In the early 1900s, giant skeletons up to 12 feet tall found in the United States were sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the official depository for nearly all things American — and never seen again.
Well, so the story goes …
The Smithsonian denies it all. So does National Geographic.
Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian has been battling the “Giant Skeleton Unearthed” story for more than 100 years, yet the rumor persists and still fascinates the public — as it did in the 19th century newspapers that loved to sensationalize the news.
For some reason or another archeology seems to be a magnet for fake history — especially subjects like giants and historic artifacts.
Scientists — many “pseudo” — have concocted fake discoveries or claims, later discredited, and there’s never been a shortage of writers masquerading as journalists who were delighted to publish those stories — usually with some embellishment.
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s there were published reports of finding human skeletons around the world — some as tall as 35 feet.
National Geographic News debunks that there ever were giants as big as the sizes reported — quickly shifting the subject to gigantism, which they correctly say “is extremely rare, today affecting about three people in a million worldwide. The condition begins in childhood, when a malfunctioning pituitary gland causes abnormal growth.”
Nevertheless, a typical report in those days was an article in 1871 published by the Toronto Daily Telegraph that said, “Rev. Nathaniel Wardell, Messers Orin Wardell (of Toronto), and Daniel Fredenburg were digging on the farm of the latter gentleman, which is on the banks of the Grand River, in the township of Cayuga.
“When they got to five or six feet below the surface, a strange sight met them. Piled in layers, one upon top of the other, were some two hundred skeletons of human beings nearly perfect … men of gigantic stature, some of them measuring nine feet, very few of them being less than seven feet.”
The internet loves stories like that — and the bigger the giant, the better the story.
According to Guinness, the tallest man in proven medical history was Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918-1940), an American from Alton, Ill., who stood 8-foot-11 tall.
Modern technology makes it easy to create fake photos, so those hoaxes won’t go away soon. However, modern technology also gives us the ability to better detect the fakes.
Idaho has its own true-or-fake story:
A man from Lewiston named G.E. Kincaid (or Kinkaid), who a newspaper report says was the first white male born in Idaho, supposedly discovered a giant cave complex in the Grand Canyon, believed to be near Marble Canyon, filled with ancient Egyptian and Asian artifacts.
More on Kincaid later — but first the giants:
Early explorers including Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake reported meeting living giants in Patagonia in the southern tip of South America — possibly the Tehuelche Indians.
Those reports are likely true, with the “giants” being maybe 7 feet tall.
Not true was the Cardiff Giant, one of America’s most famous archaeological hoaxes that turned out to be a 10-foot fake giant dug up on a farm in central New York, near Syracuse in 1869.
Crowds of gawkers ponied up 25 cents per person to see the newly unearthed “giant.”
The promoters quickly doubled the admission fee.
The hoax gave credence to the saying, “A sucker is born every minute” — usually attributed to circus impresario P.T. Barnum, but also to many others.
The fraud started during the religious fervor days of the Second Awakening when ardent atheist George Hull got into an argument with a preacher about the Biblical account of Nephelim giants mentioned in Genesis.
Hull delighted in concocting a scheme to get rich by fooling the public — especially gullible Christians.
He enlisted his cousin William C. “Stub” Newell, who owned a farm, then hired someone to carve a giant man — complete with privates — out of gypsum, stain it to look ancient and bury it.
A year later, Newell ordered the digging of a well on the spot where the “giant” was buried, so that the workmen would find it.
The crowds were excited by the Cardiff Giant, but archaeologists quickly labeled it a hoax — and George Hull brazenly admitted it.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
A Syracuse group bought the giant and continued to make money.
Then P.T. Barnum offered them half a million dollars for it (in today’s money). They turned it down, so he made a copy of it and put it on display in a New York museum, claiming the effigy was “the real fake.”
“The American people love to be humbugged,” he said.
In 1912 in England, British lawyer and amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson announced that he’d found a fossilized humanoid skull in Pleistocene Age gravel beds in Piltdown, East Sussex. More bones, a jawbone, set of teeth and primitive tools were allegedly found there later and said to be connected to the same artifact.
Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum, reconstructed the skull from the fragments and told the world that the remains were 500,000 years old and might be the “missing link” between man and ape.
They gave it the Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni, meaning “Dawson’s dawn-man.”
The dimensions of the artifacts were what scientists had expected of a “missing link” and were quick to praise the discovery.
It had been 53 years since Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, touting the theory of evolution. Piltdown gave some credibility to Darwin’s theory, which was questionable then, and still is.
In 1953, the whole Piltdown discovery was labeled as a hoax, after Oxford University scientists using a new fluoride dating technique discovered that all the bones were different in age, and that they were human and ape bones that had been carved and stained to look old.
An orangutan jawbone and teeth were attached to the skull of a small-brained modern man.
In 2016, the blame was finally pinned on Dawson.
Closer to home was the hoax started by an article in the Arizona Gazette on March 12, 1909, about a “G.E. Kincaid of Lewiston, Idaho,” who “arrived in Yuma after a trip from Green River, Wyoming, down the entire course of the Colorado River.”
The article says he found a mysterious “nearly inaccessible” cave high up a sheer cliff that he managed to reach.
The Gazette said Kincaid found a “long main passage … (and a) mammoth chamber from which radiates scores of passageways, like the spokes of a wheel,” leading to “several hundred rooms,” in which Kincaid discovered copper vessels, weapons, an idol resembling Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf, other grotesque god idols, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and rows of mummies.
He estimated 50,000 people lived there.
So if Kincaid’s story is true, why would the government keep the location of the cave a secret?
And why would anyone want to destroy or hide giant human skeletons?
And why wouldn’t we want the world to know about all of America’s fascinating archaeological treasures?
A number of reports conjecture that the reason is because those stories — if true —could upset traditional interpretations of evolution and history.
The National Geographic Society continues to stand its ground, claiming it has not discovered ancient giant humans, despite rampant reports.
To this day, the Smithsonian continues to deny it had anything to do with Kincaid’s cave.
Here’s the Smithsonian’s final word on Idaho’s G.E. Kincaid and the mysterious cave he claimed to have discovered:
“On April 5, 1909, the Arizona Gazette ran the following headline: “Explorations in Grand Canyon; Mysteries of Immense Rich Cavern Being Brought to Light; Jordan Is Enthused; Remarkable Find Indicates Ancient People Migrated from Orient.”
One critical report said, “The article includes testimony of one G.E. Kincaid who says that he, traveling solo down the Green and Colorado Rivers, discovered proof of an ancient civilization — possibly of Egyptian origin.
“The story also asserts that a Smithsonian archaeologist named S.A. Jordan returned with Kincaid to investigate the site.”
No other newspaper but the Gazette reported the story, and there’s no known record confirming the existence of either Kincaid or Jordan.
The internet no doubt helps keep those hoax stories fascinating the world.
Could the Smithsonian really have the Ark of the Covenant?
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Contact Syd Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Still, there is no reliable evidence … that offers definitive proof of a ‘race’ of giants that once existed. Large bodies have been discovered, and record of them can still be found in various places, including the Smithsonian’s own archives. These, however, only offer us examples of … large humans — not a separate race.”
— Micah Hanks, historic giant researcher and writer
NPR Grand Canyon restrictions
“Under the current park policy, all caves (with the exception of the Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa) are currently closed to visitation, except for research purposes. Please contact Edward Schenk, Physical Science Program Manager, for additional information (928) 638-7817.”
Articles about Giants
Truth or fiction of stories about giant skeletons may be debated for a long time. Here are two interesting articles on the subject, plus an earlier History Corner story about Biblical giants — the Nephelim:
“Jason Colavito on giants”: https://bit.ly/363sn7u
Here are 150 images of “giants”: https://yhoo.it/2Znny6e
Watch Kincaid cave story
An entertaining — though factually questionable — version of the story about Kincaid’s mysterious cave in the Grand Canyon may be viewed on YouTube:
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Invitation to readers …
Everyone has a story. Press readers are invited to submit their Community History Popcorn stories (“Tasty little morsels of personal history”) for possible publication. Keep them 600 words or less. The stories may be edited if required. Submission of stories automatically grants permission to publish. Send to Syd Albright at email@example.com.