There's a Sucker Born...
Newcastle — Most people would recognize the title and know its completion...Every Minute, and it’s certainly true, though a bit outdated. In today’s more populated world with on-line temptation there’s one born at least every second. Investigating the aphorism I was surprised to find that it was not uttered by P.T. Barnum, though he is frequently cited. The most likely purveyor was a banker named David Hammon, who was involved with Barnum in the Cardiff Giant scandal shortly after the Civil War. It’s quite the story.
The Cardiff Giant was a hoax perpetrated by archeologist George Hull, who, when exploring a gypsum mine at Fort Dodge, Iowa, noticed that dark blue streaks running through the soft rock resembled human veins. He took advantage of this to have a large block extracted and taken by rail to Chicago where a stone cutter (sworn to secrecy) fashioned a giant. The finished work, nearly twelve feet high and twisted in agony as though unexpectedly interred in the lime pit, was treated with chemicals to appear ancient.
Hull had the figure shipped to his cousin Newell who owned a farm in Cardiff, NY, for burial in the farmyard. Hull waited a year and then had Newell hire laborers to dig a new well on the farm, showing them, of course, where he wanted the well dug. It was not long before the diggers ran excitedly to Newell, telling of discovering a giant who had turned to stone. The bait was seized. Shades of the Piltdown man! Neighbors rushed to view the phenomenon. Newspapers carried the story. Admission, at first a quarter and then fifty cents, was charged.
Ten days after the “discovery” Hull sold a two thirds interest in the giant for $30,000 to a syndicate in Syracuse headed by Hammon. The giant was moved to Syracuse where it was placed in an exhibition hall and the admission was raised to a buck. Thousands came and coughed up.
P.T. Barnum was taken in. He offered $50,000 for the giant. No sale, so he opted to make and display a copy, claiming that Hammon had indeed sold him the giant and what Hammon continued to exhibit was, in fact, a fake (true enough!) The gullible now rushed to view Barnum’s bogus colossus, and this is what caused Hammon, still believing he had the real thing, to utter the famous “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
I set out here to tell a different story. Perhaps you have noticed in reading my recent blogs that some words or phrases are underlined and colored blue. This is not something I have done but rather the work of invidious advertisers whom I would wish to cease and desist. When I noticed this highlighting I tapped on a word and was immediately taken to the website of Zbiddy, an auction site promising valuable merchandise for pennies on the dollar. Somehow, and I cannot for the life of me think how, I was duped into signing on and buying 150 “bids” for $60.
Here is a scam that makes the Cardiff Giant hoax seem primitive. One uses one’s “bids” by mousing the bid bar beneath an item, becoming thereby the top bidder. Of course some other bidder immediately supersedes. Each bid causes the price of the auction to increase by a penny. How does the auction end? It is timed, and the clock runs down, just as in eBay. However, and this is the truly diabolical part, when the clock winds below 15 seconds, each bid resets the clock to 15 seconds! As a result, the clock runs between 15 and, say, 5 seconds forever, while frantic bidders vie with one another, hurling “bids” with reckless abandon as the price of the item creeps upward.
An example: as I write there is an Apple iPod touch, said to retail for about $320 that is currently the object of demented bidding by a large number of participants. The action has gone on for many hours while the bidding clock bounces repeatedly back to 15 seconds. The present bid is $96. Do the math. To get to $96 there had to be 9600 bids. Remember, you have to buy these “bids.” They are for sale on Zbiddy at sixty cents apiece though in fact the “bids” themselves are at auction and can be obtained for considerably less, though not nothing; and be aware that you have to spend “bids” to make bids on the “bids.” Goodness gracious! If we say that a “bid” is really worth only about a quarter, the iPod has currently bilked us of $2400. This is indeed the devil’s playground. And I spent $60 for 150 “bids” (oh the shame of it).
How does a Zbiddy auction actually end? It happens, because I have seen items disappear, but I have not been able to determine why, and the site does not explain. This being so I have no intention of doing any bidding at all. I’ll just wave goodbye to the $60, hang the “kick me” sign on my backside and move on. But be advised! Don’t click on any of the highlighted words in this blog. Ah, that iPod just passed $109.