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The con artist pretends he has the ownership rights to a particular public building (the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House are good ones) and sells the building to the mark, who will then show up with bulldozers or whatever. In America, the Brooklyn Bridge is a common target.
So well-known that it's also common for people to express incredulity with some variation of "And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you..."
See Also: Rushmore Refacement
- Walt Disney provides at least three examples:
- In one José Carioca story, José gets out of an American jail by paying his bail with Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil. Later he gets himself a disguise by trading a random key, which he claims is for the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car, for a random person's clothes.
- In a Mickey Mouse story, Goofy gets conned into "buying" the Eiffel Tower during a vacation with Mickey in France, prompting Mickey to look for the con man and bring him to justice. At the end of the story when everything is resolved, Goofy announces to Mickey that he bought Notre Dame, causing Mickey to faint... but Goofy takes out a scale model of the cathedral from his bag.
- And Scrooge McDuck once buys the actual deed for the Castle Sforzesco in Milan from a thief who happened to pick it up. The purchase isn't remotely legitimate, of course, but because the story needs an Idiot Plot to lead to a faux-medieval battle over the castle, the offended officials of the city basically recognise his claim because he shoots at them with a cannon when they try to disagree.
- Goes awry in at least one Superman comic--an alien buys the Brooklyn Bridge, then miniaturizes it and carries it off.
- At the end of The Dam Busters, a high-ranking official shakes the hand of the scientist that pitched the plan for Stuff Blowing Up: "I didn't believe you, but now you could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge!"
- The Discworld Companion notes that Ankh-Morporkians provide essential services for the rural people of the Sto Plains "such as selling them the Brass Bridge at a cut-down price".
- Mickey Bricks sold someone the Sydney Opera House during his time in Australia before Season 5 of Hustle. In fact, it was mentioned as the reason for his absence from Season 4, during which the rest of the crew sold someone the Hollywood sign.
- In Chuck, Sarah's father tries to pull off this con.
- In the Leverage episode "The Three Strikes Job", Nate poses as a real estate developer planning to build a baseball stadium to con a corrupt mayor. This requires him to make it look like an actual team was planning to move to the stadium.
- The final season of The Beverly Hillbillies featured a storyline where the Clampetts go to Washington and Jed is conned into buying the White House, the Capitol Building and other landmarks.
- Mentioned as part of the back story for intergalactic con man Garron in the Doctor Who serial The Ribos Operation. Originally from Earth, one of his early cons involved selling Sydney Harbour.
- Inverted in George Strait's "Ocean Front Property," where he claims a number of negative feelings for his lover, then adds
...and if you'll buy that
I've got some ocean front property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I've got some ocean front property in Arizona
And if you'll buy that
I'll throw the Golden Gate in free.
- Arthur Furguson, Victor Lustig and George C. Parker are the most well known perpetrators of this scheme in real life.
- And, in a subversion, a gentleman from Arizona bought London Bridge and the city of London duly dismantled it and shipped it out to Arizona. (They built another one in its place, and it is by far the ugliest bridge in the city.) Rumor has it that the purchaser was dismayed because he thought he was buying the much more iconic Tower Bridge, though the Other Wiki insists that this has been Jossed.
- When the Dutch bought the Manhattan peninsula from local natives, the people they negotiated with and who got the money were not actual owners of the land. But when the Dutch made an offer to buy the land, they gladly took the money.
- Referenced in World of Warcraft, where one goblin says something along the lines of, "If you're stupid enough to believe stuff like that, I've got a statue in Stranglethorn Vale to sell you!"
- There's also the rare drop item [Deed to Thandol Span]. Thandol Span is a massive bridge, making the item basically a WoW equivalent of a deed to the Golden Gate Bridge. The deed itself is classified as junk and as such has absolutely no use, but it fetches a high price from the vendors, and occasionally even from players who will buy it for its novelty value.
- In Baldur's Gate 2 when a giant interdimensional starship appears in the slums district, one of the citizens will try and sell it to you. He also has one sales pitch to every NPC you can bring with you, all of whom know better than to accept. If you have Valygar with you he'll chase the conman off, seeing how it's technically "his" sphere since his ancestor built the thing. Strangely if you're a mage, you actually can get control of the thing yourself as your wizard's tower.
- Edwin also references the trope at one point by claiming that if you really believe the Cowled Wizards are good for their word, he has a bridge in Thesk to sell you.
- In Order of the Stick, Haley's shopping budget includes a hefty "Elan tax", which she expects he'll probably spend on bridges. In a desert town.
- In The Rant of this El Goonish Shive, Dan makes a completely believable statement, then informs anyone that believed him that he has a bridge to sell.
It's a bridge and real and everything, and it goes somewhere people might want to go.
- Looney Tunes loves this gag. In Bowery Bugs Bugs Bunny even successfully sells the Brooklyn Bridge after telling the story of how a man made a dive from it (after being hounded and tricked by Bugs endlessly).
- Used as a Brick Joke in an episode of Top Cat: T.C. goes to the doctor after a nasty fall. When Choo-Choo mentions this to Dibble, the latter snidely remarks that T.C. will try to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge ("I didn't even know it was for sale!" replies Choo-Choo). Later at the doctor's office, the doctor says there's nothing wrong with T.C. and begins discussing his fee. T.C. then tries to pay the doctor with a "business opportunity": "I can't mention any names but it's about a certain bridge..."
- In the Filmation version of Mighty Mouse, a con man tries to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to Heckle and Jeckle. They politely decline saying that they own the Brooklyn Bridge. When the con man scoffs, he is utterly stunned when an armored car immediately stops by the magpies with the latest proceeds from the toll for the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Played in a very strange way in the Finnish animation Pasila, during the second season. The head of the police force, Repomies, has been, in his own words, tricked in a pyramid scheme and now claims to own a pyramid in Giza, Egypt. However, he had practically "sold" the landmark to himself. He had only been visiting a perfectly legitimate museum's Egypt exhibition, that advertised itself "See the pyramids!". Obviously, they just had scale models of the pyramids. Later, during his vacation to Egypt, Repomies wasn't allowed to enter his "very own pyramid" and became furious. Now, technically he didn't really lose any money since nobody was scamming him in the first place. However, all this leads him to order Pöysti to arrest Ramses II who inhabits "his pyramid". Before that, he actually tries to sell "his pyramid" to his colleagues. It should be noted that Repomies is a prime example of Cloudcuckoolander and a very senile one at that.
- Cosmo apparently fell for this.
Cosmo: So that's what con means. I've been wondering ever since that guy sold me the Brooklyn Bridge.
- The Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Mudd's Passion" mentions that Harry Mudd swindled the natives of one planet by selling them Starfleet Academy.