It was 1925 and Victor Lustig was sitting in his Paris hotel room reading a newspaper article about the Eiffel Tower. That gigantic structure had been built for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair and was meant to be dismantled in 1909. But because of its height, it was used as a radio tower and came in very handy for listening in on the Germans during the First World War. Now, however, it was rusting and in need of expensive repairs and maintenance. The article said the State was having difficulty finding the money for its upkeep, and the journalist ended by asking whether it might not be better to just sell it.
Victor’s eyes lit up. That was it! He would sell the Eiffel Tower! Never mind that it didn’t belong to him – that was just a minor detail. He had been looking for his next project and this was perfect.
Victor Lustig was born in what is now the Czech Republic. His family was well-off and he received a good education, learning to speak at least five languages. But Victor’s greatest pleasure was swindling people by using his abundant charm. After his schooling he was arrested for some minor crimes and then he started working on the ships that sailed between New York and Paris.
By working, I mean scamming people, of course. He would sell them boxes that printed $100 bills. These money-makers would cost between $20,000 and $30,000. He would stock them with a few counterfeit $100 bills which would then very slowly emerge from the box as if they were being printed. Since it took about six hours to “print” one bill, by the time the two or three bills in the box were finished “printing”, Victor was long gone.
However, that game was starting to bore him. He was looking for something new and exciting – and selling the Eiffel Tower was just the ticket. He went right to work. He got some stationery printed that appeared to be from the Department of Post, Telegraph and Telephone, the government department in charge of public buildings. Then he got himself a fake ID. He sent invitations to the top five iron salvage companies in Paris advising them that they had been given the honor of bidding on an important government project. They were invited to a meeting at the Crillon Hotel, which had a reputation as a place where diplomatic and political deals were done. It all looked very official.
On the appointed day, the five company representatives arrived. Victor gave a convincing presentation, reiterating the well-publicized condition of the tower and the problem of maintenance and upkeep costs. Because of this, he said, the government had no choice but to dismantle and sell the tower. However, it was a potentially controversial action and required the utmost discretion. All parties agreed to keep the government’s secret.
After treating them to lunch, Victor put the five candidates in a limousine and took them to the tower for a look. A crew of workmen happened to be there measuring and assessing the tower for paint and repairs. But that posed no problem for Victor who told his bamboozled band the crew was there to make preparation to dismantle the 7,000 tons of iron. He flashed his fake ID at the entrance and took his group directly in to inspect the merchandise. He told the men time was of the essence and he would expect their bids the next day.
In Victor’s years of scamming people, he had learned to read them pretty well and he had identified his victim almost immediately. He chose André Poisson. Mr. Poisson was unsure of himself but anxious to make his mark in Paris industry. When Mr. Poisson came in for his second meeting, he confessed that his wife had some doubts and he wasn’t sure if he should go ahead with the bid.
Victor decided to put Mr. Poisson at ease by taking him into his confidence. He confessed that he was just an underpaid government employee. He entertained important clients in luxury, but in fact, he needed a bit of extra cash and if Mr. Poisson could add just a bit of extra padding, Victor could guarantee him the contract. Since Mr. Poisson knew that government officials were corrupt and that a con man would never ask for a bribe, he was convinced that all was legit. Mr. Poisson (whose name means “fish” in French) took the bait – he paid the asking price plus the bribe.
As soon as Victor got his suitcase full of money, he was on a train to Vienna. There he watched the newspapers every day expecting to see his name and his masterful scam on the front page. He waited and waited, but there was nothing.
When poor Mr. Poisson had gone to the Post, Telegraph and Telephone headquarters with his bill of sale to ask when the tower would be dismantled, they laughed him out of the office. He was so embarrassed about being duped and so afraid of ruining his reputation in the city, that he didn’t mention it to anyone else – not even the police.
When Victor realized what had happened, he headed back to Paris to resell that tower. He sent out five more letters to different salvage companies and repeated the entire process. This time, however, the prospective buyer did a bit more checking, found out it was a scam, and went to the police. Victor escaped just in time but without the proceeds from the second sale.
He went to the United States, where he resumed his counterfeiting activities and selling his money printing boxes. But the law eventually caught up with Victor and he was sent to Alcatraz prison, where he even conned Al Capone.
It’s said he had a postcard of the Eiffel Tower taped on his cell wall with the words “Sold for 100,000 francs” written across it. When Victor died of pneumonia in 1947, his death certificate listed his occupation as “salesman” in tribute to his greatest scam.
Drawing of the Eiffel Tower by Maurice Koechlin with size comparison with other landmarks/ Public Domain
November 15, 2015
In a state of shock after the attacks in Paris, the city of Nice has predictably doubled down on police and military presence, and cancelled all major city-sponsored events and shows over the weekend. But even though public gatherings this weekend were strictly forbidden by the Mayor’s office, this didn’t stop at least200 people from spontaneously gathering Saturday evening at Place Garibaldi for a candle-lit homage to mourn the victims of the Paris attacks. Unfortunately, however, they weren’t the only ones to show up, as a well-known and rather vocal group of thirty barged on the scene, singing a loud and aggressive version of the French national anthem and brandishing signs with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant slogans like ‘France for the French’.
It is worth noting the local Muslim community’s reaction to the Paris tragedy: immediate and unanimous condemnation, responding to the senseless spilling of innocent blood by a massive turnout to donate their own blood to the local blood bank, joining other Nicois of all faiths, in a most personal show of solidarity to help the hundreds of injured. The line at the blood bank went around the block with many waiting up to 3 hours to donate. The influx was so overwhelming that over a 120 were asked to come back Monday.
The Mayor’s office is organizing a chain of solidarity for Paris next Sunday the 22nd November in Place Garibaldi at 2pm.
Who doesn’t love Paris!? I was lucky to have lived there for a short time years ago – read why/how in “Solitary Desire – One Woman’s Journey to France” (available on most Amazon sites)
As in any city, it is wise to be city smart and aware of your surroundings, but according to Adrian Leeds, Editor of newsletters “Parler Paris” and “Parler Nice,” her experience of living in the City of Light as a single woman is summarised below. When I lived alone and worked in Paris, I felt safe as well and observed the obvious cultural differences that she highlights.
“Let’s start with Paris and why Paris is great for single women:
1. Paris is safe. Women can freely travel alone at any time of day or night in almost any district and feel totally safe. This is a very big difference! Do you get into your car and lock the doors fast, like I used to do? Or never go anywhere alone at night for fear of the car breaking down somewhere you wouldn’t want to be stranded? And even in New York City where the subway runs all night long and there are people on the streets at every hour, do you still feel safe wherever you are? I doubt it.
2. Being alone in Paris is never lonely. You can dine alone, have a drink at a café alone, go to a movie alone…and never feel lonely or really ‘alone.’ In fact, being ‘alone’ is the best way to meet someone! Most North American cities are such family and couples-oriented places that being alone makes you stand out, particularly as a woman…don’t you think? And so what do we women do? We hang out with our friends — and that’s a tough way to let a ‘someone’ into the space you had, but filled with ‘them.’ “N’est-ce pas?”
3. Parisian (and most European) men respect and adore older women. Women don’t have to be face-lifted or tummy-tucked to look younger than they are to attract younger men, who see them as wise, worldly and more experienced. And young women can happily and openly choose to be with older men. Age is much less of a stigma for both genders when it comes to love and sex. Remember the article in the Washington Post February 2008, “French Women Don’t Get Fat and Do Get Lucky” by Pamela Druckerman? She wrote, “Just 15 percent of Frenchwomen in their 50s and 27 percent in their 60s haven’t had any sex in the past year, according to a 2004 national survey by France’s Regional Health Observatory. Another national survey being released next month will report that cohabiting Frenchwomen over 50 are having more sex now than they did in the early 1990s.” So, women over the age of 40…go out and buy some sexy lingerie because here you’re likely going to actually get some use out of it!
4. “Parisiennes” dress! By that I mean they dress provocatively on a daily basis and love it, without anyone thinking they are…what’s that awful word?…”slutty?” Being “seduisante” simply means “attractive” and that’s exactly what they are. At 80 years old they’re still wearing fishnet stockings and high heeled shoes. You’ll see more skirts on their hips than pants so they can show off their shapely legs. And I’ll bet you’ll notice more older women braless than you’ll ever see on the other side of the Atlantic. “Quelle horreur!” Sure, they aren’t as ‘perky’ as they used to be, but who cares?…Not the men who are enjoying them!
5. Paris gives you self-confidence. With all these positive aspects on your side, you’re sure to feel more independent and more self-confident about who you are, both as a woman and as a person. And let me tell you something: that’s sexy as hell. Nothing is less attractive than neediness. So, even if you wanted to be ‘alone,’ you’re not likely going to be that way…at least for long! And you can live that way happily the rest of your life…single and happy to be that way.”
(Source/credit: Adrian Leeds Group)
Today, four years after leaving the police force, Gadenne, 35, has produced a series of free, short, animated video clips advising holidaymakers how to avoid being robbed and ripped off. The Safety Scouts Advice series covers most of the scams that tourists face when they arrive in Paris.
You are sitting on a sunny cafe terrace enjoying a drink when someone slaps a petition on the table and asks you to sign it. You smile politely and shake your head and they disappear … along with your phone or purse. Or a complete stranger come up and hugs you while rifling through your pockets, or insists you accept a “gold” ring they have supposedly picked up from the floor. Or maybe the taxi has taken you way out of your way en route from the airport to your hotel and is demanding an extortionate fare.
The videos, most of them less than a minute long, are produced by Gadenne with the help of English-speaking friends, and have been translated or subtitled into other languages, including Chinese, Korean and Romanian. They were originally made for visitors to Paris, hence the Eiffel tower in the landscape, but have since branched out to common crimes in other capitals.
“When I was a police officer, I dealt with literally thousands of victims of aggressions and crimes like this,” Gadenne told the Guardian. “I have seen how these scams can totally ruin a holiday. I’ve had a family with little children in tears in front of me crying because they have been robbed and aggressed. Some tourists are completely traumatised. Nobody can be indifferent to this when they see how it affects the victims.
Credit/Source: The Guardian
(Lavender fields in Provence. Photo: AFP)
(Performers put on a free show in Avignon at the 2014 festival. Photo: AFP)
(Prepare for wild times at the Eurockéenees festival. Photo: AFP)
(Last year’s champion Vincenzo Nibali. Photo: AFP)
(French DJ Laurent Garnier. Photo: AFP)
(British performer Sting at the 2013 festival. Photo: AFP)
(Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. Photo: AFP)
(Parisians flock to the River Seine during the summer. Photo: AFP)