Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Scugdale

Scugdale – home of the Yorkshire Giant

Today is the birthday of one-time newspaper editor, politician, purveyor of celebrated hoaxes, promotor of a blend of fake and real, who is widely credited with coining the adage “There’s a sucker born every minute”. His dubious business practices crossed the border into the unscrupulous, and his name lives on in film and legend. He is, the one, the only, the “Greatest Showman on Earth”: –

P.T. Barnum

Did I have you going there? I couldn’t help thinking his resume could equally apply to a modern one-time newspaper editor, politician and purveyor of lies. But we won’t go there.

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the American circus promotor was born on this day in 1810, popularising travelling entertainment in the 19th-century1Wikipedia Contributors. “P. T. Barnum.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 July 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._T._Barnum. Accessed 5 July 2021.. One of his exhibits was a 4-metre-tall African elephant named Jumbo brought from London zoo for $10,000 which subsequently lived the rest of its life touring America. That is until it was hit by a train on its way back to its boxcar after a ‘performance’.

He also exhibited “human curiosities”, lusus naturae – freaks of nature. Some were undoubtably frauds, the legendary “Feejee mermaid” was a monkey stitched to a fish, but they were among his most popular exhibits. He discovered “not how easy it was to deceive the public, but rather, how much the public enjoyed being deceived.2Mansky, Jackie. “P.T. Barnum Isn’t the Hero the ‘Greatest Showman’ Wants You to Think.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, 22 Dec. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-pt-barnum-greatest-humbug-them-all-180967634/. Accessed 5 July 2021.

Barnum made several tours of England, and it was on one of these that he came across Henry Alexander Cooper, reputedly 8′ 6″ tall (2.59 metres) ,from Scugdale in Yorkshire, who was already working the fairgrounds. Barnum offered Cooper a deal, which he accepted and subsequently travelled across America with Barnum’s Travelling Show, as well as appearing in Dime Museums, and billed as “The Yorkshire Giant – Tallest Man in the World”.

Cooper is thought to have been born in Swainby in 1853 and worked at High House, the highest farm up the dale. By the time he was 16, he was working in the ironstone mines at Rosedale. It was here that he suffered a severe fever during which he had an abnormal growth spurt amounting to an astonishing 16 inches. From Rosedale, Cooper moved to the ironstone mine at North Skelton where he was spotted by a passing fairground proprietor3Elliot, Albert. Henry Cooper, the Scugdale Giant -a Tall Tale. https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/History%20Tree/11%3A%20Henry%20Cooper%2C%20the%20Scugdale%20Giant%20%E2%80%93%20a%20Tall%20Tale.pdf Accessed 5 July 2021..

Henry Alexander Cooper c1880
Henry Alexander Cooper c1880

By 1886, he was being promoted as “Sir Henry Cooper4“A Successful Farce-Comedy.” Milwaukee Journal, 8 Nov. 1886. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/GT3013784914/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=4cb1bca6. Accessed 5 July 2021.” and later, “Colonel Cooper5“Amusements.” Rocky Mountain News, 23 Mar. 1891, p. 4. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/GT3008795020/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=a6988ecb. Accessed 5 July 2021.“. He married a tall American lady and in 1886, his wife, Minnie Cooper, gave birth to a baby weighing 17 pounds. In 1889, he fell ill and had to be left behind in Calgary, where he passed away quietly at the age of 466Ibid. Elliot, Albert. Henry Cooper, the Scugdale Giant -a Tall Tale. ‌.

Finally, it seems that Henry Cooper had quite a female attraction. Here’s a report in the Rocky Mountain News, 7 Jan. 18847Chicago News. “Determined to Marry the Yorkshire Giant.” Rocky Mountain News, 7 Jan. 1884, p. 3. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/GT3010055421/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=c5e30ddc. Accessed 5 July 2021. :-

Determined to Marry the Yorkshire Giant.

Miss Emma Brandt is a slender North-side maiden whose lips close like the two halves of a muffin. A few days ago Emma paid a visit to the Chicago museum and her eyes fell on the Brobdingnagian form of the Yorkshire giant. From that moment her heart was lost. She has been a constant visitor at the museum every day since and she can always be seen moving around in close proximity to the giant, feasting her eyes on his martial uniform and plumed cap. The girl came again yesterday, carrying a bundle wrapped in manila paper. She informed Manager Coup that it contained her wedding clothes and she had come prepared to elope with the object of her affection. Mr. Coup assisted her to the platform and introduced her to the blushing boy of Yorkshire. He stood up, waved his arm over her head and gazed down upon her upturned face as one might gaze from a church steeple into the street below. Then they conversed a few minutes together.

“Have you made it all up?” asked Mr. Coup, as Emma descended from the platform.

“Yes, I have, and I’m going to marry him.” she replied.

“His diamond ring will make you a very pretty bracelet.”

“I think he’s awful nice”.

— Chicago News.

  • 1
    Wikipedia Contributors. “P. T. Barnum.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 July 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._T._Barnum. Accessed 5 July 2021.
  • 2
    Mansky, Jackie. “P.T. Barnum Isn’t the Hero the ‘Greatest Showman’ Wants You to Think.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, 22 Dec. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-pt-barnum-greatest-humbug-them-all-180967634/. Accessed 5 July 2021.
  • 3
    Elliot, Albert. Henry Cooper, the Scugdale Giant -a Tall Tale. https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/History%20Tree/11%3A%20Henry%20Cooper%2C%20the%20Scugdale%20Giant%20%E2%80%93%20a%20Tall%20Tale.pdf Accessed 5 July 2021.
  • 4
    “A Successful Farce-Comedy.” Milwaukee Journal, 8 Nov. 1886. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/GT3013784914/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=4cb1bca6. Accessed 5 July 2021.
  • 5
    “Amusements.” Rocky Mountain News, 23 Mar. 1891, p. 4. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/GT3008795020/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=a6988ecb. Accessed 5 July 2021.
  • 6
    Ibid. Elliot, Albert. Henry Cooper, the Scugdale Giant -a Tall Tale. ‌
  • 7
    Chicago News. “Determined to Marry the Yorkshire Giant.” Rocky Mountain News, 7 Jan. 1884, p. 3. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, link-gale-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/apps/doc/GT3010055421/GDCS?u=ed_itw&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=c5e30ddc. Accessed 5 July 2021.

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