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The phrase 'I have a bridge to sell to you' originated after a conman 'sold' the Brooklyn Bridge

The man took the advantage of an influx of immigrants into New York in 1880s and 'sold' the Brooklyn Bridge for forty years.

The phrase 'I have a bridge to sell to you' originated after a conman 'sold' the Brooklyn Bridge
Image Source: (R) Released by authorities; (L) Getty Images/Hulton Archive

We all have heard of and used the phrase, "If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell to you." However, not many of us know the intriguing story behind this phrase that was coined after a con man who tried to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. George C Parker, the conman, was born to Irish parents in New York on March 16, 1860. In the 1880s, New York was a melting pot of ethnic groups from all over the world. Parker took advantage of this and would approach unsuspecting immigrants and engage them in pleasant conversation before announcing himself as the bridge's owner. Parker would suggest installing toll booths as soon as he believed he had their trust, as per Irish Central.

Image Source: Getty Images/Keystone
Image Source: Getty Images/Keystone

 

He'd then say to the people that he was searching for someone dependable to work in the booth. A job offer would be made and the target would be overjoyed to take it. Parker would accompany the person to the Brooklyn Bridge. On arrival, the target would inevitably see the sign "Bridge for sale" fastened to the bridge's framework. Parker would then explain that the bridge was for sale and that for a fair amount, they could buy it and charge whatever they wanted, earning a fortune.

 



 

 

When it was opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was a toll bridge that pedestrians had to pay a cent to cross. Every day, tens of thousands of commuters from Brooklyn to Manhattan used the bridge to get to work. It cost a penny to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, 5 cents for a horse and rider and 10 cents for a horse and cart. Farm animals may be allowed 5 cents for each cow and 2 cents for every sheep or hog, per NYC Walks. The pedestrian toll was eliminated in 1891 as a result of demand from municipal organizations and commuters. The tolls were later repealed on July 19, 1911, with the backing of New York Mayor William J. Gaynor. He declared at the time, "I see no more reason for toll gates on the bridges than for toll gates on Fifth Avenue or Broadway." On Columbus Day, 1892, a quarter of a million people walked across the bridge in celebration of the quadrennial.

 



 

 

Parker established offices near the bridge for the hoax and utilized fake deeds. He would then bargain for a price ranging from $75 to $50,000. It wasn't until the cops arrived while the victims were installing the toll booths that they realized they'd been duped. Parker was said to have been able to sell the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for forty years. In addition to selling the Brooklyn Bridge, he also sold Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty and Ulysses Grant's mausoleum to naïve clients by acting as his grandson and using counterfeit documents.

Parker was charged with fraud and brought before the courts in 1908. He walked out of the building quietly, wearing a sheriff's cap and coat that had been removed as the sheriff came in from the winter chill. George Parker was once known as "the greatest con man," but he kept getting caught. Parker was condemned to life in Sing Sing prison by King's County Court judge Alonzo McLaughlin on December 17, 1928. He died in 1936, eight years later. He was well-liked by the jail guards and convicts, who never got tired of hearing his stories. George C Parker is recognized as one of history's greatest conmen. His adventures inspired the common expression, "if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you."

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