Travelling gnome prank
The travelling gnome prank is the practice of returning a garden gnome "to the wild". It involves stealing a gnome, taking it on a trip, and photographing it at famous landmarks, with the photos being returned to the owner.
The most well-known instance happened in the spring of 2005 when a group of friends from Redmond, Washington, took a gnome on a trip to California. During their time there, the gnome was photographed with Paris Hilton and a photo of the gnome was published in People Magazine. The gnome was also photographed around Hollywood, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Upon returning the gnome to its owner, the story turned into national news and an interview on Good Morning America. The owner of the gnome sold it for nearly $400 on eBay, but it was secretly purchased by the owner's friends, who continued to take the gnome around the world.
There are many clubs and organizations dedicated to the prank. The best-known of these is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front.
The tradition was first recorded in Australia in the 1980s by Phil Tibble. The following blurb appeared in the Regular Shorts feature of the Sydney Morning Herald of September 24, 1986: 'An Eastern suburbs gnome-owner was distressed when she discovered her gnome had been stolen at the weekend. A note was found in its place: "Dear mum, couldn't stand the solitude any longer. Gone off to see the world. Don't be worried, I'll be back soon. Love Bilbo xxx."
References in popular culture
It was popularized by several films, including the 2001 movie Amélie, where it was featured as a subplot. It appeared as a prank in the 1994 film, Threesome, starring Lara Flynn Boyle, Stephen Baldwin and Josh Charles where a garden gnome is "liberated" and taken on a road trip.
In The Sims 3, the Mysterious Mr. Gnome is a special item that is randomly found in the catacombs, while fishing, when sending ore or gems to their respective refiners, or as an 'acquisition' from being promoted in the thief career track. The Mysterious Mr. Gnome is known to travel around the player's sim's property (although he is never seen in the act of moving from one place to another), and to do things such as watch TV, float, and do hand stands. If a picture is taken while a Mysterious Mr. Gnome is in the Sim's inventory, it will appear in the classic "travelling gnome" pose.
In the 2007 game Half-Life 2: Episode Two, an Achievement requires the player to carry a Garden Gnome throughout almost all of the game and place him into a rocket which in turn would launch him into space. Doing this will unlock the "Little Rocket Man" achievement on both the Xbox 360 and the PC. Another Valve game, Left 4 Dead 2 used the same gnome model for a similar achievement.
In 2008, punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls released the song "Night Reconnaissance". The song is about the lead singer, Amanda Palmer, recalling how she'd steal Garden Gnomes from middle class neighbourhoods as retribution for how she was treated in high school. The Garden Gnomes are then used as actors in a play staged in a barn loft.
Television storylines involving travelling garden gnomes have appeared in soap operas including both Coronation Street (Norris Cole pranking Derek Wilton) and Neighbours (Dr Karl Kennedy pranking Marlene Kratz).
In the 2011 first-person-shooter Battlefield 3, a gnome can be found hidden on several of the multiplayer and singleplayer maps.
Churn Labs, a firm which makes software for mobile devices, has created a game app named Gnonstop Gnomes for Android and iOS. It lets users attach a virtual gnome to travel photographs and use GPS to share the gnome with friends as users travel.
- "'Itchy feet' gnome returns home". BBC News. 12 August 2008., from Gloucester, UK
- Gnonstop Gnomes[dead link]
- Schonfeld, Erick (June 20, 2011). "Gnonstop Gnomes Appear On iPhone And Android. Don't Try To Stop Them". TechCrunch. Retrieved 18 July 2013.