Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - The Man who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice.

July 15, 2016

This week, we take a look at the world of events venues and move away from our entertainment performers. That’s because they don’t ordinarily have anything to do with arranging where they’ll be performing. The client or an event planner books the venue and then the act is sorted out at a later date. But what if you looked at a venue and thought there was even more money to be made? That’s what Victor Lustig did in France in the 1920s…

Lustig was by all accounts a con man. He had grown up in America in the late 1800s and earned a living as a card sharp. By early adulthood, his magic tricks had reached a level where it was described that the only thing he couldn’t do with a deck of cards was make them talk. After growing bored of making small amounts of cash, he’d come up with bolder schemes as he sailed on riverboats, like convincing the rich and the foolish to buy a cedar box off him that he has claimed was able to make bank notes. After a demonstration where the box would make a couple of ten dollar notes, folk on the boat would often part with far more cash for the contraption; by the time they realised they’d been duped, the boat had moored and Lustig was long gone.

Arriving in Paris in 1925, Lustig commissioned some stationery that covered the official French government seal. Opting to stay at the extremely impressive Hotel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde, he then wrote to the most successful men in the scrap metal industry, inviting them to the hotel for a meeting about selling off the Eiffel Tower.

It may seem like a ridiculous suggestion today, but back in the 1920s, the Eiffel Tower was certainly in need of a lick of paint. It had fallen into disrepair since being built for the 1889 World’s Fair and the idea that it might be sold off wasn’t quite as ludicrous as you might think. That being said, a ‘government official’ selling it off from a hotel room needed an explanation – “We have to be secretive,” noted Lustig, “it is not only engineering faults and costly repairs but also various political problems that are contributing to the sale.” He was a brilliant speaker and announced to the assembled men that the tower would be sold off to the highest bidder within days. Captivated by this opportunity, the bids soon flowed in. In order to ensure that his con didn’t get out to soon, Lustig stressed this was top secret information; the men has to keep quiet about the impending sale of the tower or risk public outcry.

After the bids had been assembled, Lustig didn’t simply go for the highest bid but who he had deemed was the most gullible at the meeting. Picking the wonderfully named Andre Poisson (Andrew Fish if he were English), Lustig had him hook, line and sinker upon informing his mark that he had won the round of bidding. Unfortunately, being a government official was an expensive process… Poisson understood and bribed Lustig in order for the deal to go through.

Naturally, Lustig then fled the country and drove to Austria, ultimately living the high life for a few months at Poisson’s expense. They paid careful attention to the papers, waiting for their scam to be revealed to the press. It never was. Poisson was simply too embarrassed by his stupidity to inform the police and had decided to keep the entire event to himself.  What’s a con man to do with this information? Toast his success and have a party? Absolutely not. Lustig headed back to Paris to repeat the scheme once again!

Assembling vie more scrap metal dealers, Lustig successfully sold the tower for a second time. It seems there’s a lot to be said for some high quality official stationery. Unfortunately for Lustig, this second mark didn’t stay quiet and the story exploded in the press. Lustig left Europe – still flush with the cash from the second deal – and settled back into life in the United States, eagerly concocting his next scheme...

Thankfully, our magicians are stand up folk who wouldn’t dare swindle you out of a fantastic night, whilst the venues we work with are all definitely open for business and in no danger of being sold! If you’d like to hold an event at any one of them with the best entertainment in London in tow, then please feel free to get in touch using the contact details below.

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Here at Sternberg Clarke we know how to handle a challenge and we stop at nothing to ensure your event is a night – or day – to remember. Check out our create page and learn more about how we can customise your entertainment to match your needs.

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By Henry Fosdike