The Telephone Pole Gnomes of Oakland

In early 2012, painted gnomes started showing up at the bases of telephone poles in Oakland, California, our own town. Or maybe they were there earlier, but just hadn’t yet gotten noticed. Here at FairyRoom, we might joke that all the fairy dust we’re stirring up with this online magazine brought these mysterious urban gnomes to our town, but we really do know better.

Nevertheless, we truly have no idea who is behind them. No one has claimed responsibility. It’s not us, we swear.

The gnomes are clustered on the eastern side of Lake Merritt, in the hilly neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. They are only about four or five inches tall, and to almost the last gnome, they face away from the street. I saw only one from my car, but there are dozens facing the sidewalks. On some streets, there is at least one gnome on every pole. On some poles they appear in pairs, on others the gnomes stand alone. And some gnomes stand alongside similarly painted mushrooms (for scale?). And they are all firmly attached with seriously tight screws.

The gnomes on the streets close to the lake’s edge are wearing pants. But as the streets angle up the hill, the gnomes on the telephone poles change their wardrobe to kilts. The gnomes of Oakland’s higher elevations are plainly Highlanders, a bit of dry humor we heartily appreciate. This little guy (pictured above) appears to be wearing either the Galbraith or Campbell Clan Tartan. I call him Angus.

Only a couple of other blogs have reported the gnomes. With thanks to Oakland blogger David Colburn for the photos (for more, see David’s gnome album on Google+).

Said a commenter (with an obvious alias: Johnny Payphone) on David’s blog:

The gneighborhood is gnee deep in gnomes! Gnobody gnows where they come from. They are only found at the bases of telephone poles- and are solitary creatures, gnever gathering in groups. They hate low altitudes and heavy traffic. I suspect they are living off the energy in the telephone wires. They seem to be cultivating the mushrooms, possibly for gnoshing on. I’ve gnever found one outside of Cleveland Heights. I believe this population is descended from a shipment of gnomes bound for Fairyland in 1928 that escaped when the delivery truck tipped over.

Said one of Cleveland Heights’s residents of the gnomes: “I love them!” We do, too!

Update! Our beloved Oakland gnomes were in danger, but were granted asylum: read about it here.

  • Chelsea Martin

    How many Oakland gnomes are there?!

    • Emily Cotler

      I don’t think that there has been a definitive count…

  • Liz Schwartz

    Are there ever any girl gnomes or am I gnome-gnieve??? These are just wonderful. I love thinking about the sneaky effort to make these happen! Speaks well of Oakland!

    • Emily Cotler

      Liz! While I am sure that there are girl gnomes somewhere in the world, the Telephone Pole Gnomes of Oakland appear to be all of male variety. If we spot a gnomette, we shall be sure to update this report!

    • Drust

      Gnomes and dwarves are tricky. Some say the girls look just like the boys. Some say there aren’t any girls, or that they are much better at hiding.

  • steven friedland

    notice the uniform wood substrate and paint color. notice the fasteners, special Torx head screws not easily removable. i suspect a northern european woodworker/craftsperson, about 60 years old.

  • Julie Larwood

    I have found them on Brooklyn, Spruce,MacArthur, Montclair,Zora,7th,Wesley. I am sure there are many others. I was told there are now some over by Fairyland.

    • Emily Cotler

      This is Fantastic! Someone told me there are a few fisher-gnomes over by Jack London Square. I shall investigate!

  • Topher

    when I moved here from Boston in October.. I saw one.. then another.. so one day I went on a hunt and I myself took 116 pictures in just my side of the hood.. Stow Ave/Brooklyn! SO GREAT!

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