A Gnome Mystery.

From the website:

This undated photo released by Allen Snyder, shows a photo of his garden gnome which he received with two others in a letter Wednesday, July 19, 2006, with a Pittsburgh postmark. The 14-inch gnome was stolen from his Morgantown, W.Va. home. A few days later, he received this and two other pictures and a letter that reads, "Please bail me out of jail uncle Allen. Send money to the PA state penitentiary. Gnomey. P.S. Sorry, I left home but I wanted to see the world and now I'm in trouble." Snyder has no idea who is behind the prank. The letter had a Pittsburgh postmark. (AP Photo/Allen Snyder via The Dominion Post)

Just like that movie Amelie (way before Travelocity's gnome ad blitz): Link

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In fact, Amelie was based in a very elaborate gnome theft in Groningen, Holland.

You can check the 2000 webpage here:

They called the Gnome Oom Roel (uncle Roel) in reference to the traveller in the Fraggle Rock Show.

They sent the owner fotos of the gnome partying the night he went free, then form a huge Berlin Street Party, and from that point they started to travel with it, and borrowing it to people travelling to odd places. Asia, Australia, US, South America,... you name it.

After Amelie was a hit, both the pranksters and the owners were invited to a TV programme in Holland. Amazingly, the owners didn't surprise themselves with it, and just ignored the photographs the pranksters sent them. They didn't get the joke, and they didn't care.

I took a picture with Roel at the time, in Barcelona. Long before the movie.
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This prank goes back before "Amelie," actually. Look in any good-sized bookstore's "Humor" section for books on pranks & practical jokes, and you'll probably find how-to instructions and quasi-historical data on the garden gnome prank.

For those who haven't seen "Amelie," it's a very nice French film from 2001 directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Delicatessen," "City of Lost Children," "Alien Resurrection") and starring newcomer Audrey Tatou as a shy waif who decides to secretly help other people (But will she help herself???). She livens up her father's life by stealing a gnome from his garden and sending it on a world cruise with a friend. The friend snaps photos of the gnome in various locations and sends them to Amelie's dad.

Similar and identical pranks have been played. Some consist of the victim receiving postcards from vacation spots signed "The Gnome." The gnome then reappears, usually sporting a shoe-polish "suntan" to make it look like it went to the tropics. In one instance in Australia, garden gnomes vanished from all over town --- and then were spotted one evening by a police officer on highway patrol. The gnomes had all been taken to a remote area in the desert and set up as if they were holding a council or something, with the largest gnome standing on a rock "addressing" the others, who were arranged in a ring.
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