The Traveling Gnome Prank

Status: Prank
Wayne Johnston's garden gnome disappeared. Then he began receiving letters from it posted from all corners of the world. Being a police officer, Johnston launched an unofficial investigation into who was responsible for his gnome's abduction. It turned out almost all his friends were, including those who had been helping him with his investigation.

So this is another instance of the traveling gnome prank. I know that this prank was featured in the 2001 French movie Amelie. It was also further popularized by a Travelocity ad campaign about a traveling gnome. But what I'm not sure about is whether this prank was popular even before Amelie. Have people been sending gnomes around the world for decades?

I should also note that I've finally gotten around to creating a category for gnomes.

Gnomes Pranks

Posted on Wed Dec 28, 2005


I wanna try this...
Posted by thunder  on  Thu Dec 29, 2005  at  06:16 AM
This has definitely been going on for a long time. Some friends of mine performed a similar stunt, not around the world, while we were still in high school around 1995-96. They stole a teacher's and took lots of pictures of it wherever they went and gave it and the pictures back to her at graduation.
Posted by Ceredur Crysane  on  Thu Dec 29, 2005  at  07:12 AM
I'm not sure how far back it goes, but I know it predates Amelie, because I recognized it when I saw the movie during its US theatrical release. My reaction was "Hey, they're doing the traveling gnome thing!"

(Incidentally, your CAPTCHA system doesn't work with the preview.)
Posted by kelson  on  Thu Dec 29, 2005  at  11:56 AM
I remeber hearing this piece of urban mythology well before Amelie.
Posted by schmawy  on  Thu Dec 29, 2005  at  02:49 PM
Yep, me too.
Posted by Trotsky  on  Fri Dec 30, 2005  at  01:27 AM
I remember this prank from the mid 80s. A friend of mine after making a lot of money in the UK property boom went around the world for a year. Before he left he stole a neighbours garden gnome and proceeded to send them postcards and photos from the gnome. Including one letter and photo of the gnome fishing off the great barrier reef saying he'd gotten bored of fishing in their garden pond and only catching goldfish.
Posted by Rik Sherman  on  Fri Dec 30, 2005  at  02:43 AM
Thanks for letting me know about the preview bug, kelson. I'll need to fix that.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Fri Dec 30, 2005  at  10:00 AM
I remember reading a magazine article about this 'fad' at least five or six years before Amelie.
Posted by Isabel  on  Fri Dec 30, 2005  at  11:23 AM
Early 80's, a gnome left his garden and goes traveling round Europe (heard it from my sisters' then boyfriend, hence the time frame). Sends cards from all over, including pictures from a skiing resort (plaster round one of his legs roflol) and Costa del Sol, sunbathing among scantily clad women.
It's a great story, it's not important what the hoax-status is. Frankly I d
Posted by Jerry S  on  Sat Dec 31, 2005  at  09:48 AM
I remember the travelling garden gnome hoax was around here in Holland during the '80-ies. Some naval officers pulled thhe prank on an unsuspecting family I remember.
Posted by LaMa  on  Mon Jan 02, 2006  at  12:37 PM
Some friends and I did this in 1979 with a Pink Panther doll that one of our teacher's would use when making slide shows for his class. We didn't take any photos of the doll, because he stayed in my locker, but we did have friends from all over the world mail the teacher our pre-printed postcards from the Pink Panther. I don't remember where I got the idea, but I don't think I came up with it on my own.
Posted by snarkygurl  on  Tue Jan 03, 2006  at  08:49 AM
As long as the Gnome was traveling of his own free will, then the 70 plus Gnomes currently residing at the Hidden Urban Gnome Reserve & Sanctuary ( only approve. If, however, he was taken without his consent, then this needs to be viewed as what it truely is: a terrifying kidnapping that we should all condemn.
Posted by Rev. G. Nisse  on  Wed Apr 19, 2006  at  01:15 PM
There is also the classic book about a penguin travelling the world, i.e. a photographer who carries a penguin around and takes pictures of it in front of Taj Mahal, The Eiffel Tower, etc.
Posted by Darren Aldtt  on  Sat Jun 28, 2008  at  03:48 AM
Who is keen on joining me to South Africa?
Posted by Jaime  on  Tue Jul 08, 2008  at  01:39 PM
I first heard of this prank while traveling in Europe in the autumn of 1987. I didn't care if it was true or not because it was quite a funny story. I was told that a dwarf (I assumed it was one of the seven dwarfs at the time, but perhaps the teller used the term dwarf in place of gnome) was stolen from the yard of a home in Italy. Then the standard story - photos of the dwarf in front of various famous landmarks around the world were posted back and he was returned a few year later with gifts. This was over a decade before I ran up against the same story in Amelie.

Posted by Alan Morris  on  Thu Jan 01, 2009  at  08:04 PM
I would like to introduce myself. I'm Ernie the travelocity gnome. I travel with my Mum and Pop on their motorcycle and have visited many interesting places. I did get kidnapped once when we went to Northern Minnesota. All in all it wasn't a bad experience. Actually I wish I had stayed kidnapped longer. Check out my website: and type in Lumberjack days in Hackensack, Minnesota
Posted by Ernie  on  Mon May 18, 2009  at  05:04 PM
I remember reading a magazine article about this 'fad' at least five or six years before Amelie..
Posted by d  on  Mon Nov 29, 2010  at  05:05 AM
Yeah admin, nice blog pages.
Posted by film izle  on  Mon Dec 13, 2010  at  10:40 AM
I hate gnomes.(
Posted by davetiyeleri  on  Tue Feb 08, 2011  at  06:30 AM
I first encountered the travelling gnome prank in Sydney, Australia in 1978. I personally knew the participants. They were mainly based around the lower Northern suburbs - Lane Cove and Hunters Hill. They collected up garden gnomes and relocated them to freeway verges. It obviously made many gnome owners quite upset, and gained some public notoriety at the time....but of course many people saw the funny side. I think this is the origin of the travelling gnome prank, and has spread far and wide since. The pranksters were very funny guys. They had a repertoire of clever gnome jokes and gnome philosophy. They also studied horticulture, and were quite serious about garden aesthetics....I think that's one of the reasons they saw garden gnomes as fair game.
Posted by Peter Moss  on  Thu Apr 21, 2011  at  10:38 AM
This prank has likely been going on for decades. I recall hearing such a story in highschool, c.1977. I beleive it was from a news story in a midwestern US newspaper and the owner of the gnome was a retired lady. I suspect the prank has a loooong history. The way I remember it the retiree missed her lawn gnome but thought no more of it until the day she began receiving postcards addressed from the gnome. All from different locations around the world. The postcards contained well wishes and desires that the they (the owner) were there. The gnome would also describe things he had been doing. I beleive the postcards and photos had been received for a couple years. The perpetrator was never identified. The story only picked it up during the prank and I don't know if the gnome had ever returned. But apparently the retiree had enjoyed receiving the postcards from her gnome. That was a long time ago but I do remember the story.
Posted by Ken  on  Mon Aug 13, 2012  at  01:43 PM
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