Space Rocks & Severed Ears: 6 Great Moments in Gift Giving

The holiday season at its best is all about making memories with family and loved ones. You can give the gift of a shared experience by treating someone to a Watson Adventures gift certificate. You can redeem them for our scavenger hunts for the general public in seven cities, or as a private scavenger hunt just about anywhere.  Click here for details.

Or you could take a very different route to a memorable gift. Try giving one of the presents provided by the following famous people. Just remember, “memorable” isn’t always such a good thing.

Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Busts Did You Give Today?

When President Lyndon Johnson visited Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, the Pontiff gave him a 15th-century painting of the Nativity. In return, the president gave the Pope…a five-inch bust of Lyndon Johnson. Dude, you didn’t even try! If giving lousy gifts wasn’t a sin before that, it sure is now.

Impressionist Makes Bad Impression

After wielding a razor to threaten his roommate and fellow painter Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh famously sliced off his left ear lobe, wrapped it in newspaper, and gave it to a prostitute. On TV, Family Guy rendered the scene a bit differently, with the woman opening Van Gogh’s gift…

Woman: It’s… What is this?
Van Gogh: It’s my ear. Do you like it? You don’t like it.
Woman (uneasily): No, I like it. But it’s just… Why your ear?
Van Gogh: Because I love you.
Woman: Well, at least this will be a funny story to tell our kids someday.
Van Gogh: You want kids? Oh, yikes. I wish you’d told me that before I got you this….

Ben Franklin Saves a Pretty Penny

When in doubt, give money—especially if you’re destined to one day be money. If you’ve been on our Secrets of Old Boston Scavenger Hunt or Secrets of Old Philadelphia Scavenger Hunt, you know there’s no escaping Ben Franklin. After a lifetime of kite-flying and and America-founding, he bequeathed $2,000 sterling to the two cities in his will. The catch? The full sum could not be received until 200 years after his death in 1790.

By 1990, the legacy was worth $6.5 million. Boston laid claim to $4.5 million of the total because it had managed its share better. The money Franklin set aside came from his salary as governor of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788. He thought all public servants in a democracy should not receive a salary.

Gazillionaire Calls Collect

Oil man J. Paul Getty gave a spectacular gift to Los Angeles: an amazing art collection, now displayed in two exceptional places to see art, the Getty Villa (where we stage our Ancient Mysteries Scavenger Hunt) and the Getty Center (scene of the crime for our popular Murder at the Getty Scavenger Hunt).

One tale about Getty reveals the mindset that helped him make and keep his fortune. After he purchased his famed Tudor manor, Sutton Place, the telephone bills soared. Getty deduced that workmen, people making deliveries, and other visitors were “placing calls to girlfriends in Geneva or Georgia and to aunts, uncles, and third cousins twice-removed in Caracas and Cape Town,” as Getty wrote in his autobiography. His solution: He put dial locks on the regular phones and installed a pay phone. So, sort of a gift to himself.

Degrees of Separation, from Napoleon to Jackie O.

A job requirement for a museum director is to have a gift for persuading people to donate art to the museum. Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, excelled at this. Our hunts at the Met, particularly the Murder at the Met Scavenger Hunt, sometimes feature two such gifts.

One is a portrait by Prud’hon of French statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, a savvy survivor who counseled French kings and Napoleon alike. The painting was a 1994 gift from Jayne Wrightsman (wife of oilman Charles Wrightsman) in memory of her friend Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (wife of…oh, you know).

Another gift hangs nearby, a portrait of Talleyrand’s wife, Catherine. He was a womanizer, and she was a notorious courtesan who divorced her first husband in favor of Talleyrand. Napoleon forced them to marry. So when you look at these portraits, you are connecting with an oil fortune, the Kennedys, Napoleon, and a French scandal. Ooh la la, indeed.

Chicago Rocks

Featured on our new Magnificent Mile Grab ’n’ Go Scavenger Hunt, an unusual building in Chicago boasts the gifts—willing or not—of many countries and their monuments. The Tribune Tower’s facade features embedded stones from a wide range of famous places, including the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, the Hagia Sophia, the Palace of Westminster, the Great Pyramid, the Alamo, Notre-Dame, Lincoln’s Tomb, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, and the Vatican—149 fragments in all.

That number used to be 150, thanks to a moon rock on loan from NASA. Too precious to stick in a wall, the stellar gift occupied a gift-shop window for more than 10 years. But it was removed in 2011 and has yet to be replaced, despite NASA’s promise to do so. Next time the kids complain about a lump of coal in their stocking, tell them NASA sent it.

Find More Fun

You can order a Watson Adventures scavenger hunts gift certificate right over here. To ask us about arranging a corporate scavenger huntcontact us online or at 877-946-4868, extension 111. Visit the Public Scavenger Hunt schedule to find an upcoming scavenger hunt in cities around the country.

Check out the rest of the blog for fun stuff (like a look at crazy gifts from museum gift shops and where we found them) and useful tips for planning private and corporate eventsAnd while you’re at it, find us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@watsonhunts)!