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The Gideons, an unsolved mystery
Curious, that no one has ever actually seen a Gideon
Any person who has stayed in a motel or hotel has, at one point or another, opened the drawer next to their bed. And encountered a Bible.
And that Bible, as we all know, because we’ve opened it many times and seen the message on its front, was “Placed by the Gideons.”
I’ve been encountering Gideon Bibles for at least fifty years, ever since I started traveling and staying in all kinds of lodgings. From swanky hotels with palatial bathrooms to skanky motel rooms with buckling, paper-thin walls and rust on the bathroom faucets. There was, regardless of the situation, high or low, a Gideon Bible waiting for me. Unfailingly.
Speaking of literature, the Gideon Bible is actually mentioned, if obliquely, in a poem by W.H. Auden titled, “On the Circuit.” It’s about flying from city to city lecturing and the travails of that life, including staying in strange hotels and motels:
The Bible is a goodly book
I always can peruse with zest,
But really cannot say the same
For Hilton's Be My Guest.
Obviously, that Bible he writes of was “placed by the Gideons.”
The main mystery for me is when do the Gideons put their Bibles in the hotel drawer? Has anyone ever seen a Gideon place a Bible? Do they do this sneaking into hotels in the middle of the night, determining which rooms are vacant, then, using a purloined master key to open the doors to those unoccupied rooms, stealthily place a Bible in the drawer? Afterwards fleeing back into the night before they’re caught?
I have never met a Gideon. That is, as far as I know. Because, in fact, I might have, but just never knew it. Has there ever been a famous Gideon? A Gideon ever held public office? If so, where? Has a Gideon ever written a tell-all memoir?
To find the answers to these perplexing questions, I called the international headquarters of the Gideons in Nashville, Tennessee.
The woman who answered the phone was somewhat wary of me.
“What is it you want?”
“Well, I’m a writer and I have a few questions about the Gideons!!! You know, general background, how many bibles have you placed, who puts them in the hotel rooms—and how!!
“Hmm. All right, let me see.”
She eventually transferred me to a woman in the communications department. I began:
“Ok, so how, exactly, do the Gideons place the Bibles in hotels?” I asked. “They just don’t walk in someone’s room and open the drawer and drop it in, do they?!?”
“No. We call the hotel ahead of time and ask their permission. Sometimes they call us and ask us to place them in the rooms.”
“But many rooms are occupied! You don’t go into rooms where people are staying—do you???”
“No, of course not. We speak with the manager, and he tells us which rooms are vacant, and then he accompanies us.”
“But that must mean you have to come back several times, I would imagine, since, as you say, some of the rooms would be occupied. That could take a long time!
“Ok. Well now. Have you ever had a hotel or motel reject your offer to place Bibles in their establishment?”
“We don’t keep any records on that.”
The Gideons, I learned, have been around for 120 years. They were founded by three men in Wisconsin. Obviously, they’ve grown. Since then, they have placed 2.4 billion bibles in various hotels, motels, hospitals, jails and nursing homes!!!
Still, it all seemed a bit fishy to me. I would love to see surveillance footage from a hotel’s security system, to actually witness a Gideon putting a Bible in a drawer. Because as far as I’m concerned, I need to see it with my own eyes. There may be no such thing as the Gideons! Someone—or some thing—might be doing this. Remember, Gideons spelled backward is Snoedig. And we all know what that means.
Yes, I actually did this.