You probably picture con men as shady dudes in Cadillacs wearing polyester jackets, hustling rubes in small towns across 1950s America. Sure, they've evolved (or devolved) over time into other forms, but the pattern is generally the same: They fleece a little bit of money from folks who only have a little bit of money in the first place, then skip town to do it again. You probably don't picture con men as executing elaborate schemes on entire cities, states, or even countries before skipping town to ... another planet, maybe? We're not sure where you run when you rob a whole nation. But such shysters exist, and here are a few of them:
6 George Parker Would Like to Sell You the Brooklyn Bridge -- Many Times
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You've probably heard someone say, "If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you!" But it's unlikely you ever met someone who was serious when he said it. Unless you've met George Parker. In which case, you probably bought the bridge, too.
Also, you own a time machine. Or you used to, until George Parker swindled you out of it.
Construction on the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1870, the same year Parker was born. When the bridge was completed in 1883, it was immediately heralded as a symbol of progress and optimism. Shortly thereafter, Parker started selling the bridge. Yes, the whole bridge.
It seems ludicrous now, but back in the day, people apparently went about swapping infrastructure willy-nilly, because the scam totally worked. A lot. Parker would find a mark -- often a recent immigrant -- and convince said mark that A) they could make a ton of money by charging tolls to anyone crossing the bridge, B) George Parker owned the bridge, C) Parker was willing to sell the bridge for a very reasonable price, and D) he wasn't laughing at them -- he'd just thought of something funny that was totally unrelated to buying a whole bridge from a dude on the street.
Daniel Berry Austin
"Welcome to America! Where anything is possible!"
Parker was a master salesman who went the extra mile, producing authentic-looking paperwork to verify his claims. He was also persistent -- he allegedly sold the Brooklyn Bridge an average of twice a week for years. Over and over, New York police had to forcibly stop Parker's swindle victims from constructing toll booths, traffic barriers, and Road Warrior-style flamethrower outposts on the bridge that they believed they owned.
Parker didn't limit his swindling to the Brooklyn Bridge, either. Over the course of his career, he also sold pretty much every other notable New York landmark, including Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant's Tomb, and even the Statue of Liberty. He'd happily sell you the Grand Canyon if it wasn't a bit of a drive. Eventually, Parker was caught, and he lived the final eight years of his life in Sing Sing prison. Which he presumably sold to the other inmates.