Forest City Man

A petrified man said to have been exhibited in 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Curtis MacDougall writes in his book Hoaxes: "It was manufactured out of a human skeleton, was buried near the Little Cheyenne River by James Sutton of Redfield, South Dakota, and was dug up by a friend of his, after which it was taken on tour."

More details about this petrified man can be found in a 1939 article by Elmo Scott Watson that ran in various papers:

The Forest City Man When Grandpap came back from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 he reported: "One of the most interesting things I saw there was a petrified man -- yes, sir, a real one. They found him out in the Dakotas somewheres, so they tell me" . . . It's true that it was 'found' out there -- in the edge of the Little Cheyenne river near Forest City. And that's why it's famed as the "Forest City Man."

The 'father' of this man was William Sutton, a butcher. Perhaps he got his idea from the fame of the Cardiff Giant. Or he may just have thought it up by himself.Anyway, he took into his confidence a young doctor at Redfield, S.D., upon whose advice a limeburner named William Horn and James Sutton were taken into the scheme.

They went to Redfield where James Sutton allowed his body to be used as a pattern and a cast was made of it. To make it seem more genuine, a real human skeleton was placed in the cast, after which it was filled with cement. Then the Suttons and Horn hauled it to Forest City and "planted" it near the river.

Soon afterwards Horn announced that during his search for limestone he had discovered this wonder. It was carefully exhumed and became a nine days' wonder in that part of the country. Then it was exhibited at Chicago, taken on a tour of the country and fooled innumerable people before the hoax was exposed.
Source: The Courier (Chatham, New York), October 12, 1939: 7.

Curator's Note: I can't find any record of a petrified man exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

An undated newspaper clipping posted on the website offers a few more details:

Newspaper clipping, Forest City File, Vertical File at the Potter County Library, Gettysburg, SD, publication unknown, publication date unknown. Transcribed by Peg Williams

Petrified Man Brought Sensation, 
South Dakota Hoax Taken to Fair Forest City, S.D., April 25 – The few real oldtimers living in Potter county vicinity today recall the sensation created in 1891 over the finding of what was purported to be a petrified man at the mouth of Little Cheyenne Creek near the original site of Forest City, and the subsequent airing of the hoax. Several prominent citizens of the state happened to be in Forest City when the report was received that James Horn, a lime-burner on the Little Cheyenne, had discovered the petrified body of a man in the bed of the creek. The prominent citizens and many local residents witnessed the exhuming of the body and swore it was genuine, especially when one of the legs was broken off to disclose a human femur in its proper position. The body was remarkably well preserved and showed every outline and wrinkle. The discoverer and a Forest City butcher named William Sutton immediately started a tour of various fairs throughout the country and found curious and lucrative audiences everywhere, especially at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. After that they sold the “man” for an unknown figure. Later facts reveal that Sutton had concocted the scheme and had enlisted the aid of Horn and a young Redfield doctor, whose name was not learned, to carry it out. From an Indian burial ground they dug up a skeleton, and a nephew of Sutton’s a tall young man permitted a cast to be made of his body. Into this mold the skeleton was placed and a kind of a plaster poured. Then the counterfeit man was hauled to the Little Cheyenne and buried to be later “discovered” at an opportune time. The hoax was a sequel to that of the Cardiff giant, discovered near Cardiff, N.Y. in 1869 and later put on exhibition. About two years after the first petrified man was unearthed, Sutton, Horn and a Clark of Forest City created a second one. This time Clark’s body was utilized as a model and the bones used were said to be those of a young man who had committed suicide in 1888 and had been buried in that vicinity. Once more a gullible public fell for the fraud and a Forest City post trader named James Reid obtained an option on artificial man No. 2. The post trader made a deal to sell the creation to a nearby farmer named Peter Person who was to pay part of the sum in cash and give a mortgage on his farm for the balance. But in attempting to persuade his wife to sign the mortgage a violent quarrel arose and the farmer killed her and then committed suicide. It was shortly after 1900 before all the true facts in the mystery were cleared up and bared. At that time the second “petrification” which had been in circulation for a number of years passed into the hands of persons living in Minnesota. The ultimate disposal of both homemade men is not known, but little was heard of them after the hoax was disclosed to the public.

The Forest City Man hoax is also described in The Missouri (1996), by Stanley Vestal.


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