Winner of the Julie Harris Playwriting Award as "The Cardiff Giant"!
The Stone Giant
a comic history in two acts
by Thomas Hischak
Flexible cast of 5 to 11 women, 8 to 16 men; open stage
The Stone Giant is about one of the most famous hoaxes of the 19th century: the petrified cave man discovered in rural New York State and dubbed the Stone Giant. Most of the characters and events in the comic play are factual and the actual “giant” still exists and can be viewed at a museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Production rights for The Stone Giant remain with the playwright. For a perusal copy of the script and a royalty quote, contact Thomas Hischak directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
The Stone Giant
In 1868, self-made businessman George Hull sells his successful brick business in Binghamton, New York, and is out to have fun. He recalls being scolded as a child by his Sunday school teacher who first read to him the passage in Genesis about “giants in the earth.” After getting into an argument with a preacher about the “giants” mentioned in the Book of Numbers, George decides to create a giant of his own and pass it off as a prehistoric man petrified to stone. He buys a large slab of gypsum rock in Iowa and has it shipped to Chicago where he pays the Italian artist Antonio Salla to sculpt an 11-foot man in a lying position, complete with such details as pores in the skin and decomposed flesh where the body lay on the ground. George then has the statue shipped by train and then wagon to the small town of Cardiff, New York, where he and his brother-in-law Stub Williams bury the “giant” on Stub’s land. The two men then leave the statue in the ground for a year as they go their separate ways.
Paralleling the above events are scenes with two other men: the famous King of Humbug, Phineas T. Barnum, and the fictional newspaperman Calvin Triplett. The young Barnum is seen in Buffalo trying to sell side show tickets for a living cave man supposedly thawed out from a glacier. The public is not interested until the hairy fake dies and the public pays to see a dead cave man. Years later we see Barnum opening his famous American Museum in New York and he still wishes he had a cave man to add to the displays. Meanwhile, Calvin is seen writing birth announcements, obits, and other trivial stories for small newspapers while he pines to be a real newspaperman who comes across a great story.
After one year, Stub hires some men to drill for a well on his property and they discover the buried statue. Calvin is the first newsman to hear about the find and his coverage of the event brings him the notoriety he has been waiting for. The creature is proclaimed to be a prehistoric giant and soon thousands of people from nearby Syracuse and across the northeast are paying as much as a dollar to look at the discovery. Experts call the creature everything from a petrified man to a prehistoric statue to a total hoax. Public interest in the giant only increases. George returns to Cardiff and takes over the business aspects of the operation. Barnum hears of the attraction and offers George $60,000 for the giant even though he knows it is a fake. George turns Barnum down so the showman has his own statue created and soon he is hawking it as the “original” giant and selling tickets to see his version in New York City.
Calvin stumbles across some evidence that the giant was manufactured by George Hull and sets out to find the truth, knowing that if he is the one to reveal the hoax his notoriety will be secured. He travels to Iowa where he finds the stonecutter who quarried the rock and in Chicago he locates the sculptor Salla who admits to his creating the statue only when Calvin suggests the artist involved in the statue was an amateur. With further revealing facts, Calvin writes about the hoax and it is carried in all the papers. Yet both George’s and Barnum’s giants still manage to attract crowds. George slyly sells the statue to the colorful horse trade David Hannum and George and Stub end up making $20,000 profit on their “flim-flaming” adventure.
A few years later, Calvin has risen to Associate Editor of a New York City paper and he meets up again with George Hull who announces that he is off to the Holy Land to find bricks from the Biblical Tower of Babel. It is quite clear that George will manufacture whatever he can’t find, again making money on people’s willingness to believe what they want to believe. The play ends decades earlier with George’s Sunday school teacher telling the class about the Tower of Babel and reprimanding the cynical child George about not paying close attention to the Word of God which will serve him in good stead as an adult.