Have you heard the one about the giant mummy found in San Diego?
If not, saddle up, because we’re about to take a ride into a tale of tall proportions, questionable authenticity, and a generous sprinkle of intrigue.
It’s a story that starts in 1895 and involves a mummy that’s been hailed as a California giant.
Back in 1895, the headlines screamed, “Nine Feet High and Probably a California Indian!”
Well, turns out the hype got ahead of itself, and when they finally took out the measuring stick, our supposed giant friend clocked in at a still-impressive 8 feet 4 inches.
No slouch, right?
The measurement was no casual affair; it was done by the meticulous Prof. Thomas Wilson, Curator of the Department of Prehistoric Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.
The man had a reputation to uphold, after all.
San Diego Giant: A Hoax 13 years later?
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
The San Diego giant became a hot commodity, and the Smithsonian coughed up a whopping $500 for it.
Adjusted for today’s inflation, that’s over $16,000!
Big money for a big mummy, you might say.
The elongated, emaciated body stood erect in a great, narrow coffin, ten feet long. The exhibitor agreed to sell it for $500 to the Smithsonian, which dispatched Mr. Lucas to the scene. He, Prof. W.J. McGee and others made a careful test.
A piece of the giant’s dried skin was removed and when tested in the chemical laboratory of the Smithsonian was found to be gelatin. Prof. McGee is shown on the left of the giant in the accompanying picture and the exhibitor, said to have been perfectly innocent of the fraud, is shown on its right.
The Smithsonian later did a dramatic about-face, declaring it a hoax in 1908, claiming it was made of “gelatin.”
“What a remarkable find this was,” exclaimed Prof. Thomas Wilson in 1895, as he marveled at the discovery.
What’s truly baffling is that it took them 13 whole years, a considerable sum, and apparently a load of gelatin to figure out it was a sham.
And let’s not forget the original “careful inspection” by Prof. Wilson.
Did the giant mummy pull a quick switcheroo during those 13 years?
“I have dedicated my career to debunking these so-called giants,” declared Aleš Hrdlička, Smithsonian anthropologist, in 1903.
He wasn’t a fan of giants – he made it his mission to kick them out of the historical record.
Talk about a giant-sized grudge! Meanwhile, the Director of Prehistoric Anthropology, Thomas Wilson, and ethnologist W. J. McGee were all tangled up in this saga.
They were so keen to get the giant back to Smithsonian HQ that they threw $500 at it like it was confetti.
But why bother if it was just a sideshow goof?
San Diego Giant: Wrapping It Up
“The mystery of the San Diego Giant is a testament to the lengths people will go for a sensational story,” mused W. J. McGee, ethnologist at the time.
Little did he know that the mystery would endure, captivating imaginations for decades to come.
Thirteen years later—in 1908—when the mummy was being exhibited, the Smithsonian ran some tests and suddenly dismissed it as a hoax, saying it was made from “gelatin.” The fact that it took that long, and after spending $500 to acquire it, plus the fact that it was “ carefully inspected” by experts thirteen years earlier does suggest there may be more to this story than meets the eye.
Interestingly, Aleš Hrdlička, joined the Smithsonian in 1903, right in between the discovery and the final debunking. He was not interested in giants and made a concerted effort to eradicate them from the historical record. It is also interesting to note that the Director of Prehistoric Anthropology