Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Garden Gnome Rescue League -- Samaritan Sunday (September 22, 2013)

[If you should choose to adopt this prompt to contribute your own stories of folks who have gone out of their way to lend genealogy-related assistance to others, I would greatly appreciate a mention to Filiopietism Prism whenever you do so.  Thank you!  And please do use the same photograph below to illustrate the prompt.  ;-) ]

I posted recently about how the simplest of objects can become family treasures.  In my case the treasure was a simple letter opener and a small mechanical calendar.  In the case of a New Jersey couple it was their treasured garden gnome. 

Now this was not your usual miniature gnome as illustrated here.

This particular gnome was three feet tall and weighed 100 pounds.  It had presided over and decorated  the yard and garden of Lois and Claude Jaillet in East Hanover, New Jersey for 30 years!  And, the gnome had been passed down to Mr. Jaillet by his mother, so it was a true family heirloom and garden guardian with decades of service to the Jaillet family.  That is, it graced the Jaillet yard until it disappeared suddenly in early August of this year.

To understand the Jaillet's loss, you need to know more than the fact that it was a family heirloom handed down from mother to son over three decades ago -- you really need to learn more about garden gnomes.

Statuary in gradens has been common since at least the Renaissance in Europe and a wide variety of figures have been used as garden decorations.  By the early 1800s figurines of dwarfs became popular garden decorations in Germany where they were known as Gartenzwerg, literally "garden dwarf."  These figurines were introduced to England in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham who brought back a collection of 21 Gartenzwerg to decorate the gardens at his Northamptonshire estate, Lamport Hall.  Today only one of the original figurines survives.  Known as "Lampy the Lamport Gnome," the survivor is reputed to be insured for 1 million Pounds!

By the 1930s the Gartenzwerg in England had come to be called "gnomes" and the tradition of decorating English gardens with them had caught on to the extent that they were now manufactured in the UK.  One well-known English manufacturer was Tom Major-Ball, a vaudeville and circus performer in America and father of the future British Prime Minister, John Major.     

The popularity of garden gnomes or the Gartenzwerg spread across Europe and eventually to the United States too.  Germany has over 25 million at last count.  The reason for such interest in garden gnomes is probably found not just in their whimsical nature and symbolic good luck, but also in the folklore that holds garden gnomes like to help in the garden at night.  When humans have retired from their garden labors and the sun has set, the gnomes come alive to work on gardens and lawns helping flowers to bloom, leaves to change color, and plants to absorb nutrients.  

Believe it or not this innocuous explanation of the popularity and importance of garden gnomes eventually led to the rise of a twisted contrary view and narrative on the good work of gnomes in yards and gardens.  This view holds that the nocturnal labor of gnomes is not voluntary, but rather is forced labor requiring the liberation of gnomes by any means and their relocation back into the wild or into special sanctuaries!  Two notable organizations were formed to accomplish just these goals.  In France there is the Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardins and in Italy the Movimento Autonomo per la Liberazione delle Anime da Giardino (the Garden Gnome Liberation Front) or MALAG.  Some kidnapped garden gnomes were even sent on photo-documented trips around the world and this became the basis for the now famous Travelocity gnome advertisements.

The recent experience of the Jaillets may have been perpetrated by an American offshoot of the European liberation movement, but the Jaillet abduction has a happy ending --  and, in the humble opinion of this author, might actually mark the rise of something like a "Garden Gnome Rescue League" in the midst of the Garden State!  

Just two weeks after the Jaillets' heirloom gnome disappeared and seemed to have been the latest victim of the misguided and crazed gnome liberation movement, it was found sitting contentedly in the Jaillets driveway early one morning when the family dog was being let out.  The gnome is said to have bravely endured his kidnapping and is in near perfect condition back with his family.  It still remains to identify the misguided souls who sought to "liberate" this gnome -- and it also remains to identify the Good Samaritan member(s) of what this author now prefers to view as the Garden Gnome Rescue League.  

Those of us who know how family treasure exists in the simplest of objects thank these Good Samaritans and salute what must be the welcome first evidence of a counter movement to the terror that is the gnome liberation movement.  

Good on you, intrepid members of the Garden Gnome Rescue League! 

To read the details of Jaillets' loss and recovery -- and to see a photo of their very special garden gnome -- go here.       
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Photograph of the The Good Samaritan sculpture by Francois-Leon Sicard (1862 - 1934).  The sculpture is located in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France.  The photograph is by Marie-Lan Nguyen and has been placed in the public domain by her. See,

Photo of a 12 inch Clementine Gnome with Heart from Kimmel Gnomes at

For more information about the history of garden gnomes and the garden gnome liberation movement, and to see photos of more garden gnomes -- including "Lampy the Lamport Gnome" -- please visit these sites: and
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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