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Thursday
May042006

The Tower of Babel, Paris

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wish you were here
Voila! The Awful Tower - well the top half anyway. Looks great at night. This street is all Haussemann-style "pierre de taille" stone buildings like these. About a hundred years old. The Line 8 Metro runs under the street so every few minutes there is a rumble just like the sound of distant thunder. It's a bit disconcerting. Maybe I'll turn into a train-spotter.

And a short vid - Here at Vimeo

About the Tower -

In 1925, the con artist Victor Lustig twice "sold" the tower for scrap. Ha ha. Gotta love it.

From 1925 to 1934, illuminated signs for Citro├źn adorned three of the tower's four sides, making it the tallest billboard in the world at the time.

Upon the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940, the lift cables were cut by the French so that Hitler would have to climb the steps to the summit. The parts to repair them were allegedly impossible to obtain because of the war, though they were working again within hours of the departure of the Nazis. Soldiers had to climb all the way to the top to hoist the swastika from the top, but the flag was so large it blew away just a few hours later, and they had to go back up again with a smaller one. Hitler chose to stay on the ground. A Frenchman scaled the tower during the German occupation to hang the French flag. In August 1944, when the Allies were nearing Paris, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, to demolish the tower along with the rest of the city. He disobeyed the order. Read about it and see the film "Is Paris Burning"

In the 1980s an old restaurant and its supporting iron scaffolding midway up the tower was dismantled; it was purchased and reconstructed in New Orleans, Louisiana, originally as the Tour Eiffel Restaurant, known more recently as the Red Room.

In 2000, flashing lights and four high-power searchlights were installed on the tower. The searchlights rotate. Since then the light show has become a nightly event.

The tower received its 200,000,000th guest on 28 November 2002. But I wasn't one of them. Maybe I should shoot my first Video with the new camera up there.

More on Victor Lustig - "Lustig's first con involved a money-printing machine. He would demonstrate the small box to clients, all the while lamenting that it took the device six hours to copy a $100 bill. The client, sensing huge profits, would buy the machine for a high price, usually over $30,000. Over the next twelve hours, the machine would produce two more $100 bills. After that, it produced only blank paper. Its supply of $100 bills had been exhausted. The client would inform the police, only to find that Lustig had closed up shop and moved on.

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La Tour Eiffel 1925
The Eiffel Tower Scam
In 1925, France had recovered from World War I, and Paris was booming. Expatriates from all over the world went there to enjoy being at the leading edge of the latest trends. It was flashy, fast moving, and an excellent environment for a con artist.
Lustig's master con began one spring day when he was reading a newspaper. An article discussed the problems the city was having maintaining the Eiffel Tower. Even keeping it painted was an expensive chore, and the tower was becoming somewhat run down.
Lustig saw a story behind this article. Maybe the city would decide the Eiffel Tower was not worth saving any longer. Lustig outlined the possibilities and developed them into a remarkable scheme.
Lustig adopted the persona of a government official, and had a forger produce fake government stationery for him. Lustig then sent six scrap metal dealers an invitation to attend a confidential meeting at the Hotel de Crillon on Place de la Concorde to discuss a possible business deal. The Hotel Crillon, one of the most prestigious of the old Paris hotels, was a meeting place for diplomats and a perfect cover. All six scrap dealers replied and came to the meeting.
There, Lustig introduced himself as the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. He explained that the dealers had been selected on the basis of their good reputations as honest businessmen, and then dropped his bombshell.
Lustig told the group that the upkeep on the Eiffel Tower was so outrageous that the city could not maintain it any longer, and wanted to sell it for scrap. Due to the certain public outcry, he went on, the matter was to be kept secret until all the details were thought out. Lustig said that he had been given the responsibility to select the dealer to carry out the task.
The idea was not as implausible in 1925 as it would be today. The Eiffel Tower had been built for the 1889 Paris Exposition, and was not intended to be permanent. It was to have been taken down in 1909 and moved someplace else. It did not fit with the city's other great monuments like the Gothic cathedrals or the Arc de Triomphe, and in any case at the time it really was in poor condition.
Lustig took the men to the tower in a rented limousine to give them an inspection tour. The tower was made of 15,000 prefabricated parts, many of which were highly ornamental, and Lustig showed it off to the men. This encouraged their enthusiasm, and it also gave Lustig an idea who was the most enthusiastic and gullible. He knew how to be attentive and agreeable, and let people talk until they told him everything he wanted to know.
Back on the ground, Lustig asked for bids to be submitted the next day, and reminded them that the matter was a state secret. In reality, Lustig already knew he would accept the bid from one dealer, Andre Poisson. Poisson was insecure, feeling he was not in the inner circles of the Parisian business community, and thought that obtaining the Eiffel Tower deal would put him in the big league. Lustig had quickly sensed Poisson's eagerness.
However, Lustig knew he was walking over dangerous ground. Fraud was bad enough, but the authorities would be very displeased at his having put over the fraud while impersonating a high government official. And Poisson's wife was suspicious. Who was this official, why was everything so secret, and why was everything being done so quickly?
To deal with the suspicious Poisson, Lustig arranged another meeting, and then "confessed". As a government minister, Lustig said, he did not make enough money to pursue the lifestyle he enjoyed, and needed to find ways to supplement his income. This meant that his dealings needed a certain discretion.
Poisson understood immediately. He was dealing with another corrupt government official who wanted a bribe. That put Poisson's mind at rest immediately, since he was familiar with the type and had no problems dealing with such people.
So Lustig not only received the funds for the Eiffel Tower, he also got a bribe on top of that. Lustig and his personal secretary, an American conman named Dan Collins, hastily took a train for Vienna with a suitcase full of cash. He knew the instant that Poisson called the government ministries to ask for further information that the whole fraud would be revealed and the law would intervene.
Nothing happened. Poisson was too humiliated to complain to the police. A month later, Lustig returned to Paris, selected six more scrap dealers, and tried to sell the Tower once more. This time, the mark went to the police before Lustig managed to close the deal, but Lustig and Collins still managed to evade arrest.

Later Years
Later, Lustig convinced Al Capone to invest $40,000 in a stock deal. Lustig kept Capone's money in a safe deposit box for two months, then returned it to him, claiming that the deal had fallen through. Impressed with Lustig's integrity, Capone gave him $5,000. It was, of course, all that Lustig was after.

From Wikipedia

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Reader Comments (4)

Nice Mal.Hope you are enjoying it!
May 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWCS
Stunning. The video frightened the crap out of me when it auto-loaded though (forgot that I had volume on full); but then I watched and was entranced with how peaceful it was.
It all just sighs 'summer'...
May 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBec
Bec, not quite. Summer is really hot here. Horribly hot. Sorry about the autoload...can't stop it. If I hear my voice one more time I'm gonna...
May 4, 2006 | Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe
So pretty!, So so jealous right now!
Lucky you...
May 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteractonb

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