World’s Oldest Souvenirs Included All Kinds Of Contraband

berlin wall fragment
Garry Wilmore, Flickr

Who here doesn’t have a collection of mini monuments, fridge magnets, key rings and mugs collected on vacation? For as long as humans have been traveling, we’ve had an inexplicable urge to bring back some sort of object that reminds us of our trip, and that’s the focus of a new exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But don’t be fooled, you won’t find any mugs or magnets here.

The collection displays some of the world’s oldest souvenirs and harks back to a time when travelers clearly didn’t have to contend with airport customs officials. You see, back in the early days, there were no souvenir shops attached to museums where you could pick up your trinkets, so tourists eager for a knick-knack just took whatever they wanted. On display is one traveler’s souvenir of a napkin that belonged to Napoleon, and another tourist’s odd collection of hair, including tresses that belonged to George Washington.Other souvenirs that would clearly be illegal to buy or take today include pieces of the Berlin Wall, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and a piece of marble chipped off the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that we started catching on that taking home actual relics and historical objects was a bad idea, and it was this realization that sparked a boom in souvenirs — as shops started manufacturing the kitsch Eiffel Tower statues and collectible teaspoons that we know today.

Still, the abundance of souvenir shops doesn’t stop some travelers from collecting their own unique mementos. Last year, Rome chastised tourists for stealing bits of the city’s cobblestone roads and mosaics, while in Dublin, religious relics were stolen from a historic church. In South Australia, someone managed to walk away with the bones and jaw of a whale that was on display in a tourist park, though at two meters long, we’re not sure exactly how they stuffed that into their luggage.

Do you know of any other strange souvenirs that travelers have collected?

After Easter Island statue vandalized by a Finn many want his ear

As Grant pointed out, the Giza Pyramids are not for wandering about freely because of vandalism. Here are some more can’t get close to items. Plymouth Rock can’t be seen up close due to vandals that once chipped at it for a souvenir. You can’t wander around Stonehenge at random anymore for the same reason. You can’t get too close to Michelangelo’s, Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica either. A man attacked it years ago with a hammer, although he didn’t really want the pieces to keep, he just wanted it in pieces.

The pull to take parts of history home, particularly if the history is etched in stone, was strong enough that Marko Kulju, the Finnish tourist got his hankering to cut the ear off one of the Easter Island statues and put it in his luggage. Marko, Marko, Marko, Van Gogh did the ear thing years ago to not very good results. To add to Grant’s admonishment, didn’t your parents ever say to you, “What if everyone decided to cut an ear off the statues?”

The Chilean president is fuming mad and wants a piece of Kulju’s ear as retribution. Kulju is currently under house arrest in Chile and will have to pay a fine. I picked that one out of three options in the AOL poll today that went with the article. Many people, 37 % when I checked, want his ear.

Jeez people. Get up on the wrong side of the bed did we? Anyone ever write their name somewhere? How about pick a wildflower from a national park? Walk where the sign says, “Don’t walk.” Take that tiny arrowhead or pottery shard that no one will notice home in ones pocket? (I haven’t done one of these things, I’m just saying.)

This story is one more lesson in don’t touch so the rest of us have something left to enjoy or you may have to pay. Think of the highway signs that say fines for littering. Those count too.