June 2, 2015

It Happened on June 2nd

P. T. Barnum Starts First Tour of the US, 1835

P T Barnum
On this day in 1835, P. T. Barnum and his company began their first tour of the United States.

There are so many good stories about Barnum's chicanery, that it's difficult to pick just one. Still, I think the story of the Cardiff giant is worth telling. The story doesn't start with Barnum, although he ultimately plays a significant part.

The story begins with a paleontologist named George Hull of Birmingham, New York, who decided to pull an elaborate hoax in 1868. There was an evangelist in the area who had been preaching about "giants in the earth" for some time and Hull had just about had enough of him. He recalled a gypsum quarry he had seen two years earlier in Fort Dodge, Iowa, that contained an unusual granite containing dark blue lines that resembled the veins in a human body. Hull traveled back to Iowa, and hired some quarry workers to cut a slab that measured approximately 12 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet.

Hull had the granite slab shipped to Chicago, where he hired a stone cutter, Edward Burghardt, and his assistants to carve a giant, looking as though he had died in great pain. The result was fantastic -- the giant was twisted in apparent agony, clutching his stomach. The sculpture was done in considerable detail, even including "pores" in the giant's skin, formed with a needlepoint mallet. When finished, sulfuric acid and ink were rubbed over the figure to "age" it.

The Cardiff Giant unearthed
Hull then shipped the figure to Cardiff, New York, to the farm of William Newell, one of Hull's cousins. Newell and his son buried the giant in complete secrecy, and left him there for the time being.

About six months later, a major fossil find was discovered on a farm near Newell's. The area received publicity in papers all over the country.

About six months after that, Hull sent word to the Newell's that it was time to "discover" the giant. Newell hired two workers to dig a new well for him and showed them where he wanted it. Surprise! What should they find but a giant, turned to stone!

The publicity was astounding. Newell erected a tent around the giant and charged people 25 cents to come in and view it. Later he changed the price to 50 cents. Controversy was hot: some claimed it was really the fossilized remains of a giant, and others believed it was only an ancient statue. Nobody thought it was a hoax.

Newell sold a two-thirds interest in the giant to a Syracuse syndicate, headed by a man named David Hannum. The syndicate rented an exhibition hall and raised the admission charge to $1 a head. At this point, Barnum sent a representative to view the giant.

Barnum wanted that giant badly. He offered Hannum $50,000 for it. Hannum refused.

Still, Barnum didn't waste time haggling with Hannum. He built his own giant. Then he added it to his exhibit, and announced that Hannum had sold him the Cardiff giant, and that the giant that Hannum was currently exhibiting was a fake.

Hannum was furious. He brought a suit against Barnum, charging him with slandering him for calling the "real" giant a fake.

When the trial came to court, George Hull came forward and told the true story of the Cardiff Giant. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be judged guilty of slander, since Hannum's giant was a fake.

Incidentally, it was David Hannum, not Barnum, who uttered the famous quote, "There's a sucker born every minute." He was applying it to all those poor fools who were going to see Barnum's fake giant. Somehow Barnum ended up getting credit for the quote, but he never denied making it. It seems it thought he could use all the publicity he could get.

The Portland Rum Riot, 1855

Mayor Dow
Maine had outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol in 1851, for all purposes except medical and "mechanical" ones. The law had come about chiefly because of the influence of the mayor of Portland, Neal S. Dow, a prohibitionist so zealous he was known as the "Napoleon of Prohibition."

Naturally there were a lot of critics of the law, chief among them the Irish immigrant population, which considered the law a direct attack on their culture. They were not big fans of Dow, and looked for any opportunity to discredit him.

Word got out that Dow had a huge shipment of alcohol, worth over a thousand dollars, stashed away for his own private use. It was true that Dow had arranged for a shipment of alcohol -- $1600 worth, in fact. It was for medical use, and Dow was only storing it until it could be delivered to the medical community. That little detail didn't make it into the rumor mill.

The citizens were outraged at Dow's apparent hypocrisy. There was a state law at the time that any three citizens, if they suspected that someone was selling liquor illegally, could apply for a search warrant of the suspect's premises. Three men did just that.

A crowd started gathering to watch at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. By 5:00 pm there were about 200 people there, and by evening there were somewhere between 1000 and 3000 people. Pretty soon they started shoving and throwing rocks.

Police weren't able to control the mob, so Dow called in the militia. The crowd wouldn't listen to them, either. Dow ordered them to fire into the crowd.

One man was killed and several others were injured. Prohibition was repealed in Maine in 1856. Meanwhile, Dow was charged with improperly acquiring alcohol -- it seems he hadn't bothered to get the authorization of the city aldermen before he made the purchase.

Dow was acquitted, but his political reputation was pretty much ruined, more from the carnage than from any violation of the law. The Prohibition Party did run him for President in 1880, but he received less than 1% of the vote.

Grover Cleveland Marries Frances Folsom, 1886

Frances Folsom Cleveland
Grover Cleveland had a number of distinctions as President. He was the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms. He was the only Democrat elected President during the years 1860 to 1912, which otherwise were years of Republican ascendancy. And he was the only President ever married in the White House.

Cleveland came to the White House as a 49-year-old bachelor, and he was considered quite a catch. When asked about the possibility of marriage, Cleveland would answer, "I am waiting for my wife to grow up."

What no one realized was that Cleveland was actually telling the truth. His intended was Frances Clara Folsom, the daughter of a former law partner. Cleveland first met Frances when she was an infant, and doted on her as a child. When Frances's father died without a will, Cleveland was appointed executor of his estate, and assumed more responsibility for the child.

At some point, the couple realized that their interest in each other was not just that of guardian and ward. Cleveland proposed shortly after Frances graduated from college in 1885. She then went on the Grand Tour of Europe, like many young ladies of her generation and background, and when she came back the engagement was announced.

It was not a complete surprise. The media suspected that Cleveland was interested in a Folsom woman, but they thought it was Frances's mother, now a widow. Once the upcoming nuptials were announced, they remained front-page news until the wedding day.

The wedding was held in the Blue Room of the White House.
The Clevelands were married in the Blue Room of the White House, attended by relatives and close friends, and the cabinet members and their wives. Frances promised to "love, honor, and keep" -- not "obey."

As First Lady, Frances Cleveland was a popular figure. She took over the duties from Rose Cleveland, the President's sister, who had served as First Lady while he was a bachelor. When leaving the White House at the end of Cleveland's first term, she told the staff to take good care of the building, because they would be returning in four years. She was right.

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