Day 683: A Sucker Born, And So On

originally published November 13, 2013

Greetings, fellow passengers aboard this swirling turntable among the stars, as we swivel along at a brisk and oft-terrifying 45rpm, propelling our lives up the charts of human history for a brief fireworks splash before plopping back into obscurity, into the 49-cent discount bin of faded immortality. It’s time to get real, my adoring thous-manauts. These kilographs can’t always dance among the platinum sunshine and giggling gardenias of topics like murder hotels and tax-funded mass graves.

I need to get serious about an affliction that could strike any of us at any time and without warning, provided we are gainfully employed in the string section of a major philharmonic orchestra.

Yes, I’m talking today about Cello Scrotum.

Perhaps you’re more familiar with Surfer’s Ear, Golfer’s Elbow, Jogger’s Nipple or Nintendo Thumb. Apart from the surfing condition, these are repetitive-strain injuries that can afflict those who delve obsessively into their preferred pursuit. Much like Jogger’s Nipple, Cello Scrotum is a form of contact dermatitis that, according to a 1974 article in the British Medical Journal, can afflict the non-detachable tote-bags of males who devote their lives to the glorious timbre of the cello.

Except that it’s complete bull. Dr. Elaine Murphy and her husband had been amused by a recent claim of ‘Guitar Nipple’ (also not a thing), and published the letter as a joke – one that should be obvious with a cursory glance at a professional cellist’s posture. The Murphys didn’t come clean until 2009 though, so for 35 years this fictitious condition sat there in a back corner of the medical lexicon, potentially frightening young prodigies back behind the tympani.

And speaking of phony factoids devoid of common sense, you may want to hold off on taking a trip to Russia’s Well of Hell. Astute readers of the Weekly World News may recall the 2012 article detailing a Mr. Azzacov’s 9-mile hole drilled into Russian soil. The temperature down there was recorded at an astounding 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and when a special heat-resistant microphone was lowered into its depths, it clearly recorded the tormented screams of the damned.

Actually, astute readers of the Weekly World News know that this nothing more than a gag tabloid, like an early version of The Onion, only slightly more obvious about it. That didn’t stop the story from being picked up by the American Trinity Broadcasting Network, which aired it as definitive proof that Hell exists. When Åge Rendalen, a Norwegian teacher, tried to offer the Trinity Network a first-hand account of the hell-hole (in hopes of getting on the air and debunking it, no doubt), TBN happily conveyed this news to their viewers. Rendalen was not brought in as an on-air witness.

They didn’t want to mess with the fact that people actually believed this crap.

Another citizen who made an effort to play around with the biblically devoted was New York tobacconist George Hull, who had been arguing with someone over the passage in Genesis that states that giants once roamed the earth. Hull hired some men to exhume a large slab of gypsum from the Iowa ground, then commissioned Edward Burghardt to carve it into the shape of a man. It was then planted on Hull’s property until some men were commissioned to dig a well. Surprise! They found a petrified giant.

People were gullible – this was the 1860s and newspapers were reporting that prospectors out west had become petrified after drinking liquid from the inside of a geode. The giant was a believable story, and when George Hull set up a tent and began charging a quarter (later 50 cents) to view the petrified beast, the line-ups were immense. Archeologists claimed it was a fake, and even geologists pointed out that there was no logical reason for Hull to have tried to dig a well where this ‘giant’ was found. But the Christian fundamentalists declared it to be real, and that was enough for the masses.

Hull sold the giant for $23,000, equivalent to about $425,000 today. The five-man group that bought it – led by David Hannum – set up their own tent in Syracuse. P.T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant, but Hannum and his group wasn’t selling. Barnum, not about to be outdone in the Holy Crap business, hired a guy to sneak in and make a covert wax cast of the giant so that he could make his own replica. Barnum then plunked his own giant into his New York City show and claimed the Syracuse one to be the fake.

The fight between Hannum and Barnum heated up. When Hannum was interviewed about the Barnum giant, he uttered, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” a quote which has since been attributed to P.T. Barnum himself. When Hannum took Barnum to court, George Hull stepped in and admitted to the press that the original giant was actually a hoax. Hannum’s case was tossed out of court –if both giants were hoaxes then nobody had committed an act of slander.

But hey, the Solid Muldoon has to be real, right? William Conant found this in Beulah, Colorado in 1877 whilst poking around for fossils. He had been eating his lunch when he noticed a rock that resembled a human foot. A few hours of digging and prying later and the 7-foot petrified body was being studied. It was determined that it was not a fossilized human, but rather an ancient work of art. Even the Denver Daily Times claimed this was the real deal.

The body was exhibited, then it went on the road, attracting crowds across the country. P.T. Barnum, who just hates to be left out of weird stuff like this, made a $20,000 offer for the thing. Unfortunately, its creator admitted the hoax and snuffed out the flame of mystery surrounding the Solid Muldoon.

Its creator just happened to be New York tobacconist George Hull again. This time he made his creation out of mortar, rock dust, clay, plaster, ground bones, blood and meat. I suppose there just wasn’t a lot going on in the tobacco world in the 1860’s and 70’s to keep Mr. Hull engaged in his own work.

I love a good hoax, in particular when it fools other people and not me. Learning the truth behind them can provide a shinier glimmer of how our world really is. Plus, it’s comforting to know there’s one less condition that can harm our scrotums. That can only be good news.

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