The Cardiff Giant, the Border Wall and Trump

*The phrase “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Is attributed to American author and social critic H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) but not found exactly verbatim in his published works, so the source and original form of this expression are not known with absolute certainty. A nearly-verbatim paraphrase of: “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”Appeared in Mencken’s ‘Notes on Journalism’, in the Chicago Tribune on September 19th, 1926.

The phrase: “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute” is commonly attributed to P.T. Barnum. However, many of his contemporaries say he never actually said it. A man called R. J. Brown asserted that it actually originated with a banker named David Hannum. It was in reference to one of Barnum’s hoaxes: a replica of the Cardiff Giant.

The Cardiff Giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about Genesis 6:4 which stated that there were giants who once lived on Earth. Hull hired men to quarry out a 10-foot-4.5-inch-long (3.2 m) block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired Edward Burghardt, a German stonecutter, to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.

Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant’s surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. During November 1868, Hull transported the giant by railroad to the farm of his cousin, William Newell. By then, he had spent $2,600 for the hoax (nearly equivalent to $48,000 in 2017, adjusted for inflation).

Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and on October 16, 1869 they found the giant. One of the men reportedly exclaimed, “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!” Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged 25 cents for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he increased the price to 50 cents. People came by the wagonload.

Archaeological scholars pronounced the giant a fake, and some geologists even noticed that there was no good reason to try to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. Yale paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh termed it “a most decided humbug”. Some theologians and preachers, however, defended its authenticity.

Eventually, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 (equivalent to $456,000 in 2018) to a syndicate of five men headed by David Hannum. They moved it to Syracuse, New York, for exhibition. The giant drew such crowds that showman P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. When the syndicate refused, he hired a man to model the giant’s shape covertly in wax and create a plaster replica. He displayed his giant in New York, claiming that his was the real giant, and the Cardiff Giant was a fake.

Hannum sued Barnum for calling his giant a fake, but the judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction. On December 10, 1869, Hull confessed everything to the press, and on February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court; the judge also ruled that Barnum could not be sued for terming a fake giant a fake.

Barnum went on to exhibit his giant as one of the, ‘Greatest Hoaxes Ever’ and got people to pay to see it.

**Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border did not come from security analysts following years of study or through evidence that a wall would reduce illegal immigration. Amazingly, for something so central to the current U.S. president, the wall came about as a “mnemonic device” thought up by a pair of political consultants to remind Donald Trump to talk about illegal immigration.

In 2014, Trump’s plan to run for president moved into high gear. His political confidant was consultant Roger Stone. “Inside Trump’s circle, the power of illegal immigration to manipulate popular sentiment was readily apparent, and his advisers brainstormed methods for keeping their attention-addled boss on message,” writes Joshua Green, author of Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising. “They needed a trick, a mnemonic device. In the summer of 2014, they found one that clicked.”

Joshua Green had good access to Trump insiders, including Sam Nunberg, who worked with Stone. “Roger Stone and I came up with the idea of ‘the Wall,’ and we talked to Steve [Bannon] about it,” according to Nunberg. “It was to make sure he [Trump] talked about immigration.”

The concept of the Wall did not click right away with the candidate. “Initially, Trump seemed indifferent to the idea,” writes Green. “But in January 2015, he tried it out at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a presidential cattle call put on by David Bossie’s group, Citizens United. ‘One of his pledges was, ‘I will build a Wall,’ and the place just went nuts,’ said Nunberg. Warming to the concept, Trump waited a beat and then added a flourish that brought down the house. ‘Nobody,’ he said, ‘builds like Trump.’”

The Border Wall, and the Cardiff Giant are alike in two ways. Both were disparaged by the knowledgeable and learned as fake, or ineffectual. And both were viewed by a portion of the general public as genuine or essential. In both instances someone will, or did, make a lot of money; and in both instances the American public was left holding the bag.

*special thanks to Wikipedia

**Where The Idea For Donald Trump’s Wall Came From, Stuart Anderson, Forbes Magazine