May 19, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Unseen Property Cons and Land Scams in History

3 min read

I’ve Got a Bridge to Sell You

Bridge-for-sale “If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.” This is a very common phrase used in our everyday vernacular. If you are unfamiliar with the origin of this phrase, it really is quite interesting.

George C. Parker, one of the greatest con man  in America’s history, made a living selling New York landmarks to gullible tourists. Possibly his greatest achievement was selling the Brooklyn Bridge–which he did twice a weeks for decades. On more than one occasion, New York police had to stop these new bridge-owners from erecting toll booths along their newly purchased, prime real estate. While greed and gullibility caused dozens–if not hundreds–of men to lose all their money in this scam, probably the most successful land cons were accomplished sight unseen.

Some Prime Florida Swampland

“I have swampland in Florida to sell you.” This property scam has been a headache and embarrassment to Florida for five decades. Starting in the 1960s, investors would be told of land, in Florida, that was dirt cheap. The investors, so quick to make an easy dollar, would purchase said land before ever placing eyes on it. Not knowing that swampland is nearly impossible to develop, these investors arrived to their newly acquired land to find it unusable. Unfortunately, this scam is still running rampant due to the ability of buyer and sellers to purchase and sell land over the internet. Maybe once you get those millions from the Nigerian Prince, then you, too, can buy some prime Florida swampland.

Detour for Étienne Cabet

French Icarian community
French Icarian community

You may remember in an earlier post I mentioned a utopian socialist movement that followed Étienne Cabet from France to America, only to find once they arrived that their new home was not very hospitable. This Icarian community, which consisted of nearly fifteen hundred followers, was unable to thrive due to poor land conditions. This is another example of buying property without properly giving it the “once-over.” Nearly one-third of the group went back to France, and the rest journeyed to greener pastures, to Nauvoo, Illinois.

White Picket Fences and the Like

In 1908, J. E. Stanley and A. J. Kline founded Boise City, Oklahoma. This new town had a lush rivers, paved streets, numerous trees, dozens of houses and businesses, and several sidewalks. Well, at least that is what the fabricated pamphlets and brochures showed and described. They also claimed that “King Corn and King Cotton grow side by side, yielding in excess of forty-five-bushels of corn and a bale of cotton per acre.” To make matters worse, these men had no clear title to the land that they were selling. Stanley and Kline were arrested and found guilty of fraudulent use of the mails–a federal offense. However, before they were caught, over 3,000 lots had been sold. As each proud owner came to see their land, they were quite surprised to show up and see that the information in the brochures were all lies.

Conning a Nation

While selling public landmarks and property–sight unseen–is impressive, possibly one of the cruelest property scams played on man-kind was  perpetrated by Erik the Red, circa 982. Upon exile from Iceland, Erik the Red established himself as a resident of what is now the country of Greenland. Conceivably the biggest con ever, Erik portrayed the country as better than its close neighbor Iceland. He believed that “men would be more readily persuaded thither if the land had a good name.” [1] He piqued the interest of enough people, with his stories of this great, new place called Greenland, that he was able to bring back with him enough men and women to create not just one colony, but two! That, my friends, is how a country that is 81% covered in ice received the name Greenland.

Possibly the greatest land scam in history–Greenland

[1] Olson, Julius. (2003) The Saga of Eric the Red. pg. 17


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