The plaque outside The Hall of Hoaxes read, "Everything the City promised you, but never delivered. Everything the Nation promised you, but never delivered."
Hyperbole, true, but what can one expect from The Hall of Hoaxes?
The Hall featured exhibit upon exhibit of hoaxes hoaxed upon citizens of the previous century. Lot of money during those Main Street days when Citizens gladly paid to be bamboozled. Who can forget the Great Hoax of the Giant unearthed? This alleged precursor to the Citizens' glory was, like all artifacts in the museum, an enormous but lucrative fake created from limestone. Neuter (so squeamish were the Main Street days Citizens that few questioned the naked Giant's missing genitalia). The Giant was displayed again, after the hoax was revealed, earning thrice the loot as people queued up to gaze upon the "false ancestor who gulled millions."
Am I a hoax? No exhibit for me here. Nor for promises broken by friends, lovers, teachers, innocence lost, disappointing lives...only the big things, the obvious things. The two-headed boy and the shin-bone of an angel. Skull of an alien from outer space and a handwritten love letter from God...
Disfigured fetuses in pickle jars; dinosaur eggs; cavemen preserved in ice. All sorts of freaks and hoaxes, but none so famous as the Fossil Giant, nine feet tall, three feet wide sleeping, arms folded across his great expanse of chest and sleeping peacefully on a slab of marble. His existence carved meticulously from limestone, down to the detailed pores in his bone-white skin.
The Giant had been unearthed in the heart of the Nation, somewhere out West, suggesting that before the Indians a great race roamed the land, the true inheritors of The Nation's great expanse of real estate. The perfidious Indians stole their land.
The City con-man impresario, originator of the hoax, intimated the original people of the Nation – not Indians – were a race of friendly Super Giants. White. Specimen pulled from the ground petrified, but intact. Nomadic hordes migrating from the North, later to be known as "Indians," slaughtered these Giants and ate them, grinding their bones to foot powder and aphrodisiacs. Away, away the community and culture of these friendly Titans. Dead. Hence, whatever Citizens of the Nation later did to the Indians was well deserved.
"Many people parted with their money to gaze upon the face of this giant unearthed during the height of the Indian wars," Plantman read from pamphlet. "One day an honest archeologist, posing as a typical rustic of the Nation – for scientists were not allowed anywhere near the Giant – exposed the giant for the Pygmy that it was: a life-like statue carved from stone.
"Headlines read 'Giant Hoax,' and much newsprint was devoted to the sham, which had already become famous worldwide, generating literature and speculation of a master race of Giants (some people in the Nation believe the legend of the Giants to this day).
"Unexpectedly, even for cynics of the Nation, the Giant and its creator made even more money after the hoax was exposed. People gladly paid to see the statue now billed as the 'False Giant who fooled millions.'
"Even those who saw the Giant the first time parted with twice the money to review the piece of stone that had duped them and so mesmerized the Nation."
I pocketed the pamphlet, scrutinized Giant. Old Time Main Street decorum: the naked Giant had no testicles or penis.
I left the Hall of Hoaxes somewhat disappointed. He had expected bigger, more immediate, contemporary hoaxes to be revealed. Perhaps the hoaxes of today are quieter, less visible, more discreet. Perhaps the Citizens of today are more subtly fooled.
Adam Engel can be reached at email@example.com. This is an excerpt of a longer piece called Topiary.