San Diego Giant

From Kook Science

The San Diego Giant (centre), surrounded on either side by the anonymous exhibitor (right) and Prof. W. J. McGee (left) of the Smithsonian Institute.

The San Diego Giant was a manufactured mummy, once exhibited as the "tallest human giant who ever lived." According to contemporary news reports, the mummy had been discovered by unidentified prospectors in a cave near San Diego, California in 1895, and had been transported around the country as a travelling exhibit, eventually being offered for sale to the Smithsonian Institution; however, it was later reported, terms with the Smithsonian could not be agreed upon, and the mummy was instead purchased by Frederick "San Diego" Rawson, then a Berkeley County deputy marshal, who announced plans to tour it across California. Over a decade later, an article about fraudulent artefacts related new details: that the mummy had been shown at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, attracting the interest of members of the Smithsonian; the exhibitor offered it to the museum at a price of five hundred dollars; and the institute had a skin sample from the mummy tested and it was found to be gelatine, presumably putting the kibosh on any deal and opening the way for Rawson's acquisition.

For his part, Rawson was reported to have been involved with a travelling circus show that ran through the West for a short period before leaving California for the Alaska gold fields, and his collection of paraphernalia, left behind, was offered for sale as abandoned storage by D. S. Duggan of Berkeley.

Press Coverage

"Biggest Giant Ever Known" (1895)

  • "BIGGEST GIANT EVER KNOWN. Nine Feet High and Probably a Prehistoric California Indian. MEASUREMENT WELL AUTHENTICATED.", New York World: 32, 6 Oct. 1895,, "The corpse of the biggest man that ever lived has been dug up near San Diego, Cal. At all events, there is no satisfactory record in ancient or modern history of any human being nearly so tall. The mummy — for in such a condition the remains were found — is that of a person who must have been about nine feet high in life. This makes allowance for shrinkage, which may be pretty closely calculated. As to accuracy in the estimate there can be no question, as the cadaver has been carefully inspected and measured by Prof. Thomas Wilson, Curator of the Department of Prehistoric Anthropology in the Smithsonian Institution, and by other scientists. The tapeline even now registers the length from heel to top of head at eight feet four inches. The mummy is that of an Indian, and is almost certainly prehistoric, though its age cannot be determined with any sort of accuracy. Historical records of the part of California where it was found go back for at least 250 years, and they make no mention of any men of gigantic stature. How much older the body may be must be left open to conjecture. Its preservation is no matter for surprise. In that arid region the atmospheric conditions are such that a corpse buried in the dry season might very well become desiccated before the arrival of the rains, and thus be rendered permanently proof against decay. The body was found in a cave by a party of prospectors. Over the head are the remnants of a leather hood. The man was well advanced in years. It has been stated that this man must have surpassed in height any giant of whom there is historical record. This is unquestionably true so far as the last two centuries are concerned, and accounts of older dates are not well authenticated. Indeed they grow more and more apocryphal as distance of time increases." 
  • "Biggest Giant Ever Known: NINE FEET HIGH AND PROBABLY A PREHISTORIC CALIFORNIA INDIAN", The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA): 24, 13 Oct. 1895, 

at the Atlanta International Expo (1895)

  • "CHEATS AND HOAXES RECALLED BY NATIONAL GALLERY (FORGERIES)", Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT): 17, 7 Jun. 1908,, "The San Diego Giant. The mummy of the "tallest human giant who over lived" was being barked by a side-showman at the Atlantic exposition while a number of these Smithsonian scientists were there. They asked permission to examine it and when consent was given applied their tapes and found that it measured eight feet four inches from crown to heel. The giant had been found in a cave near San Diego. Cal., by a party of prospectors, according to the exhibitor. Over the head were the remains of a leather hood which appeared to have been part of a shroud. Worn teeth were visible in the mouth and the outlines of the ribs were plainly seen through the skin. 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. [F. A.] 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 gelatine. Professor McGee is shown on the left of the giant in the accompanying picture, and the exhibitor who was perfectly innocent of fraud, is shown on its right." 

Rawson's Acquisition (1896)

  • "FRED RAWSON'S MUMMY, Berkeley's Deputy Marshal Buys the Old-Time San Diego Giant", San Francisco Call 79 (56): 13, 25 Jan. 1896,, "Deputy Marshal Fred Rawson has purchased the gigantic mummy, 8 feet 4 inches in height, found at San Diego last year, and he proposes to travel with it through California as soon as it reaches Berkeley. The mummy is now in Washington, where the previous owners have been for some time trying to sell it to the Smithsonian Institution. The only thing that stood in the way of a sale was the price, and upon this the owners and the institution could not agree. Rawson, who is a professional taxidermist and a lover of curios, watched the progress of the deal, and when he found that there was difficulty stepped in and purchased the skeleton of the freak. Rawson has a small fortune invested in curiosities and rare specimens from various sections of the globe, and he proposes to put the best of these into a wagon with the bones of the giant and traverse California in real 'dime-museum-on-wheels' style. He expects that the mummy will reach California in May." 
  • "TO SELL CIRCUS STUFF", San Francisco Call 98 (3): 4, 3 Jun. 1905,, "D. S. Duggan has the remnants of traveling circus on his hands and is advertising a collection of circus paraphernalia for sale. The stuff is stored in a pavilion in West Berkeley. Duggan took charge of it for Fred Rawson, a former Deputy Marshal of Berkeley, who conducted the fortunes of a small traveling show through the West for a season and then asked Duggan to store the remnants in Berkeley while he went to Alaska. Rawson has never come back to claim his circus stuff, and Duggan, desiring pay for its storage, is preparing to sell the paraphernalia."