A local legend recently returned home to rest in a specially designed pavilion near the Trumansburg Farmers Market.
Many people are familiar with the story of the Cardiff Giant; it was dug out of the earth in the fall of 1869 and was thought to be a buried petrified man (it was not). Today it can be viewed at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown.
But Trumansburg was once host to its own hoax back in July 1879. A humanoid figure constructed in a local basement by village mechanic Ira Dean, the giant was buried in the dark of night at what today is known as the Taughannock Falls Overlook. The next day the giant was dug up by a workman involved in a road widening project near the hotel that was located there at the time.
The excitement that ensued lasted most of the summer.
The Taughannock Giant was recreated in 2019 as part of a program at the Tompkins County History Center and has had a hard time finding a permanent home ever since. You may have seen it resting on the porch of the Trumansburg Village Hall, where it lay prone for more than a year.
No longer a nomad, the giant received a proper welcoming ceremony July 3 at its new pavilion, where visitors can view the six-foot-long, roughly 800-pound behemoth.
Sandy List, Trumansburg Village Historian, spoke at the event and gave attendees some insight into the conception of Trumansburg’s own giant.
She described Dean, the mechanic, as a “hard-working, well-respected resident of Bradley Street.” The house he lived in is still on the corner of Bradley and Strowbridge, she said, adding that he spent much of his spare time during the winter working by lamplight to perfect the right mixture to form the “stone man.”
He had a well-developed sense of fun. “He saw his project as a good joke,” List said. The hoax was carried out with the cooperation of John M. Thompson of the Taghnic House Hotel, who thought the giant might drum up some publicity for his business.
Several helpers were also commissioned to help carry out the scheme, and they took great care to slip the stone man sideways through the side of an excavation site without disturbing the topsoil.
“For good measure, a tree root was wrapped around his neck, as if it had grown there over time,” List said.
Upon its discovery, several newspapers latched onto the story and some 5,000 viewers came to have a look. Forty-three physicians weighed in; nearly three-quarters of them certified the giant a “genuine petrification.”
Then in August word got out that one of the hired hands who assisted with the burial started to make demands. He ultimately went to the Ithaca Journal with his account of what happened, and the newspaper convinced Dean to confirm the story.
“As far as anyone knows the original Trumansburg Giant was broken up and lost,” List said. But with the help of grant funding, the story of the giant lives on through the recreation made by Rod Howe at the history center.
List thanked Mayor Rordan Hart for his support and vision for the new pavilion, as well as Alan Vogel and Durand Van Doren, who oversaw most of the physical work involved in the moving, adjusting, covering and siting the figure.
The project’s two primary grant supporters are the Tompkins Trust Company and the Trumansburg Education Foundation, both of which are acknowledged on the plaque installed next to the Giant.
“Other places were floated and didn’t work out,” said List of the decision to house the Giant within the village. “What I really think is that it’s Trumansburg’s story, so it belongs there.”