6. Big Ben

The Houses of Parliament in London

Big Ben was fake sold around the same time all these other landmark schemes were happening, in 1920. Scottish actor Arthur Ferguson played a gullible American tourist in a play who gets conned. To see if Americans were actually that gullible, he decided to scam someone into buying Big Ben in London.

Since World War I had just ended, England was in a terrible economic situation. Ferguson used that to his advantage. Pretending to work for the Prime Minister, Ferguson told an American visiting in London that the had been hired by the Prime Minister to sell off London’s most famous landmarks to raise money. In fact, he sold each landmark several times over.

He usually charged $5,000 for Big Ben, $30,000 for Nelson’s column in Trafalger Square, and $10,000 as a downpayment for Buckingham Palace. After successfully scamming in London for several years, he was reported by many Americans at the US Embassy. He decided to leave the country and take his show on the road to the United States.

In the US, he sold many landmarks, including the White House, which he rented out to wealthy English tourists for $10,000 a year (turns out Americans weren’t the only gullible people). However, interestingly enough, though this story is quite grand, there seems to be a hard time proving whether or not Arthur Ferguson was a real person, and if he was, were those scams real? Author Dane Love who wrote The Man Who Sold Nelson’s Column and Other Scottish Frauds and Hoaxes said that there’s no contemporary reference of him in records or newspapers, which there would have been considering the size of his schemes. Moreover, Dane Love explained that he’s “done a lot of research and I am satisfied he never existed. It’s an urban folk tale.”

Curious to know more about the criminal world of NYC? Check out 5 Notorious NYC Crime Scenes

This article was written by Wera Penavic and updated by NIcole Saraniero in March 2023