Real Cardiff USA

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Real Cardiff
Bute Street
Charles Street
City Road
Flat Holm
The Four Elms
The Garth
Gorsedd Gardens
Hadfield Road
Lloyd George Ave
Mount Stuart Square
Newport Road

The Parks of Roath
The Pearl


Womanby St.

Real Cardiff #2
The Canna
Billy Banks
Ely Fields
Llys TalyBont

Cardiff Poets Map

Cardiff, New York

Shots of the Bay
and the City

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Hamadryad Park
The Bay
St David's Hall
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Check Your Accent
Ffynnon Denis

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There are ten Cardiffs in the USA, plus one Cardiff-by-the-Sea. They are in Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and New York. The one by the sea is in California, named after the wife of its founder who came from Wales. We are visiting Cardiff, New York. It's upstate. Getting there isn't difficult, assuming of course that your starting point is not New York City itself but Syracuse, up near the Canadian border at the Great Lakes. You follow Interstate 81 south to Scranton and take a left onto the 20 at LaFayette. We do it in Grahame Davies's rented Pontiac Grand Am. The deep green forested hillsides we pass through look for all the world like the approaches to Merthyr. New York's Cardiff turns out not to be much. We miss it at our first pass and have to turn back at Tully. The road sign is overhung with foliage. The humidity here is high and the temperature is in the 80s. Two construction workers stand smoking next to a section of pipeline they are laying below the highway. You can hear blue jays and cat birds in the paper birch. In Cardiff itself - one street, a graveyard, a Methodist church, a line of wooden shingle fronts - there's no one about.

We come here - Lloyd Robson, Grahame Davies and myself, all poets with the Welsh capital somewhere in our works - because this Cardiff has to have a connection with our Cardiff. It couldn't be the other way about, could it? On the Amtrak earlier, clacking up from Albany, an old man in a faded suit had got on at Utica. He'd asked where we came from and was told. "I'm from there too," he'd smiled, "Walesville." The Welsh must have got this far. I check the map. There's a Port Byron, a Lewis, a Newport, and even a Bangor. But no Llanfairfechan. Actually no Llan anything. Not here.

This Cardiff is in Onondaga County. The Onondaga are one of the Six Native American Nations. The firekeepers of the Iroquois. They made treaty with the white man early. There's an Onondaga reservation smothered by white pine about four miles back down the highway. If you didn't know what you were looking for then you'd have difficulty finding it. The road sign is daubed with graffiti. Onondaga Reservation, where traitors, rapists and murders rule. Onondagan infighting. Disaffection has upset the peace. Cardiff was once Onondagan land, used to be. Now it's not.

Walking along main street in the heat haze is surreal. The church tower with its clapboard clock plays a recording of I Need Thee Every Hour - at a quarter to. It's like being at home, although this isn't a Welsh hymn, as everyone thinks, but actually composed by Annie Hawks of Cincinnati, in 1872. A shooting break pulls into the vast Methodist car park, the only vehicle in Cardiff apart from our own. A middle-aged woman gets out and starts unloading flowers into the church's side-door. Other than for a Christening this, apparently, is as lively these days as things gets.

could be home but for the name of the pastor
Finch a believer

It wasn't always so. Back in 1869 the place buzzed with thousands of visitors daily, travelling up from the big city to view the Giant. This was the Cardiff Giant, a ten-and-a-half foot tall petrified humanoid discovered by workmen digging a well in marshy ground behind Stub Newell's barn. Its arrival was well timed. The mid-nineteenth century in America had been one of great intellectual debate. Darwin's Origin of Species had recently been published. The land was full of hell-fire fundamentalists determined to prove him wrong. Stub Newell and his brother-in-law, George Hull, were quick to capitalise. They erected a tent around the uncovered Giant where it lay in its pit, and began charging 50c for a fifteen minute viewing. Visitors came in droves. Special transports were run from Syracuse and other outlying towns. A gingerbread and sweet cider stall opened. Stub Newell erected a shed selling warm meals, oysters and oats. Soon the Giant was getting more than 500 people a day.

What most of these fervent believers did not know was that the Giant had actually been carved in Chicago. It was made from a huge chunk of gypsum and had been carted under cover of darkness to Stub's farm by George Hull a year earlier. The colossus had then been buried surreptitiously in the marsh near Onondaga Creek to await its discovery. In its manufacture Hull had paid enormous attention to detail. Modelled on himself the Giant's form was entirely human. Pores in the skin had been added by hammering the gypsum with darning needle-filled mallets. Great age had been simulated by scouring the surface with sand-packed sponges and then dousing with sulphuric acid. His two sculptors had been paid extra to keep their mouths shut.

Visitors split into two camps. The larger group were the petrefactionists who believed the Giant to be a fossilised man. As the Bible told, Giants had indeed walked the land in those days. God's word had been made real before their eyes. Their opposition, the pragmatists, were convinced that the Giant was in fact a millennia-old carving. Egypt would have nothing on this newly discovered North American wonder and the ancient civilisation it foretold. News of the Cardiff Giant went around the world.

Taking their profits early Hull and Newton then sold the Giant to a consortium of local businessmen. It was moved from tiny Cardiff to a bigger stage in Syracuse and then on to Albany, Boston and New York where even larger numbers of visitors flocked to experience the wonder. But as with all things larger than life suspicion was just around the corner. Scientists, convinced that human flesh could never petrify whole, sought and eventually found evidence of manufacture. Marks on the Giant's surface when examined close-up were found to be consistent with those made by cold chisel. In addition the gypsum rock from which the Giant was composed was discovered not have deteriorated as it should have in the damp earth of Newell's farm. The Giant just couldn't be real. Hull admitted the scam.

Despite being exposed as a hoax visitors to the Giant still came. The great showman, B.T.Barnum, never willing to let a good thing pass and unable to buy into the original, (although he did try, offering $15,000) had his own replica made out of wood. Gypsum and wood Giants were exhibited side by side at the World's Fair. Perversely the Barnum fake fake drew more visitors than the Hull original.

In the century that followed interest in the Cardiff Giant waned and the statue was variously boxed, stored and sold-on. It came to rest, somewhat incongruously, at the home of American baseball in Cooperstown. At the Farmer's Museum there, a sort of St Fagans of early Americana with keepers dressed in style with their exhibits, the Giant once again lies in a pit and is surrounded by a replica of George Hull's viewing tent. This time it costs $8 to get in. The two women in the line in front of me, from Michigan, wearing hats and slacks, say they'd never have been convinced. The Giant's penis looks far too small. They don't actually say this but I'm sure it's what they're thinking. At the bookshop the matronly owner asks me where I'm from. I'm buying a Cardiff Giant fridge magnet, six Cardiff Giant postcards and a set of Cardiff Giant coasters. Ideal Christmas presents, I reckon. "Cardiff," I say, "the other one." "And where exactly is that," she asks, "some folks were in here the other day enquiring and I just couldn't recall." I tell her. Wales. "Well, you don't say. My people were from there, on my mother's side. Wales, huh. Never been there myself. Guess now I never will."

The banner outside the Cooperstown tent

Back in Cardiff, NY, the graveyard refuses to give up any Welsh names. We've got Bailey, Garfield, McIntire, Parkerson, Abbott, Sniffen, Sherman, Wescott, Winchell. Not one Williams. No Jones. No Davies. There's a Morgan but I could be misreading that. Here lies William W. Williams, Pontcanna, who founded Cardiff, NY, in 1825. That's the headstone I want to find. But the truth is much more prosaic. In 1839 one John F. Card built a grist mill on the outskirts of LaFayette. He was a good guy, opened a store and a distillery, and people settled just to be near. They wanted the emerging village to have its own identity to mark it as a place different from LaFayette. They wanted to name it after their provider of work, goods and alcohol, Mr Card. Cardbury and Cardville didn't sound right so Cardiff it became. A Welsh name among the slowly rolling Onondaga hills. "No one frets", says the Rev Beachamp in his local history, "It might have been worse".

Peter Finch

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Real Cardiff




Cardiff could be:

Cardiff, Alabama, Jefferson County, Pop 72

Cardiff, Colorado, Garfield County

Cardiff, Idaho, Clearwater County

Cardiff, Illinois, Livingston County

Cardiff, Maryland, Harford County

Cardiff, New Jersey, Atlantic County

Cardiff, New York, Onondaga County

Cardiff, Pennsylvania, Cambria County

Cardiff, Tennessee, Roane County

Cardiff, Texas, Waller County

Cardiff By the Sea, California, San Diego County,
Pop 11,781, near Cottonwood Creek, full of sun

Cardiff, NSW, Australia

Walton Cardiff, Gloucester, rain

Cardiff, ten miles from Newport, Pembs

Suburb of Bristol

Dark side of the moon

Sands of Mars