people had read in the Bible that in ancient times, “there were giants in the earth in those days.” The facts of their discovery, along with scientific opinion and subsequent events are in dispute. Here is one account which is compiled from reporting from that era.
Scientists and clergymen were summoned to view the giant “in situ” so the historic discovery could be documented. As the news spread, people from all over traveled to the farm to see the giant. Among them was P.T. Barnum, who was convinced the giant would be a fantastic addition to his “Greatest Show on Earth.” Barnum made the farmer a handsome offer and guaranteed that the giant would have a prominent place in the museum in New York. The farmer declined the offer since he had plans of his own. He intended to take the giant on the road and tour the great cities of the East Coast and charge admission.
That didn’t stop Barnum. The entrepreneur acquired a large slab of granite and hired a sculptor to carve a copy of the “Cardiff Giant.” He had the carving rolled in black dirt while workers poured acid on the statue and set it on fire. Barnum loaded his treasure on a wagon and headed to the Midwest. Barnum’s small town tour was successful, as well as the similar tour along the East Coast. Eventually, the original giant headed west. P.T. Barnum and his tour ran out of towns west and decided to circle back to the southeast.
From this point, the facts get murky. The chemical tests on the original “Cardiff Giant” had been completed and determined it a hoax. The farmer had had the giant sculpted and then buried it for a year so it could age. Then he directed the laborers to dig at a specific spot so it could be “discovered”. However, this was in an age of slow communications, so the disclosure didn’t catch up with the road show for some time. The original show, and the P.T. Barnum show, were approaching the same town on the same day. The farmer wasn’t happy because he knew that the Barnum show had much better advance people and would probably get most of the business. Through various machinations, the farmer managed to convince a local judge to issue an injunction that prevented P.T. Barnum from exhibiting his fake of the farmers’ hoax. Barnum continued to roll through town, went to the Atlantic coast, loaded his giant on a ship, and toured Europe before the news of the whole thing caught up with him.
No one knows where the original Cardiff Giant has ended up, but Barnum’s copy is housed in Farmington Hills, Michigan at Marvelous Marvin’s Mechanical Museum. Marvelous Marvin’s is easily one of the most unique museums anywhere in Michigan. It contains artifacts from many of the greatest magicians who ever lived including Alexander, Thurston, and Houdini.
The museum is a palace of entertainment. It’s 5,000 square feet of floor space are hundreds of exhibits and old midway style games. You can play Tic-Tac-Toe with an alien, have your fortune told, test your strength and get electrocuted. There are games from every era. Admission is free, and don’t forget a selfie with the giant.
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Marvelous Marvin’s is located at 31005 Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Find out more at Michigan Back Roads.