"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gnome away from home

One of the reasons I love the Internet so much is that I am constantly discovering little nuggets of information that I never knew existed before. Here's an example: just before the new year, I received the following e-mail from a friend in Houston:

"Our garden gnome, a memento of southern France & memorial to a deceased friend, has gone missing. Tuesday or Wednesday, we noticed that the fencing on the side of the house had been knocked over, as well as a pot on the garden side. This would have occurred in broad daylight. We suspected an agent of the gas company. Nothing seemed amiss until today when we noticed that the gnome had gone missing. Since it is not visible from the street and nothing else seems to have been touched, it could only have been removed by someone familiar with the garden, acting with specific intent. We hope and pray that the perpetrator of this ghastly deed understands both the physical and emotional needs of this object and that one day it finds its way home again. I don'’t expect that we will sleep well tonight in the knowledge that it is probably very frightened and confused."

For some odd reason, this caused me to Google the phrase "stolen garden gnome", and the results revealed a fascinating slice of life which I had not thought much about previously. Evidently, there are quite a few people (primarily in France, which says something right there) who earnestly believe that garden gnomes are victims of "oppressive", evil homeowners, and must be "liberated from captivity". Some kidnapped garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world, being passed from person to person and photographed at different famous landmarks, with the photos being returned to the owner.

A little history: The first garden gnomes were introduced to the United Kingdom in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, when he brought 21 terracotta figures back from a trip to Germany and placed them around the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Only one of the original batch of gnomes survives: Lampy, as he is known (left), is on display at Lamport Hall, and is insured for one million pounds. Gnomes have become a frequent accessory in many gardens, although they are more popular in Europe than here in the US. They are thought to bring good luck to the tenders of the garden, keeping away evil spirits that could inhibit the garden's growth.

But not everyone feels this way. A French group by the name of "FLNJ" (Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardin) or "The Gnome Liberation Front" is particularly notorious, having been responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of "gnome-nappings" all over the Continent in recent years. After 20 gnomes were stolen from a weekend exhibition in Paris, the Front released a statement that said, in part, ""We demand ... that garden gnomes are no longer ridiculed and that they be released into their natural habitat". It warned that it would strike again unless the show was closed and all the gnomes released. On another occasion, the group claimed responsibility for a "mass suicide" of eleven stolen gnomes that were found dangling by their necks from a bridge overpass in the town of Briey, in eastern France. A letter found nearby said: "When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decoration". Clearly, this terrorist organization is far more dastardly than al-Qaeda ... well, at least if you're made of ceramic and less than three feet tall.

So far my friend has not received a photograph of his gnome in Abe's lap at the Lincoln Memorial, or any ransom demands, but as this event has unfolded we have both learned of a new phenomenon. All I can say is, it's a pretty freaking strange world.


  • At 1/03/2006 10:52:00 PM, Blogger Janelle said…

    I saw an episode not long ago of "King of The Hill" where Peggy bought a Garden Gnome but Hank hated it so Hank got rid of it and Peggy reported it stolen. The cops kind of brushed her off and said that happeneds all the time. I thought it was a joke but I never knew it was an actual serious problem.

    What kind of person would you have to be and how bad is your life if all you have is stealing Garden Gnomes to occupy you??? That's just twisted!

  • At 1/04/2006 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Toast said…

    Three words: "college student prank". College students will do anything on a dare, especially if beer is somehow involved. This gnome-napping thing is apparently a golden oldie: first mention of it appears in Australia in the mid-80's (see fascinating account here), and the prank is later prominently featured as a plot device in a 2001 French movie called "Amele". It seemed to catch on due to the somewhat amusingly intelligent nature of how the gnomes were used after being "liberated" (i.e., the anthropomorphic staging of the characters, etc.), which is, you must admit, a bit more clever than toilet-papering your neighbor's house. Our culture's whimsical folklore where "gnomes and fairies" are involved no doubt adds to the appeal. Like I said, the strange shit you find out on the 'net is amazing!

  • At 1/04/2006 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Janelle said…

    Swiping them is one thing, but actually taking the time to cart the thing around and send it to other people just to get pictures of him "moving" is insane, but yes, imaginative. Whatever happened to stealing road signs and glasses from bars?

  • At 1/08/2006 08:34:00 PM, Blogger CFOMahm said…

    When my boys were in high school, they and their friends would swipe Baby Jesus out of their classmates' families Nativity scenes. (Small school, small town). Everyone knew it wasn't a malicious theft as they would take photos of Jeusus in different places and stick 'em in the classmates locker. Always got him home in time for his birthday party.

    But golly, if you took my husband's gnome, he'd be out there huntin' for you.


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