4th January 2007
The Mystery of Arthur Caley, the Manx Giant, Still Continues
Manx National Heritage has recently received a life-size metal cast of the right hand of Arthur Caley, the Manx giant. The metal hand was generously donated to Manx National Heritage by Mrs Nancy K. Smith, the widow of the late Dr James Smith Jr, a surgeon and collector of arcade games and carnival memorabilia in America.
There are several identical examples known of the metal cast of Arthur Caley’s hand, some of which are on display at the Manx Museum. This new addition though is extremely unusual because it has a small compartment in the top of the hand with an engraved lid on it. The inscription on the lid reads ‘A model of the late Arthur Kaley’s hand, the Manx Giant stood 7’ 8” aged 22 years’. The hand also has a small metal hoop on the wrist and it has been suggested the hand may have been hung up on display or chained down on a counter, so it could not be stolen. It may possibly have been a snuff holder on a bar or shop counter, a curio that all the customers would have remembered. It is not known precisely when and where the casts were made but the fact that there are several known examples on the Isle of Man indicate that they were probably made here.
The background history of Arthur Caley is no less intriguing and curious than that of the hand. It was originally believed that Arthur Caley, or the Sulby Giant as he was known, was born in 1829. He was exhibited as a giant in London from 1852 and it was thought that he died in Paris the following year although, there were suspicions at the time about his death because his life had apparently been insured for £2,000. Arthur Caley’s life story was in reality far more complicated, because he was actually born in 1824 and did not die in Paris in 1853. Instead he reappeared in America as Colonel Ruth Goshen, the Palestine Giant, in the world-famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, finally dying of old age in 1889 in Middlebush, New Brunswick. The cast of the hand with its engraved lid was obviously produced after Arthur Caley’s apparent death in Paris in 1853, and the engraver spelt the name “Caley” with a K rather than a C; just as it sounds.
The story of Arthur Caley, or Ruth Goshen as the Americans knew him, is one that still intrigues people even in the 21st century. Manx National Heritage was recently visited by a Canadian television crew filming an episode of Ancestors in the Attic, a family history programme that traces viewers’ family links to famous people. In this episode they were tracing links to the Middlebush Giant (Ruth Goshen) and proving that he and Arthur Caley were one and the same person.
Yvonne Cresswell, Curator of Social History for Manx National Heritage commented:
“Arthur Caley was quite literally a larger-than-life character and is proof that fact is frequently stranger than fiction. If anyone tried to write a film plot with all the twists and turns that you find in Arthur Caley’s life story, it would be turned down as being too fantastic and bizarre to be believable. I am also fascinated as to how this young man from Sulby was able to convince so many people in America that he was Colonel Ruth Goshen and to so completely reinvent himself. He must have been a wonderful storyteller to have got away with it so convincingly.”
So the mystery still continues: when and where was the hand made, what was it used for and how did it get to America?
This latest life-size cast of Arthur Caley’s right hand can be seen in a display about Arthur Caley in the Lower Folk Gallery at the Manx Museum, Douglas. The Manx Museum is part of the award-winning Story of Mann and is open all year from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.