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There are ten Cardiffs in the USA, plus one Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
They are in Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and New York. The one by the sea is in
California, named after the wife of its founder who came from Wales.
We are visiting Cardiff, New York. It's upstate. Getting there isn't
difficult, assuming of course that your starting point is not New York
City itself but Syracuse, up near the Canadian border at the Great Lakes.
You follow Interstate 81 south to Scranton and take a left onto the
20 at LaFayette. We do it in Grahame Davies's rented Pontiac Grand Am.
The deep green forested hillsides we pass through look for all the world
like the approaches to Merthyr. New York's Cardiff turns out not to
be much. We miss it at our first pass and have to turn back at Tully.
The road sign is overhung with foliage. The humidity here is high and
the temperature is in the 80s. Two construction workers stand smoking
next to a section of pipeline they are laying below the highway. You
can hear blue jays and cat birds in the paper birch. In Cardiff itself
- one street, a graveyard, a Methodist church, a line of wooden shingle
fronts - there's no one about.
We come here - Lloyd Robson, Grahame Davies and myself, all poets
with the Welsh capital somewhere in our works - because this Cardiff
has to have a connection with our Cardiff. It couldn't be the other
way about, could it? On the Amtrak earlier, clacking up from Albany,
an old man in a faded suit had got on at Utica. He'd asked where we
came from and was told. "I'm from there too," he'd smiled,
"Walesville." The Welsh must have got this far. I check
the map. There's a Port Byron, a Lewis, a Newport, and even a Bangor.
But no Llanfairfechan. Actually no Llan anything. Not here.
This Cardiff is in Onondaga County. The Onondaga are one of the Six
Native American Nations. The firekeepers of the Iroquois. They made
treaty with the white man early. There's an Onondaga reservation smothered
by white pine about four miles back down the highway. If you didn't
know what you were looking for then you'd have difficulty finding
it. The road sign is daubed with graffiti. Onondaga Reservation,
where traitors, rapists and murders rule. Onondagan infighting.
Disaffection has upset the peace. Cardiff was once Onondagan land,
used to be. Now it's not.
Walking along main street in the heat haze is surreal. The church
tower with its clapboard clock plays a recording of I Need Thee
Every Hour - at a quarter to. It's like being at home, although
this isn't a Welsh hymn, as everyone thinks, but actually composed
by Annie Hawks of Cincinnati, in 1872. A shooting break pulls into
the vast Methodist car park, the only vehicle in Cardiff apart from
our own. A middle-aged woman gets out and starts unloading flowers
into the church's side-door. Other than for a Christening this, apparently,
is as lively these days as things gets.
Finch a believer
It wasn't always so. Back in 1869 the place buzzed with thousands
of visitors daily, travelling up from the big city to view the Giant.
This was the Cardiff Giant, a ten-and-a-half foot tall petrified humanoid
discovered by workmen digging a well in marshy ground behind Stub
Newell's barn. Its arrival was well timed. The mid-nineteenth century
in America had been one of great intellectual debate. Darwin's Origin
of Species had recently been published. The land was full of hell-fire
fundamentalists determined to prove him wrong. Stub Newell and his
brother-in-law, George Hull, were quick to capitalise. They erected
a tent around the uncovered Giant where it lay in its pit, and began
charging 50c for a fifteen minute viewing. Visitors came in droves.
Special transports were run from Syracuse and other outlying towns.
A gingerbread and sweet cider stall opened. Stub Newell erected a
shed selling warm meals, oysters and oats. Soon the Giant was getting
more than 500 people a day.
What most of these fervent believers did not know was that the Giant
had actually been carved in Chicago. It was made from a huge chunk
of gypsum and had been carted under cover of darkness to Stub's farm
by George Hull a year earlier. The colossus had then been buried surreptitiously
in the marsh near Onondaga Creek to await its discovery. In its manufacture
Hull had paid enormous attention to detail. Modelled on himself the
Giant's form was entirely human. Pores in the skin had been added
by hammering the gypsum with darning needle-filled mallets. Great
age had been simulated by scouring the surface with sand-packed sponges
and then dousing with sulphuric acid. His two sculptors had been paid
extra to keep their mouths shut.
Visitors split into two camps. The larger group were the petrefactionists
who believed the Giant to be a fossilised man. As the Bible told,
Giants had indeed walked the land in those days. God's word had been
made real before their eyes. Their opposition, the pragmatists, were
convinced that the Giant was in fact a millennia-old carving. Egypt
would have nothing on this newly discovered North American wonder
and the ancient civilisation it foretold. News of the Cardiff Giant
went around the world.
Taking their profits early Hull and Newton then sold the Giant to
a consortium of local businessmen. It was moved from tiny Cardiff
to a bigger stage in Syracuse and then on to Albany, Boston and New
York where even larger numbers of visitors flocked to experience the
wonder. But as with all things larger than life suspicion was just
around the corner. Scientists, convinced that human flesh could never
petrify whole, sought and eventually found evidence of manufacture.
Marks on the Giant's surface when examined close-up were found to
be consistent with those made by cold chisel. In addition the gypsum
rock from which the Giant was composed was discovered not have deteriorated
as it should have in the damp earth of Newell's farm. The Giant just
couldn't be real. Hull admitted the scam.
Despite being exposed as a hoax visitors to the Giant still came.
The great showman, B.T.Barnum, never willing to let a good thing pass
and unable to buy into the original, (although he did try, offering
$15,000) had his own replica made out of wood. Gypsum and wood Giants
were exhibited side by side at the World's Fair. Perversely the Barnum
fake fake drew more visitors than the Hull original.
In the century that followed interest in the Cardiff Giant waned
and the statue was variously boxed, stored and sold-on. It came to
rest, somewhat incongruously, at the home of American baseball in
Cooperstown. At the Farmer's Museum there, a sort of St Fagans of
early Americana with keepers dressed in style with their exhibits,
the Giant once again lies in a pit and is surrounded by a replica
of George Hull's viewing tent. This time it costs $8 to get in. The
two women in the line in front of me, from Michigan, wearing hats
and slacks, say they'd never have been convinced. The Giant's penis
looks far too small. They don't actually say this but I'm sure it's
what they're thinking. At the bookshop the matronly owner asks me
where I'm from. I'm buying a Cardiff Giant fridge magnet, six Cardiff
Giant postcards and a set of Cardiff Giant coasters. Ideal Christmas
presents, I reckon. "Cardiff," I say, "the other one."
"And where exactly is that," she asks, "some folks
were in here the other day enquiring and I just couldn't recall."
I tell her. Wales. "Well, you don't say. My people were from
there, on my mother's side. Wales, huh. Never been there myself. Guess
now I never will."
Back in Cardiff, NY, the graveyard refuses to give up any Welsh names.
We've got Bailey, Garfield, McIntire, Parkerson, Abbott, Sniffen,
Sherman, Wescott, Winchell. Not one Williams. No Jones. No Davies.
There's a Morgan but I could be misreading that. Here lies William
W. Williams, Pontcanna, who founded Cardiff, NY, in 1825. That's the
headstone I want to find. But the truth is much more prosaic. In 1839
one John F. Card built a grist mill on the outskirts of LaFayette.
He was a good guy, opened a store and a distillery, and people settled
just to be near. They wanted the emerging village to have its own
identity to mark it as a place different from LaFayette. They wanted
to name it after their provider of work, goods and alcohol, Mr Card.
Cardbury and Cardville didn't sound right so Cardiff it became. A
Welsh name among the slowly rolling Onondaga hills. "No one frets",
says the Rev Beachamp in his local history, "It might have been
to the top
Cardiff could be:
Jefferson County, Pop 72
Cardiff, Idaho, Clearwater
Cardiff, New Jersey,
Cardiff, New York,
Cardiff, Texas, Waller
Cardiff By the Sea,
California, San Diego County,
Pop 11,781, near Cottonwood Creek, full of sun
Cardiff, NSW, Australia
Walton Cardiff, Gloucester,
Cardiff, ten miles
from Newport, Pembs
Suburb of Bristol
Dark side of the moon
Sands of Mars