Missing lawn gnome causes community stir | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Missing lawn gnome causes community stir

Emma Garrard

INCLINE VILLAGE – As Polly Bauer completed the day-long drive from her Los Angeles home to her part-time residence here last Sunday, she anticipated ending the journey with a greeting from her garden gnome.

“He had a happy glow. We looked forward to seeing him. He was part of the family,” she said. “They’re supposed to get rid of evil spirits.”

As she pulled into her driveway, Bauer was shocked to discover the gnome missing from his hiding spot, a cluster of rocks surrounded by rose bushes.

Bauer asked her neighbors if they knew what happened to the gnome. She later placed a classified ad in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza offering a reward for the gnome’s safe return.

“The neighborhood is very homey. I would never expect this would happen in this community,” Bauer said. “I asked around the neighborhood, but I think people think I’m crazy.”

Neighbor Marc Campbell said he was surprised to hear the gnome was missing from the Mill Creek neighborhood.

“We even have a kayak that’s worth $600 in our yard and it just sits there,” Campbell said as he stood in his doorway and looked pensively toward the Bauer home. “I don’t know who would steal a gnome, but I’ve heard about people seeing gnomes in people’s yards, bringing them on vacation with them and taking photos and sending them back to the owner.”


What Campbell referred to is the trend of “gnome-napping,” an act that has increased globally in recent years according to David Emery, an urban legends reporter for about.com.

“I don’t know if it’s possible to pinpoint the earliest instance of gnome-napping, but the first reported case of a ‘roaming gnome’ took place in the mid-1980s,” Emery wrote. “As the ’80s wore on, the prank grew popular not only in Australia but in England and, to a lesser extent, America as well.”

Popular Web sites like http://www.nigelthegnome.com track the travel of sometimes-stolen gnomes.

Gnomes in media

This increase in gnome thievery could be the result of traveling gnomes prevalent in the media.

The 2001 hit French film “Amélie” featured the title character sending her father’s beloved garden gnome around the world with a flight attendant friend.

The father, who was sedentary, regularly received pictures of his gnome in exotic locales. Eventually, the gnome returned and, drawing the connection that a bigger world awaited, the father set off to travel on his own.

A current $80 million Travelocity advertising campaign employs a talking gnome who narrates his vacations.

Arrests of gnome-nappers are becoming more common as well.

In 2002, three men between the ages of 18 and 21 were arrested in Lockport, N.Y. for possession of 14 stolen gnomes.

The French Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardin (translated: Garden Gnome Liberation Front), has reportedly taken more than 6,000 gnomes since 1997.

The group returns gnomes to their “natural” environment (forests). The groups states, “Forcing gnomes to stand in gardens without just compensation and against their free will, for the sake of ornamentation is, to these groups, immoral.”

Web site dedicated to freeing gnomes

One like-minded U.S. group can be found at freethegnomes.com.

“Thousands of gnomes are enslaved in gardens across America.” the group states on its Web site. “For too long we have let our neighbors usurp the rights of these gentle woodland creatures.”

The site recommends people report gnomes to freeme@freethegnomes.comand prefers peaceful negotiation with gnome owners instead of endorsing theft and trespassing.

Incline resident Bauer, heretofore unsuspecting of the furious gnome world underbelly, said she suspects someone young took the gnome as a prank.

“That’s all I can think of, he could be in a thousand pieces.” Bauer said. “No adults would take it, the younger generation doesn’t have the same respect for people’s property.

“Hopefully someone will return it and my faith in mankind will be re-ignited.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.