How often have you been a tourist? How often have you been scammed as a tourist? Most people who have travelled abroad have a story to tell about being ripped off, pick pocketed or tricked. In my experience, I’ve been duped by a hotelier in Rome, and by a taxi driver who took me on a very scenic route to the theatre when I visited London. What’s the worst scam that has happened to you, as a tourist?
Whatever it is, it can’t come close to what happened to those who met George C. Parker on their travels.
George C. Parker was America’s most audacious con man. By the age of 20, he had already forged a career selling famous landmarks to tourists and immigrants. In 1883, shortly after the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, George met a tourist who had just arrived from Europe – and introduced himself as the over-stressed owner of the new bridge. He explained that he wasn’t interested in setting up toll booths and controlling the business; he wanted to move on and focus on building new bridges in different cities. The tourist bought the story, and the bridge, for a bargain price and began erecting toll booths the next day…only for the police to arrive and explain to the buyer that he’d been had.
George continued to sell the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for many years. In that time, he perfected his scam: sometimes he would give a small cut of his sales to boat and ferry operators – bribing them to tell their cash-carrying foreign clients about the bridge and its desperate owner. Meanwhile, George would erect some professional looking “For Sale” signs around the bridge.
During the 30 plus years that George C. Parker sold famous New York landmarks, he was arrested 3 times for fraud. The third time, in 1928, landed him in prison for the rest of his life. He was an extremely popular inmate with both prisoners and wardens, who loved hearing the many different stories of how he sold the Brooklyn Bridge. George C. Parker died in Sing Sing in 1936.