Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Giant About Town

By: Kate Betz, Manager of Public Programs
If there was ever an object that deserved to be in a story that was titled “The Many Adventures of…,” the Cardiff Giant is such an object. I recently read an excellent blog post on the early history of the Giant, including his “discovery” and exhibition in the nineteenth century. I thought that our readers might be interested to know that his adventures upon arrival at The Farmers’ Museum in 1948 did not cease, but continued with a vengeance. On May 15, 1948, the Giant arrived at The Farmers’ Museum where he was “laid to rest,” as it were, by a group of workers. The exhibit was opened to the public four days later and crowds began to arrive to once again gawk at the “stupendous stone statue.” All was not wine and roses for the Giant, however. Less than a year after his arrival, the Giant was at the center of new drama when a man by the name of Michael Fitzmaurice sued the museum, stating that his grandfather had created the Cardiff Giant and had loaned him to P.T. Barnum. (Those of you who have been to the museum and seen our most recent display will know that this was, of course, a false claim—P.T. Barnum never owned THE Cardiff Giant, but had created a fake of a fake that he exhibited at the same time that the Giant enjoyed its greatest success). Three years after his arrival, the Giant was done with life in a pit. He determined that life above ground had many more benefits. In 1951, he was moved to an above ground display where he remained for the next fourteen years until, in 1965, he moved to even fancier digs in a covered enclosure at the end of our Main Barn. Again ready for a change of scenery, the Giant moved in 1984 to a new exhibit in what is now the Louis C. Jones Center called the “Museum of Wonders.” There, he joined the ranks of some of the most eclectic items from the collections of museums across New York State including a two-headed calf, dinosaur tracks, and relics of the American Revolution. This exhibit was meant to show museum visitors what the very earliest museums—such as the American Museum created by Mr. P.T. Barnum (yes, he actually did create this one)—looked like. Called cabinets of curiosities, they were treasure troves of oddities, wonders, and other strange objects meant to delight and intrigue the public. Though he enjoyed the company, the Giant eventually tired of sharing the spotlight with the other objects and again sought a relocation—this time to nearly the same spot that he had occupied on his arrival in 1948. He was exhibited in a tent that was meant to recreate the manner in which nineteenth-century spectators would have come upon him. In 2003, Giant and tent were moved to become a part of the museum’s new Country Fair exhibit. While he was somewhat embarrassed by the birthday hat he was forced to wear, the Giant nonetheless appreciated the attention during the celebration of his 134th birthday. Even the most stoic of giants eventually becomes antsy and yearns to roam free. After 58 years of living within the museum’s walls, the Cardiff Giant was allowed off the grounds for a special treat—a central part of the Hall of Fame Game parade held each year in Cooperstown. Harkening back to his earliest years of display, the Giant reveled in the sizeable crowd that came out to see him. He thrilled at the cheers, enjoyed the wind on his skin, but still managed to maintain his modesty. Since his time in the sun, the Giant has recently retired to a quieter location at the entrance to our Main Barn. Make sure to pay him a visit when we open the doors for his 61st season at the museum on April 1st.

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