And if you believe that, i got a bridge i’d like to sell you…
This is a phrase embedded in American culture, and refers of course to selling some idiot the Brooklyn Bridge. This all comes from one man: George Parker (1870-1936).
In fact, he was SO good at selling public landmarks that he sold the Brooklyn Bridge TWICE A WEEK for YEARS. Parker convinced businessmen that the city needed money and was selling off some assets (nowadays one could pull the same con in the name of “privatization”) and a person who owned the bridge could make a fortune charging motorists a toll to cross it. The police routinely had to come round and stop the “new owners” from erecting toll booths.
He would rent and furnish impressive offices full of hard working employees (other con men) to impress and convince his marks, switching such offices regularly. He impeccably forged documents offering proof of ownership on multiple properties.
One method of gaining marks was simply to hang around the bridge for hours at a time, casually striking up conversations. He would mention how he was going to set up a toll booth to collect fare, and would offer the mark a job working the toll booth and collecting tolls. Later he would confess that being an engineer, he wasn’t so savvy at the business aspect of the plan. Indeed, he had other bridges to build and wanted out of the whole thing. Other times he would be a government official. The mark would offer to take it off his hands and boom.
Sometimes, if the mark couldn’t pay the entire price, Parker would “loan” the mark some of the money needed to buy the bridge. He first tried the scam when he was just 20 years old, convincing a tourist to come to New York to potentially buy the bridge. It worked and he ran it for the next 45 years.
He sold Madison Square Garden numerous times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, and would pose as General Grant’s grandson and sell Grant’ tome.
His success in legendary. However, all good things come to an end and finally, in 1928 he was arrested and sentenced to a life term in prison, which was the next 8 years. He was actually extremely popular in prison, both among the other inmates and the guards who delighted in hearing his exploits.