Arthur Furguson the Scottish con artist
Arthur Furguson, a retired actor who was born in Glasgow, found his calling: selling famous monuments to the wealthy and gullible.
Arthur was a terrific salesman. He was totally unaware of this talent until one day the perfect opportunity presented itself to him. This took place in Trafalgar Square on a bright sunny morning in 1923. The source of his revelation was a rich American from Iowa, who he found staring reverently at Nelson's Column.
He told the American that he was the official guide to the Square, and explained that the statue on top of the column was of Admiral Lord Nelson, one of Britain's most famous seafarers and naval heroes. He had died during the Battle of Trafalgar, after which the square was named. With a sigh he said that the Square wouldn’t be the same without it. He told the American that the government had decided to sell off the landmark – lions and fountains included – to the highest bidder.
Immediately interested, the American inquired about the price. He was told that it was to be sold for £6000. However, the monument had to go to the right buyer: someone who would protect and appreciate a monument of this scale.
Furguson explained that this was a top secret and he had been entrusted by the government with the task of organising the sale. The American pleaded with Furguson to allow him to go to the top of the queue. At last he relented and telephoned his employers for instructions. He returned within a matter of minutes. He revealed that the British Government was prepared to accept a cheque right away, to complete the deal as soon as possible.
Absolutely amazed, Furguson immediately went to cash the cheque while his customer got in touch with some contractors who were extremely reluctant to accept the job and told him why. Unbelieving, the tourist took his story to Scotland Yard, who ensured him that Nelson’s Column was not for sale and never had been. He finally believed he had been conned, but it was too late, and Furguson got away.
Realizing the ease with which he could make money selling off monuments, Furguson continued his work. That summer proved to be a profitable one as far as he was concerned. The police however, were far from happy. Another American complained that he had paid £1000 for Big Ben, and another had made a £2000 down payment on Buckingham Palace.
During a visit to Paris he managed to sell the Eiffel Tower to another American for scrap at an unknown price. Since Americans had all been his best customers, he decided to continue his work in USA as he believed it was the land of opportunity. Their wealth, arrogance and gullibility made
them the perfect targets for his work. He succeeded in leasing the White House to a Texan cattle-rancher for 99 years at $100,000 a year in 1925, with the first year's rent payable in advance. Furguson's bank balance was very healthy indeed and he was able to retire. However, his ego got the better of him for he wanted to end his career with a grand finale.
During a trip to New York, he found the perfect victim, an Australian from Sydney. Furguson told him that the entrance to New York harbour was to be widened and unfortunately, the Statue of Liberty was in the way. However, sentimental attachment was not going to stop the path of progress, and the US State Department was prepared to sell it to anyone who would take it away.
Over the next couple of days the Australian attempted to raise the £100,000 deposit. Furguson never left his side, carefully keeping him away from anyone with whom he might be tempted to boast about his venture. Furguson kindly allowed himself to be photographed with his buyer, arm in arm in front of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, there was a delay in getting the money through. Furguson grew impatient, and the Australian was suspicious. He took the photograph of himself and Furguson to the police. This was exactly the breakthrough the police wanted. They already knew about the salesman of monuments, but he had always managed to escape them. The Australian led them straight to Furguson, who was immediately arrested.
Furguson was jailed for five years. This was a small price to pay for the fortune he had made. He was released in 1930, and moved to Los Angeles where he lived in the lap of luxury (paid for by a few more convenient tricks) until he died in 1938.