David Harum, David Hannum, and the great Cardiff Giant

This faded yellow copy of David Harum by Edward Noyes Westcott grabbed my attention at a recent book sale in central Virginia.

standing spine

I loved the Art Nouveau style pattern covering both the spine and the cover.


Just like a number of my other books, I bought this one solely on the cover, again, not realizing the significance it had on society back in the day. Unfortunately, my copy is falling apart.


But, I think it’s in decent shape, considering it was published in 1898, and is a first edition.

Edward Noyes Westcott (1846-1898), a banker and commodities trader in New York, began writing in 1895 after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to quit his job.

Photo courtesy of the Society of Stuckely Westcott Descendants of America

Photo courtesy of the Society of Stuckely Westcott Descendants of America

Basing characters and diction off people he knew, as well as creating relatable situations and scenarios to both middle and upper class Americans (for the late nineteenth century at least,) Westcott, with the help of Ripley Hitchcock-editor with D. Appleton & Co.-created the third best-selling book of the nineteenth century.  David Harum sold over half a million copies in its first two years of print.  Unfortunately for Westcott, though, he never saw his work out of manuscript form, as he died six months before it was published.

One really cool thing about this novel is the behind the scenes aspect concerning its publication: it created a pivotal turning point in editing and fiction publishing. When Westcott took up writing David Harum, he did it for fun, not expecting anything out of it other than self enjoyment.  He eventually sent it off to seven publishers before Hitchcock took on the project and saw the value in transforming the manuscript into a bestseller.

Before David Harum, fiction editors only focused on copy-editing and grammatical errors.  However, to turn it into a bestseller, Hitchcock proposed that several revisions needed to be made, which Westcott did not want to do.  This left Hitchcock to rework the manuscript, which in the end was best, since Westcott died shortly after.  Hitchcock, who also edited Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, as well as works by Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle, cut out 30,000 words, reorganized the beginning, changed the focus of the plot from one character to the character of David Harum, and strengthened a romance side plot.  These changes, plus the comedic relief of Hanum, created the bestseller that was eventually adapted to a play, and later, a film.

Interestingly enough, several critics, and one individual who wrote an entire book on the subject, remarked about the numerous similarities between the main character David Harum, of Homeville, N.Y., and a real person named David Hannum, of Homer, N.Y.  Both were bankers and horse traders.

Image from Arthur Vance's 'The Real David Harum'

Image from Arthur Vance’s ‘The Real David Harum’

Hannum was associated with the Cardiff Giant– a 10ft ‘petrified man’ found in Cardiff, N.Y. Hannum was part of a syndicate that bought the ‘petrified man,’ paraded it around, and charged entrance fees to see it.

Cardiff Giant

P. T. Barnum, of Barnum and Bailey’s circus, offered Hannum and his syndicate $50,000 for the giant, which Hannum refused.

Phineas Taylor Barnum

Phineas Taylor Barnum, c. 1860.

Barnum commissioned his own giant to be created, exhibited it, and then called Hannum’s giant a fake.  Hannum sued Barnum for slander, but in court, both giants were concluded to be fakes!

There hasn’t been any real evidence that Westcott’s character David Harum is indeed David Hannum, besides Westcott’s sister’s insistence in a public defense.

Phew. Who knew there was so much behind this one little book?  That’s what I love about research-you never know just exactly what you’ll find until you start digging!

David Harum, like The Leavenworth Case, has been transcribed as part of Project Gutenberg.  If you enjoy older fiction with a comedic flair, this might just be right up your alley!

Further Reading:

Brady, Matthew.  ‘Portrait of Phineas Taylor Barnum.’ National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. c.1860. Image. 13 August 2013 http://www.civilwar.si.edu/brady_images/l_barnum_m253.jpg

David Harum Co. ‘David Harum, play at the Baker Theatre.’ Dover Historical Society. 2 May 2013. Web. 11 August 2013 http://doverhistoricalsociety.com/library/pdfs/davidharum.pdf

Gott. Calvin, O. ‘The Great Cardiff Giant.’ Donald Simanek’s Pages. 19 January 2010. Image. 13 August 2013 http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/cardiff.htm

Ladewig, Brian G. Edward Noyes Westcott’s David Harum: A Forgotten Cultural Artifact. The Courier (1996): 107-124. Syracuse University SUrface. Web. 11 August 2013 http://surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1054&context=libassoc

Sellers, Christine. ‘The Hoax is on You: A Short Question about a Tall Tale.’ Weblog entry. Library of Congress. 25 August 2011. 13 August 2013 http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2011/08/the-hoax-is-on-you-a-short-question-about-a-tall-tale/

Society of Stukely Westcott Descendents of America. ‘Edward Noyes Westcott.’ Society of Stukely Westcott Descendents of America. 10 February 2008. Image. 11 August 2013 http://old.sswda.org/Archives/People/Bios/Westcott_Edward_Noyes_Bio.htm

Stegner, Wallace. ‘Review of David Harum by Edward Noyes Westcott.’ The Georgia Review 11.1 (1957): 94-99. JSTOR. Web. 11 August 2013.

Vance, Arthur Turner.  The Real David Harrum: The Wise Ways and Droll Sayings of One Dave Hannum, of Homer N.Y.; the Original Hero of Mr. Westcott’s Popular Book. New York: The Baker and Taylor Company, 1900.  Web.  11 August 2013 http://archive.org/details/realdavidharumw00vancgoog

Westcott, Edward Noyes.  David Harum: A Story of American Life. New York: D. Appleton & Co, 1898. Project Gutenberg. 28 January 2006. Web. 13 August 2013 http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17617


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Filed under 1890s, Art Nouveau, Books

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