On the Lighter Side:
GNO MORE GNOMES!
By now the many stories of garden gnome thievery have evolved into urban legend. American Nurseryman magazine reported in the October 1, 1995 issue that garden gnomes were becoming a hot item among thieves.
It is not hard to see the humorous side, as described in the article: “At one village near Devon (England), a local man was fined about $238 after 30 garden gnomes were found in his living room. According to crime reports, the statues were arranged in a half circle in front of the television. Some held fishing rods and sported cigarettes in their mouths.”
On August 8, 1997, Brian Harmer of the New Zealand News reported: “A gnome lineup will be held at Timaru police station today. Police executed a search warrant on a house after routine enquiries overnight. Thirty-eight stolen garden gnomes ranging in size were recovered. Police say that the explanation was that the occupants wanted to improve their backyard.”
Think this is stretching it a bit? Consider the infamous Garden Gnome Liberation Front, whose masked members struck repeatedly in France and Belgium a few years back, raiding villages and stealing hundreds of gnomes, scattering them in local woods. They claimed they were releasing the gnomes into their natural habitat. Predictably, a group was formed for the preservation of gnomes, and soon members of the GGLF were arrested and charged with several hundred counts of theft.
There are garden gnome lovers and anti-gnome militants. Search the words “garden gnome” on the internet and you’ll get several hundred hits. (Author’s note: This article was written in the 1990s, before the gnome craze went nuclear. Today I got 608,000 hits when I searched “garden gnome” on Google.) For every fanatic who fills his garden with gnomes, there are an equal number who think it is a major joke to “kidnap” the gnomes from the owners’ gardens.
Alan Neal, trends columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Ottawa, devoted an episode of his radio show to “Stolen Art and Garden Ornaments” after supposed pranksters removed “Stump Girl,” one of a trio of garden statues valued at $27,000, from the front of the British High Commission. Neal referred to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, author of If At All Possible, Include a Cow, a book looking back at the history of college pranks. Steinberg noted that there was a “lengthy tradition of ornament robbing, dating back to the 1920s, and including everything from campus statues to a four-and-a-half foot wooden fish from the State of Massachusetts headquarters.”
What is an urban legend? Stories like the lover’s lane couple who heard the sound of claws on the car roof. The guy with the hook for a hand. You’ve probably heard them, maybe you even know for a fact that they are true. You weren’t personally involved, of course, but your next-door-neighbor’s cousin was, for sure. In the same way, most people now have their own versions of the truth about the Travels of the Gnomes.
This is what really happened. A family in England woke up to find their gnome missing from the front garden. A few days later, they received a postcard-size photo of their gnome, dressed in tourist gear, in front of the Eiffel Tower. Over the next few weeks, they received more postcards, each featuring their gnome posing in front of a well-known tourist attraction.
Then came a surprise – a postcard arrived showing, not only their gnome, but a lady gnome, as well. A few more postcards came from different exotic places, each featuring the new gnome couple. The gnome’s original owners were baffled – they didn’t have a clue who had taken their gnome, and they couldn’t imagine who would go to so much trouble for a practical joke.
They needn’t have worried, though, because a few weeks later the household awoke to find their gnome back in his usual place in the front garden. He was accompanied by Mrs. Gnome and a small gnome “son.” The local papers, including the Kentish Times, picked up the story first, then the wire services.
This is the absolute truth.
As published in the magazine of the Cincinnati Flower Show, April 2002
Originally appeared in The Buckeye magazine, published by the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association.