Durham: a gnome man's land?

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Gnome watcher Pamela King says she knows who is stealing the gnomes, and took this picture of the thiefs stash.
  • Gnome watcher Pamela King says she knows who is stealing the gnomes, and took this picture of the thief's stash.

UPDATE, 6/22: Apparently some gnomes have gone missing. Here at the Indy, we just received a call from gnome-watcher Pamela King, who says she knows who is responsible and is trying to persuade the thieves to put the garden ornaments back. King sent us the above photo of the apparent gnome-nabber's stash. Apparently, stealing the gnomes isn't a crime because the property is technically abandoned. Keep up with the developments at the gnome bloggers' website and Facebook page.


ORIGINAL POST, 6/18: This one moves to the top of the "What I Love About Durham" list.

Garden gnomes have been popping up in landmark locations around Durham since fall of last year. There seemed to be a lull in the gnome sightings earlier this year. But the charming little garden decorations are now back in large number, appearing randomly atop notable Durham buildings and highway underpasses.

Katie Smith and Shannon Bauman, two twenty-something downtown residents, have been tracking the gnome spottings on their website, DurhamGnomes.com.

"My girlfriend noticed them first," Bauman said about Smith. "She creates personas for each new gnome we've found."

Bloggers at DurhamGnomes.com named this guy Alastair Lazy Legs. He was discovered Sept. 2009.
  • Bloggers at DurhamGnomes.com named this guy Alastair Lazy Legs. He was discovered Sept. 2009.

The gnome names go alphabetically, like hurricanes, Bauman explained. The couple dubbed the first one they documented as "Alastair Lazy Legs." The next was "Bartleby Green Thumb." The little statues are about 6 to 8 inches tall, Bauman said, but now that he has eyes for gnomes, they're hard to miss.
The couple welcomes others to document their gnome sightings, and send in tips to the site.

The blog has gained a lot of popularity lately with the recent explosion in new gnomes around town, Bauman said. The website usually averages about 30 visitors a month, he said, but in the past two days, the site has gotten more than 900 hits, likely due to two recent TV news features (News 14, ABC 11) on the random phenomenon. There is also a Facebook page for the Durham sightings.

The bloggers give only clues to the locations of the gnomes and avoid making guesses at who might be behind the random whimsy.

"Personally, I do not want to know who it is," Bauman said. "I think the mystery of it is more fun. I think it would spoil it to know who’s doing it."

As far as Bauman is aware, there aren't similar clandestine gnome campaigns in other cities. This might just be uniquely Durham. And lots of Durhamites are playing along.

Bartleby Green Thumb in his new, top-secret location.
  • Bartleby Green Thumb in his new, top-secret location.

Shortly after Bartleby Green Thumb disappeared from his perch (later revealed to be the Durham Police Department headquarters in downtown), the bloggers received an anonymous tip (they really did) with a photo of Bartleby in his new digs (see photo). The tipster assured those who missed Bartleby that he was keeping good company, and even thinking about joining the Durham PD, according to the late 2009 blog post.

"It just seems like a really fun Durham activity," Bauman said. "Just people having fun with the small things in life and getting a kick out of them. It speaks a lot to the community in Durham."

Durham's gnomes bring to memory other local anonymous art installations, particularly in the Duke Park traffic circle, which people were really buzzing about a few years back. (A website once tracked the different art that appeared there). On a national scale, anonymous knitters on the Jersey Shore who wrapped trees in colorful scarves this past winter also received a lot of attention for their guerrilla art.

Are there other examples that come to mind?

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