|Snake Oil: Life’s Calculations, Misdirections, and Manipulations – Jim Rose
“The problem with getting a real street education is that you have to go through a lot of hard knocks and pain for the degree,” notes a review of Jim Rose and his Circus. “Rose has remedied that dilemma for the masses by contributing monthly to Punk Globe Magazine.”
Snake oil, ladies and gentlemen, is the art of the gyp, hoodwink, shuck, sandbag. Identify a weakness or susceptibility and manipulate to your personal advantage. The term originates from traveling “salesmen” in the 19th century who peddled a concoction, usually giving it an exotic name like snake oil, promising to cure all ills. Of course, it was a big scam and eventually the term snake oil came to represent any deceptive product or enterprise. The art of selling snake oil is constantly being reinvented, bastardized and ultimately improved in a perpetual, strangely perverse evolution.
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There’s a sucker born every minute
“P.T. Barnum is most often associated with the circus sideshow and the display of freaks,” notes R.J. Brown for the HistoryBuff.com website.
He is also the founding force behind one of America’s Barnum & Bailey Circus. Barnum is also affiliated with the famous quote “There’s a sucker born every minute.” History, unfortunately, has misdirected this quotation. Barnum never did say it. Actually, it was said by his competitor.
From 1866 until 1868 Mr. George Hull, of Binghamton, New York studied archeology and paleontology. Over this period of time Hull contemplated how to pull off a hoax. It seems that many an evangelist at the time had been preaching that there were giants in the earth. In June of 1868 Hull traveled back to Fort Dodge, Iowa where there was a gypsum quarry he had recalled seeing two years earlier. Even then, he had noticed that the dark blue streaks running through the soft lime rock resembled human veins. Realizing this its appearance was tailor-made for his hoax and it was easy to carve, Hull had [a] slab of gypsum shipped by rail to Chicago where he had hired a stone cutter named Edward Burghardt to carve a giant. Burghardt and his two assistants, were sworn to secrecy. The instructions were to carve the giant as if it had died in great pain, and the final result was an eerie figure, slightly twisted in apparent agony, with his right hand clutching his stomach. All of the details were there; toenails, fingernails, nostrils, sex organs and so forth. Even a needlepoint mallet was used to add authentic-looking skin pores. When the carving was done, sulfuric acid and ink were used, possibly smudged like printer ink, to make the figure look aged.
Hull then had the figure shipped by rail to the farm of William Newell, [and] in the dead of night, Hull, Newell and his oldest son buried the giant between the barn and house. One year after burying the giant, Hull sent word to his cousin on October 15, 1869, to start the next stage of the hoax. Newell hired two laborers to dig a new well near his home. Newell directed them to the exact spot he wanted the well dug and went back into the house to wait – anxiously. Sure enough, well into the day, the two laborers rushed up to the house to announce their discovery: a giant turned to stone!
Hull sold two-thirds interest in the giant for $30,000 to a five-man syndicate in Syracuse, the head of which was a banker named David Hannum. The Cardiff Giant was the most talked about exhibit in the nation. Barnum wanted the giant to display himself while the attraction was still a hot topic of the day. Barnum hired a crew of workers to carve a giant of his own. Within a short time, Barnum unveiled HIS giant and proclaimed that Hannum had sold Barnum the original giant and that Hannum was now displaying a fake! Thousands of people flocked to see Barnum’s giant. Many newspapers carried the version that Barnum had given them; that is, Hannum’s giant was a fake and Barnum’s was authentic. It is at this point that Hannum — NOT BARNUM — was quoted as saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Hannum, still under the impression that HIS giant was authentic, was referring to the thousands of “fools” that paid money to see Barnum’s fake and not his authentic one.
Hannum brought a lawsuit against Barnum for calling his giant a fake. When it came to trial, Hull stepped forward and confessed that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax and the judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling Hannum’s giant a fake since it was a fake after all. Thereafter, Hannum’s name was lost to history while Barnum was left being the one to say “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
“3 suckers were born every minute during the baby boomer era,” notes Jim Rose in personal correspondence.
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