Script: The Man who sold the Eiffel Tower

Script: The Man who sold the Eiffel Tower

Sometimes you can’t help but admire people’s ideas, even if they are illegal – like trying to sell a national monument for profit, for example.

Voice 1: To con someone means to trick them into handing over money for something worthless or something that doesn't exist. A criminal who goes around conning people is called a confidence man or a conman.

Voice 2: The king of all conmen was a very clever criminal called Victor Lustig. During his long career tricking people out of money, Lustig worked under at least forty-five different identities. He taught himself five languages and over a span of forty years he swindled hundreds of innocent people out of vast amounts of cash.

Voice 1: Lustig was born in 1890 in Czechoslovakia. He began his life of crime in his late teens by cheating people at billiards and card games. But World War 1 (1914 – 1918) put an end to Lustig’s flourishing career cheating rich gamblers, and when the war ended he headed across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

Voice 2: After a few years of working small but successful scams, Lustig came up with a brilliant idea – a box that printed money. This was a 30 centimetre - square wooden box with a narrow slot at either end. On one side there was a series of knobs and dials. It all looked very convincing.

Voice 1: When he demonstrated how the box worked, Lustig put a thousand-dollar note in one slot and a piece of special paper in the other.  Then he turned the knobs and dials and the note and the paper were sucked into the box. Then there was a six-hour wait while the money and paper soaked in a bath of secret chemicals inside the box. Six hours later, Lustig turned the knobs in a special sequence and the machine coughed up two genuine bank notes.

Voice 2: What Lustig had done, of course, was hide a second thousand dollar note in the box with the serial numbers carefully altered to match the one he used in the  demonstration. The six hour wait was to give the conman time to get out of town while the person who had bought a box waited for his bank note to print.

Voice 1: Lustig charged twenty-five thousand dollars for his money- printing box, and he sold enough to make himself a lot of money.

Voice 2: Lustig's most notorious scam, and the one for which he will be remembered for ever, came to him one day in 1925 when he was reading a newspaper. There was an article about the financial problems the city of Paris was having maintaining its most famous monument - the Eiffel Tower. A light bulb came on in Lustig's head and he set off for France.

Voice 1: Lustig forged fake French government documents and set himself up in a hotel in Paris. He invited six scrap metal dealers to attend a meeting to discuss a possible business deal. All six turned up for the meeting.

Voice 2: Lustig introduced himself as the deputy-director General of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. Remember, he was an excellent linguist, and could speak perfect French. Lustig told the group that the government could no longer afford to maintain the Eiffel Tower and wanted to sell it as scrap metal.

Voice 1: He added that the deal had to be kept a total secret for fear that the people of Paris would object to the demolition of their most famous monument. The scrap metal dealers totally fell for what Lustig told them.

Voice 2: The lucky man who put in the highest bid for the Eiffel Tower was called André Poisson. Lustig collected the money from Poisson in cash, stuffed it all in a suitcase and vanished.

Voice 1: The law eventually caught up with Victor Lustig in 1935. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison, but the man who sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal didn’t serve the full term of his sentence. He caught pneumonia and died in 1947.



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