By Siobhán O’Grady / The Washington Post
Last month, as curators prepared to reveal an 18-karat gold toilet valued at more than $1 million that was installed in Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, one of the property’s caretakers laughed off concerns it could be stolen.
“It’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick,” Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill told the Sunday Times. “Firstly it’s plumbed in, and secondly a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan on guarding it.”
Well, a good thief can find a way to steal anything.
And sure enough, police in Oxfordshire were alerted to a burglary at 4:57 a.m. local time on Saturday. They arrived to the scene to discover that a band of thieves had spirited away with the golden throne, which had already been used at least 100,000 times in recent years.
“We are saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt,” a spokesperson for Blenheim Palace said in a statement. “We are very grateful to our staff and to Thames Valley Police for their rapid and brave reactions.”
The toilet, designed by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, is called “America.” Critics have described it both as a reflection of American obsession with luxury and consumerism and as a depiction of the American Dream.
It was previously on display in a public bathroom on the fifth-floor of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where museum-goers queued for hours for the chance to pop a squat – and staffers diligently cleaned it at 15-minute intervals.
The Guggenheim famously offered the toilet to President Trump in 2017, in lieu of his request for Van Gogh’s 1888 “Landscape With Snow.”
According to an email obtained by The Washington Post early last year, the museum’s chief curator told the White House that Cattelan “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan.” When reached by The Post at the time, and asked to explain why he offered the toilet to the Trumps, Cattelan said: “What’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die, and then it makes sense.”
The toilet was never welcomed into the White House, but was installed in Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this summer as part of an exhibition of Cattelan’s controversial work. Other pieces on display include a child-size statue of Adolf Hitler on his knees, his hands folded as though in prayer, and a statue of Pope John Paul II crushed under the weight of a meteorite.
The exhibition opened just two days ago and was scheduled to run through Oct. 27. Visitors who paid around $33 for entrance to the grounds were able to sign up in advance for time slots that allowed them to use the functioning loo for a maximum of three minutes each.
The palace said a lot of visitors were looking forward to the opportunity. “It’s therefore a great shame an item so precious has been taken,” a palace spokesperson said. On Saturday afternoon, the online booking page for the toilet appeared to have been taken down.
As one would imagine, the heist also caused a bit of a mess.
“Due to the toilet being plumbed in to the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding,” detective inspector Jess Milne said in a statement, adding that the offenders are believed to have used at least two vehicles in their getaway.
One 66-year-old man has already been arrested, but the police declined to elaborate further on what they described as a “live investigation.”
The palace closed its doors Saturday but planned to reopen for what remained of the exhibition Sunday.
Spencer-Churchill told the Guardian in May that “despite being born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” he’d never used a golden toilet. “So I look forward to it,” he said at the time.
The Washington Post was unable to immediately confirm if he had the chance before it disappeared.