Laelaps

The Ape-Man from Colorado

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When the Cardiff Giant was making its first public appearance in the fall of 1869 the earliest ancestors of humans were still unknown. That our species had evolved and had its own fossil record was implied by Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, but the fossil remains of our ancient ancestors was still missing. Human fossils had been found in Europe, like those of the Cro Magnons in France and the fossils from the Neander Valley, but these were so similar to the skeletons of modern humans that, at best, many scientists felt that they only represented different races or individuals afflicted by pathologies.

For George Hull, the manufacturer of the Cardiff Giant, the dearth of early human fossils presented a potentially golden opportunity. Although he had admitted to, and even flaunted, his role in the Cardiff humbug, he still made a considerable amount of money from it. His plan to teach biblical literalists a lesson might not have been taken to heart but at least it lined his pockets with cash. (At least for a time. Hull lost a considerable amount of money and a second hoax seemed like a good way to reclaim some of his wealth.) Perhaps he could put one over on evolutionists, too. As an article in The Popular Science Monthly stated;

…[Hull] frequently remarked that he would like to set the scientific men quarreling as to the origin of man, and throw the religious world into a vortex of doubt and controversy.

Given that Hull was already known for his role in the Cardiff hoax, though, he had to be more careful if he was to try for a second stunt. With the help of a man named Case he purchased a hotel in Elkland, Pennsylvania around 1878. The cover was that the venue was to be renovated into a mountain getaway and sanitarium, and what was said to be an ice-house was constructed out back. In reality, however, the “ice-house” was a workshop warmed by a klin. This was were Hull’s ape man was born in fire.

Crushed bones, plaster, clay, blood, and dried eggs went into the mix to create a new fantastic creature, but when its makers tried to remove it from the oven it broke. Undaunted, they started again and this time met with success. Into this mold were inserted more bones in the appropriate places and Hull finally had a new attraction. As Hull related to a person who was in on the scheme named Cox;

Cox, I would give a hundred dollars 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 at 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 there by the neck, I tell you, he looked alive; he looked as if he was going to talk! Don’t tell me the people won’t be fooled by this! Cox, look at that tail; take hold of it ! That tail alone is worth a million ! I made a difference in the toes, because it would not do to have him too perfect. The arms we made proportionately longer than the legs, so as to resemble the ape type. We propose to let the scientific men bore into him, but they must confine themselves to certain parts of his body, and there we have fixed him by putting in bones.

I have been unable to find any images of this man-made monster, but from Hull’s description it sounds as if it were a statue that, like the Cardiff Giant, was supposed to look like an entirely petrified humanoid. The description of it that appeared in the periodical The Friend provides the best description of it I have been able to uncover;

The figure is seven and a half feet long, and of 600 pounds weight. The features are of a decided Indian type, high cheek bones, low, retreating forehead, and an enormous posterior cranium. The right arm is bent, the hand lying on the breast. The bones between the wrist and fingers and the finger bones, with their processes, are said to be true to nature. The left arm rests on the left leg, which is drawn up, and the flexor muscle bears a scar. The great toes on the feet have the appearance of thumbs, and- are not unlike the toes of a gorilla. But that which excites the greatest curiosity among scientific men is the vertebra, which is extended about two inches and a half, displaying a well defined tail. This tail is not believed to be the os coccyx projected by the shrinkage of the muscles, for in that case it would have a flat, arrow-shaped form. It is about five inches long, round, about one inch in diameter and with a conical termination.–Philada. Ledger.

[It is most probably, like the Cardiff Giant, a recent production of the stonemason.]

What was inside was just as important as the creature’s outward appearance, though. Since scientists bored into the Cardiff Giant to determine that it was made of gypsum Hull anticipated that they would want to do the same with the new creature. That is why so bones were inserted in strategic locations in the statue; when scientists bored into it, expecting only dust, they would surely be surprised to find bones.

By this time, however, Hull and Case were low on funds and they appealed to P.T. Barnum for help. Barnum forwarded them $2,000 for the burial of the thing but he insisted that this not be another New England humbug. The people of the northeast had grown wise to the shenanigans of Hull and Barnum, and it was decided that Colorado held better prospects. The statue was transported there and buried with a turtle and a fish to enhance the illusion of authenticity, and soon it was found by a geologist traveling in the area.

Barnum himself was nearby at the time of the “discovery” and offered $20,000 for the relic. His offer was rebuffed, but this was all just part of the plan. Barnum’s next step was to pay a local professor $100 to drill into the specimen to determine its authentic nature. The only trouble was that Hull, who was also on the scene, had heard from a scientist that a real fossil would yield mineral crystals. When it came time for the professor to dig into the statue Hull devised a distraction and when the professor’s attention was drawn Hull substituted in some crystal dust to make the illusion complete.

Unfortunately for Barnum & Hull, O.C. Marsh was also in the area. Marsh had firmly asserted that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax and he identified the “petrified man” from Colorado as another man-made production. This caused people to be wary of the new curiosity, and Marsh’s conclusion was confirmed when a falling out among some of the co-conspirators (like Cox) caused them to widely divulge the details of the project.

Indeed, Hull’s previous hoax had been too good. Word of it had traveled so widely that he had created a more skeptical audience that would not be fooled the same way twice. At one point the Colorado statue was brought to New York but it failed to drum up anything but comparisons to the Cardiff hoax. There was no money to be had in this scheme, and if anything survives of this second humbug today, I have been unable to ascertain where it now rests.

Comments

  1. #1 Lilian Nattel
    January 29, 2009

    It’s nice to know he was an equal opportunity huxter, wanting to mess with everyone. It’s funny how his own success educated people about hoaxes. I’m always amazed how, even now, email hoaxes still get posted around list serves.

  2. #2 chat
    January 29, 2009

    very good sites

  3. #3 gg
    January 29, 2009

    It may be worth mentioning that these hoaxes have made their way into the popular culture, at least indirectly: “The Simpsons” had the episode Lisa the Skeptic, where schoolkids find an apparent skeleton of an angel.

  4. #4 Raymond Minton
    January 29, 2009

    Am I the only one who, upon reading this story, thought of the two men from Georgia who claimed they found “Bigfoot’s” body (which, big surprise, turned out to be a phony gorilla suit?) Some gags are timeless, I suppose. It was actually a gambler named Mike McDonald (and not, as most people think, P.T. Barnum) who coined the phrase, but it really is true: there’s a sucker born every minute. Of course,there’s also the one about “fool me twice, shame on me.”

  5. #5 lee
    March 17, 2009

    who found coloardo in wgat year thank you

  6. #6 koxp
    June 17, 2009

    THanxxxxxx

  7. #7 Grup Hepsi
    September 7, 2009

    hm.. Thank you