Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Giants in the Earth?

The bogus Brush Creek township stone tablet,
watched over by J. F. Everhart, historian and huckster
J. F. Everhart began his over-sized tome, History of Muskingum County, Ohio (1882), with a section on the earliest native people, incorrectly referred to by Everhart as the "Mound Builders". In the first sixteen pages, Everhart rambled around, haphazardly citing this historian's and that scientist's dogmatic statements about ancient peoples on all continents. It's obvious Everhart wanted to convince the reader that he was a learned and esteemed member of the scientific community, and that his story of the excavation of a burial mound and inscribed stone tablet in Brush Creek township in 1879 was absolutely the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 
So, what sensational story about Brush Creek Township did Everhart report? Everhart didn't tell the story himself, but instead relied on the text of two documents, the first probably written by him, to do his dirty work. The first document was a letter Everhart claimed was sent to him on March 3, 1880. (Note how close this date is to the publication date of his book; Everhart undoubtedly was in the throes of writing his book at this point, so the Brush Creek discovery was conveniently timed.) The letter--signed by Thomas D. Showers, John Worstall, Marshall Cooper, J. M Baughman, S. S. Baughman, and John E. McCoy--described the excavation of "an ancient mound, located on the farm of Mr. J. M. Baughman....rising 152 feet above...the stream called Brush creek. It is about 64 feet in width by about 90 feet in length...nearly flat on top" on December 1, 1879. The letter is replete with exacting measurements and careful descriptions of all the wonderful discoveries unearthed, giving the appearance that good archeaological methods were employed by the local farmers and laborers who undertook the excavation. The letter claimed that eleven skeletons, all measuring between eight and nine feet four inches in height, were found, proof that giants really did once walk the earth, even in Muskingum County. Not only were all the skeletons complete (despite their great age), the amateur archaeologists were able, in a glance, to distinguish male from female bones. In addition, so the letter claimed, there was, among the artifacts, a "sand-rock,...twelve by fourteen inches...upon which were engraved the following described hieroglyphics." (Everhart was careful to mention here that the actual letter contained an exact representation of the picture-writing; he would let the reader "see" the hieroglyphics himself from the drawing included in the chapter.) 

The book's illustration (above) was made from a photograph of the stone taken by a Zanesville photographer, William T. Lewis. The second document Everhart included in the story, was the text of Lewis' sworn statement of March 16, 1880. Lewis stated he worked at the Smith Gallery, and had "between December 20, 1879, and January 10, 1880,...photographed for Dr. J. F. Everhart an engraved stone, said to have been exhumed from a mound in Brush Creek Township...." From this point on, Everhart painstakingly and pompously explained how he, and he alone, brilliantly translated the message of the Brush Creek hieroglyph (which appears to have a message akin to passages found in the Old Testament), to the cheers of the scientific community world-wide. 

It should come as no surprise that if you go the archaeological exhibit in the Ohio History Connection museum, you won't see a single bone or artifact, and certainly not the inscribed stone, from the "mound" on the Baughman property in Brush Creek Township. A museum interpreter will confirm that the Adena people, who lived around 2500 years ago in what would become Muskingum County, were famous for building both burial and ceremonial mounds. But--you will be told--no Adena mound has ever been located in Muskingum County, although neighboring Licking County has a nice set.

Cardiff Giant being "exhumed", Cardiff, New York, 1869
The Brush Creek "ancient giants" story reported by Everhart was one of a series of giant hoaxes (read that both ways) perpetrated on the public in the second half of the nineteenth century. America's "golden age of hoaxes" began in 1869 with the elaborate ruse known as the Cardiff Giant, a 10-foot petrified man (a complete body, not just a bunch of bones) dug up in Cardiff, New York. A gullible public flocked (and paid) to see this amazing find, later revealed to be a sculpture of clay, ground bones, rock dust, and plaster created and planted by a local resident to excite biblical literalists. The premier huckster, P. T. Barnum, unable to buy the Cardiff Giant, made his own version of it, and then claimed the one his museum was
real, while the one in Cardiff, N.Y. was a fake. The phrase, "there's a sucker born every minute", came into being in response to news stories about the number of people willing to pay to see such obvious fabrications. (The sucker phrase has been wrongly attributed to P. T. Barum. In fact, David Hannum, who purchased the original fake Cardiff Giant from its creator, coined the phrase.)

Who was responsible for the Brush Creek hoax? A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch by Ohio History Connection archeaology curator Bradley Lepper says "Dr." J. F. Everhart himself was the culprit, concocting the story to boost the sale of an otherwise boring book. This fact came out because Everhart was not only a huckster, he was a bit of deadbeat. It seems, according to the article, Everhart didn't pay the excavators, and one of them sued him. During the court hearing, another workman "testified that he'd never been paid the $15 he'd been promised to carve the inscription on the slab and give it 'the appearance of ancient work'", giving added meaning to the word "chiseler".


Everhart, J. F. History of Muskingum County, Ohio with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Pioneers. [No place of publication given] J. F. Everhart & Co. 1882 [Note: Google J. F. Everhart, and you'll find no information. Goodreads lists the author as "Albert Adams Graham, J. F. Everhart". A google search for Albert Adams Graham revealed only that he was a Columbus publisher who spear-headed the formation of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society which is today known as the Ohio History Connection. Adams name, as author or publisher, appears nowhere in the front-matter of Everhart's book.]

Eschner, Kat. "The Cardiff Giant Was Just a Big Hoax"; article;; Retrieved April 30, 2019.

"Cardiff Giant"; article; Wikipedia Retrieved April 30, 2019

Lepper, Bradley. "Archaeology: Were Ancient Writings, Giants Pulled from Ohio Burial Mounds? Ummm, No"; article; The Columbus Dispatch Retrieved April 30, 2019.

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