Nelson’s Column: Furguson’s First Sale
It started innocently enough. It was 1923 and a wealthy man from Iowa vacationing in London stood in Trafalgar Square, admiring Nelson’s Column. Nothing unusual at all. A man by the name of Arthur Furguson introduced himself as a temporary guide to the Square, and began discussing the Column with him.
The Column had been built in honor of Lord Admiral Nelson, one of the great heroes of British history who had died at the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars. Furguson explained this history to the Iowan, who was quite fascinated by the story.
Unfortunately, however, the Column would not be staying in the Square for long, Furguson told the American sadly. Britains debts were soaring and they were forced to sell it. Nothing could be done about it.
The wealthy American, sympathetic to the plight of British finances and interested in making Nelson’s Column part of his own collection, asked the price. It was £6000 (about $30,000), explained Furguson. Of course, it would have to be the right buyer. The British government did not want to sell this monument of their history to just anyone. The sale had to be kept a secret until it was done, and it was he who had been entrusted with finding a buyer and making the sale.
The American felt that he would be the perfect buyer of the monument. He would appreciate the monument the way it deserved, and treat it with the greatest respect. He begged Furguson to sell the monument to him. Furguson told him that he must first consult his employers.
He left the American standing in Trafalgar Square, and returned minutes later. Everything was in order, he said. The British government had agreed to the sale, and prepared to accept a check immediately and complete the sale right away. In order to assist the purchase, Furguson even gave the American the name and address of a company that could handle the dismantle the monument and ship it back to Iowa.
The American was thrilled and wrote out a check. He handed it to Furguson who provided a receipt, and the two men parted company. The deal was done, the monument had been sold. Arthur Furguson, a retired actor from Glasgow, had found his calling: selling famous monuments to the wealthy and gullible.
The poor American went on his way to the contractors that Furguson had recommended. They told him they could not do the job, and that he had obviously been duped. 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. Scotland Yard received complaints from Americans who claimed to have purchased Big Ben for the price of £1000, and another claiming he had put a £2000 down payment on Buckingham Palace but was unable to complete the purchase.
Arthur Furguson in America
Arthur Furguson had truly found his calling. In 1925, as suspicion was rising about his activities, he determined that a move was in order. His victims had mostly been Americans, and he determined that the United States would truly be the land of opportunity. Their wealth, arrogance and gullibility made them the perfect targets for his work.
His first sale in the United States was to a wealthy cattle rancher from Texas. He explained that in order to increase government funds the government would the lease the White House too him for a period of 99 years, and would cost him only $100,000 a year for the privilege. The rancher, eager for the opportunity, paid him the first years rent up front. He never saw Furguson again.
Furguson wasn’t done yet though. His next move was the sale of the Statue of Liberty. His victim was a wealthy traveler from Sydney, Australia.
He explained the situation to the man. New York Harbor was to be widened, and Lady Liberty was just flat out in the way. She had no real value but sentiment, and the government was willing to sell her to the first person who would agree to haul her away.
The Australian was instantly interested, but had to have time to raise the money. He began trying everything he could to get the $100,000 deposit that Furguson said was required. Unfortunately the process took time and Furguson began to grow impatient. As time went on, the Australian also began to grow suspicious.
He went to the police. He had with him a photograph of himself and Furguson in front of the Statue, taken when they were first hashing out the deal. It was all the police needed. The found and arrested Furguson, who went to jail for five years.
After being released in 1930 he moved onto Los Angeles, where after a few more cons he lived in wealthy and comfortable retirement until his eventual death in 1938.