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Tiny little men donning pointy red hats and long white beards have been spotted napping and smoking in gardens for quite some time now. Their chubby cheeks are flushed and there little trousers have chips in the paint. Some people are really in to garden gnomes. Some people are entirely creeped out by them. One thing is certain; no one seems certain on where they came from.

The garden gnome actually originates from Germany. 1800’s Germany to be more precise. A sculpture and potter by the name of Phillip Griebel started making ceramic figures of animals. Inspired by the myths of gnomes, Griebel starting cranking out little humanlike figures with bushy beards and pointed hats. The first known gnome to be marketed was in Leipzig in 1884 and was an instant success. This spurred many more gnomes to be manufactured in Germany. The production of gnomes from Germany drastically decreased during World War 2, but Griebel descendants still make garden gnomes today. They are the last manufacturers of German garden gnomes.  But what is the myth tied to these mysterious figures?

Well the myth that surrounds these little beings is called, what else, Gnomes. They have been described as little beings, stout in stature, ranging from a few inches to a foot or two in height. They are said to live underground, which makes their pointy hats even more crazy. It’s said that they would drill through the soil using their hats, moving as easily through the soil as we do on top of it. But if they were caught outside in the sunlight, they would turn to stone. Think about that next time you see a gnome in a garden and the cruel fate it has encountered. They have been credited with magical powers as well and are keepers of underground treasures, like gold. People also believe that they aid in plant growth and help tend their gardens at night time. 

There have been many Garden Gnome activists groups out there, satirically fighting for the betterment of gnome quality of life and freedom. This includes persons sneaking into yards at night a stealing gnomes, later releasing them into the wild, as well as giving the gnomes signs with slogans like “Stop Oppressive Gardening!” or “Gnome Liberation!” or “Just Say Gnome!” so the little guys could picket for themselves.  There have been gnome sanctuaries established in some part of the forests by these groups. However, these groups are not yet considered terrorists, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Gnomes have been quite common in pop culture. The first modern well known gnome was the Travelocity Roaming Gnome. The commercials came about in 2004 and consisted of a man named Bill looking for him gnome. The gnome later went on to denounce traveling myths and visit exotic locations to do so. However, it was another gnome that inspired this one.  In the 2001 French film Amélie (which is very, very good, but pretty weird) the main protagonist Amelie steals her introvert father’s favorite garden gnome. She then takes it to major landmarks and snaps a photo of it. It drives her father insane when she sends him the pictures of his prized gnome in order to get him out of the house to see the world. More recently, in 2011 actually, Gnomeo and Juliet, a film portraying Romeo and Juliet but with gnomes, was released as a kid’s movie. International Gnome Day was instituted in 2002 and is celebrated on June 21.

Some have lanterns, others have fishing poles. Some are smoking, some are sleeping. Some are tall and some are small. Some sit on mushrooms while others play with butterflies. They are cute and delightfully tacky. But as far as where they come from, well, now you gnome!