The nicer you are, the bigger the bull’s eye on your back when it comes to scammers, con artists, and defrauders. At no time is this more apparent than the holiday season, which could be called “Open Season” on all nice, kind, trusting people with a dollar in their pocket. This year, go ahead and be kind and generous, but be smart, too, or you could end up a Giant fool. Let me explain:
The great P.T. Barnum, whose Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the greatest live entertainment touring show of its time, is credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” What?! A sucker? You’re a sucker if you pay money to be entertained and amazed by exotic animals and human curiosities from around the world? Well, folks who have investigated this claim believe it probably wasn’t Barnum who said this, but a competitor showman, David Hannum, who was accusing Barnum’s customers of being fools.
You see, there was this hugely successful attraction, the Cardiff Giant, that turned out to be the biggest hoax in U.S. history to date. The 10-foot giant was supposedly a petrified man that well diggers accidentally dug up in the backyard of a guy living in Cardiff, NY, in 1869. This discovery brought crowds of people from miles around willing to pay 25-cents each to file through a tent where they could gaze upon this amazing ancient oddity. Crowds kept coming, so soon ticket prices doubled, and before long the Giant was bought by Hannum and put on tour.
Eventually, Barnum coveted the success of this attraction and offered to buy the Giant for his shows for $50,000. Adjusted for inflation, this offer would be $862,000 in 2013 dollars. Wow! But, Hannum refused. That’ll give you a good idea of how popular this Giant was. So, not to be outdone, Barnum secretly arranged for artists to create his own replica giant that he then promoted as the real Giant. Hannum accused Barnum’s Giant of being a fake and supposedly said the sucker comment out of bitterness that people were paying money to see Barnum’s fake Giant replica. Of course, the irony of Hannum’s outrage was that folks were paying to see Barnum’s fake of what turned out to be Hannum’s fake. Both Giant’s were a con on the public.
The Cardiff Giant had been carved out of a big block of gypsum at the direction of a guy named George Hull, an atheist, who wanted to make fools out of some Methodists. An argument erupted at a local revival meeting over the Bible passage in Genesis that says giants once roamed the earth. Hull had a twisted sense of humor, and obviously a lot of extra time and money on his hands, and devised this hoax. He had the fake petrified giant secretly buried in his cousin’s backyard, then hired workers to dig a well that just happened to be directly over the hidden hoax. Once it was unearthed, the show was on, and you now know how it played out. The Cardiff Giant is still drawing spectators today on display at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, NY, though as an exhibit of foolishness, not ancient history. Barnum’s replica is claimed to be on display at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
I don’t know if this story is where the phrase “you’re a giant fool” came from, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There is such a disdain for people who get targeted by frauds, scams, and trickery, as if being a good, trusting person is something to be ashamed of. Yet, everybody gets fooled at one time or another, and it’s hard to accept you’ve been scammed. The things you did “wrong” to get ripped off were all good things, weren’t they? At the time, you did things you wanted to do, things you’d like other people to do – trust, believe, have faith – despite all the logic and reason that exists to alert you to the deceit. Archeologists had declared the Giant to be a fraud early on, and geologists declared there was no legitimate reason for workers to dig a well where they did, but the public didn’t care. They were swept up in the excitement, and that’s where every victim of a con goes wrong.
Being a good person doesn’t mean that you have to be taken for a fool. Reality shows aren’t reality. Miraculous products are more advertising than actual performance. Just because an organization calls itself a charity doesn’t mean the money they collect goes to fill anything other than their bank accounts. That “official notice” you got in the mail declaring you’re guaranteed to have won cash “up to $1,000,000” so long as you send back a check for $21.50 to cover processing fees has tiny fine print that reveals you actually only get $1 and a list of lottery drawings you can enter that could have prizes totaling a million dollars. What’s too good to be true really isn’t true.
When it comes to parting with your money, sort out the trashy flash. Don’t get swept up in the showmanship and miss the real facts. Be smart with your money and your trust. Turn the con artists, scammers, and defrauders into the Giant fools for thinking they can fool you!