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Short Stuff: Selling the Brooklyn Bridge

by iHeartPodcasts
August 17th 2022

You've heard the phrase "If you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you." But did you know it's based in truth?

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See would be okay with, oh man, he's gonna become a regular part of the show. I think so yeah, George C Parker was like a con man. Extraordinaire. Like this guy, supposedly he at least he claimed to sold the Brooklyn bridge multiple times a week every week for years. That's how good he was. No, that is almost certainly not true, but it is documented that he did sell successfully sell the Brooklyn bridge to a number of suckers over the years. Like it wasn't just a one time thing just once would have made him a legend. But the fact that this guy did it over and over again is really something. Yeah. And apparently this used to be a thing and not just the Brooklyn bridge, but you're in a situation in the, you know, sort of late ish, 18 hundreds in new york city where you had millions of immigrants coming through, uh, ellis island who were hopeful, uh, many of them were poor, but not all of them because you have to have some money to buy the Brooklyn bridge.

Although sometimes they sold these things for like not very much money, which is even sadder. Uh, so they were, they were targets, they were sort of greenhorn targets and uh, some of them did have money though and they would use, I think like, um, I guess scouts or something, what would you call that someone to kind of like, yeah, informants at Ellis island that could maybe be paid off to pass along information like, hey, this immigrant came in. They think America is the land of opportunity. They're really excited and they got a little cash in their pocket. Right? So the whole jam was with Parker's Brooklyn bridge scam was, he would find one of these people, a well heeled immigrant who just thought of America as a land of opportunity. And um, I thought that this was a golden opportunity. He would find them and show them, you know, some sort of deed that said that he owned the Brooklyn and he wanted to unload it. So he would sell it to somebody and, and just basically tell him like it's not just owning the Brooklyn bridge, which is amazing enough.

You can charge a toll and you could make your money back in like a month and then just get rich from there. And that was how apparently he actually attracted people. Yeah. And all this stuff is so it's very easy in 2020 to, to say, well why didn't they say, well why aren't you doing this? Why aren't you making this money? Why aren't there tolls and things like that? And who knows the answer. I think it was just a different time period. Um, as far as tolls on the bridge. Uh, they did used to charge when it first opened, it cost a penny to cross by to walk over the Brooklyn bridge by foot, uh, nickel if you had a horse, uh, and a rider 10 cents for a horse and wagon and then uh, extra money for farm animals if you were, you know, toting your farm animals, which is very funny to think about now, uh, crosses across the Brooklyn. That's pretty funny. So there was, there was at least a history where an immigrant may have heard that this was the case. Uh, they stopped doing this in 1891 and I think even the roadway tolls went away in 1911.

So you know, they didn't stop until 1891. So if it's 1892 or three, then you could sort of forgive someone for believing it. Yeah. Plus they were still charging those roadway tolls for, for decades longer. So yeah, I think the very presence of tolls on the Brooklyn bridge made people think like, okay, yeah, this is the thing, this guy owns this bridge, I'm gonna take over this enterprise from him. Yeah. And another thing you have to think about is the Brooklyn bridge is very large and it would be very easy to walk someone up there and maybe even show them a toll booth without arousing suspicion without getting caught without uh, you know, them necessarily thinking they needed to go over and verify anything with the toll bridge. Yeah. Imagine also if you had an in with one of the toll booth operators, you can introduce them as your employee. You know, I'm bringing in money. Right. The other thing about the Brooklyn bridge too. And like you said, people sold other stuff, monuments, plots of land and parks in new york city, basically anything you can imagine that they didn't own.

But the Brooklyn bridge in particular was like the scam because it was such a monument in America at the time of the turn of the 20th century, like there was the statue of liberty and the Brooklyn bridge and that was like the two big symbols of America. So people wanted to own it as well. The idea of owning this huge symbol of America, I just got off the boat from Croatia and now I'm, I own one of two symbols of America. Um, you could imagine how somebody would jump at that opportunity if they, if they really thought that this guy was legit. Sure. And I think a lot of times he would just do it to make a few 100 bucks at a time to some real greenhorn but apparently its legend has it, he got up to $50,000, which I did not fail to do the calculation, did you happen to do that? I don't know why we didn't do that. Let's Just say it's $10 million. Yeah, it's a lot of money today. Yeah. Should we take a break? Yes, let's take a break and figure out how much that is luck.

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Mcdonald's, I'm loving it, Love you. So we're back chuck and I was essentially right well how much was it? Uh so I said 10 million, right? You said 10 million. Uh it turns out, it's um it looks like it's about 50 million. No, no, I'm sorry, let's see. 123123. No, it's five million. Five million. That's jeez he really took somebody then. Yeah, imagine losing $5 million Bridge because again, like you're an immigrant, you're not really kinda hip to how things work here yet. Imagine going to the cops and then being like you're, you're joking like you just gave somebody $5 million dollars to buy the Brooklyn bridge like that had to hurt like just add insult to injury. Yeah. And you know, there was some wife in that decision that was going you idiot. That's every penny we have and some husband going, it'll be worth it. Right. I also just bought some magic beans. Right. Uh, here's one thing that's pretty interesting is this became so common because it wasn't just George parker doing this.

Um, there's one story that we couldn't quite get to the bottom of that. There was someone named William McLeod E A K A I O U O'brien who did this? But then other people have said no, that was actually an alias of parker but there were definitely people, this was a not the most common thing, but it was a grift that other people did to the extent that eventually on Ellis Island they had signage up and pamphlets that said like these things are not for sale. Welcome to America. Do not try and buy the statue of liberty. Yeah. The thing I've seen bandied about is you can't buy public buildings or streets and I was like, is that is that true? And I looked it up and I don't know if it's true chuck. Well what do you mean? Which one public buildings or streets that they handed out pamphlets that said that on Ellis Island. Don't you think that somebody would have saved that pamphlet and there'd be an image of it on the internet somewhere. I don't know that's your reasoning. That's part of it. It also appears in one book and one new york times article in the new york Times article prints it from a quote from somebody else who also wrote a book about.

But they're the paper of record. Yeah. But I mean the failing new york times, It's also Friday at five in the New York Times sometimes. Okay. Alright. Well who knows. It makes for a good story though. It is a good story. But aren't those the most fun to just deflate? Sure. I know that it did get harder to sell these public buildings. Uh I think they were trying to do that up through like the 19 twenties. But um you know, people became a little more wise to this thing over the years. Uh Even though Parker, I believe in his day sold uh the statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, Grant's tomb. Uh and the met. Not bad. Pretty amazing. No. Imagine buying the Met to get all the art inside to, you're not going to move the art. No. Arts included. What a deal. You know what I would have said is no, no, you don't own the art, but you can you get a lot of money for charging for the art to be there. Right. That's true. What happened to him though he got caught, right?

Yeah. He finally didn't. Apparently there was a four strikes and you're out law in new york at the time called the bombs laws and um they said that if you were convicted of 1/4 felony, the judge had no choice but to give you life in prison and that's what happened to uh to Mr Parker. He passed 100 and $50 check that bounced supposedly the Olean evening times said that it bounced back with startling elasticity, which is hilarious. Um and he served the rest of his life in Sing Sing Sing's prison as a result after all of those griff's and scams, he got life in jail for 100 and $50 bounce check. You know, there are four strikes in baseball at the time. So that all makes sense. Okay, now it makes sense. Wait a minute. Is that true? Wouldn't that be funny if that's how the judicial system works? Like well what's baseball doing? Right, what's baseball, I have to say about three strikes before. That's what we'll do. You can steal first I guess. Wait, you couldn't steal. Oh wow. I think this one ended in just the best way Possible.

I think it ended about 30 seconds too late. Short stuff is out everybody stuff you should know is a production of I heart radio for more podcasts. My heart radio visit the iHeart radio app. Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows

Short Stuff: Selling the Brooklyn Bridge
Short Stuff: Selling the Brooklyn Bridge
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