During sunny, warm beach days, kids could be found on the shores of Brittany, France, dipping their feet in the water, building sandcastles, looking for seashells…
And finding bright orange Garfield heads, buried in the sand among a graveyard of phone cords, receivers, and numerical buttons.
You see, the beaches in Brittany didn’t just provide the standard beach fare. Sure, you could find sand dollars, pieces of coral, and even a few shark teeth if you were lucky. But these beaches had a different sort of bounty, the source of which had been a mystery for more than 30 years.
These bounties were an odd sort of treasure, though–they were Garfield the Cat telephones.
The Garfield Phone Beach Mystery
Since the 1980s, Brittany, France, has been fighting a losing fight against a never-ending tide of plastic orange cats. It all started with just a few pieces, but they just kept coming–the unmistakable visage of lasagna-loving Garfield the cat, only in phone form.
When the phones started appearing, Garfield was at the height of his popularity. The lazy orange cat that spawned from a comic strip struck the funny bones of millions of people around the world. With any cultural phenomenon, popularity is quickly followed by merchandise.
One of the strange products to come out of the Garfield phase was the Garfield phone. Now a collectible worth over $100, the Tyco brand telephones were fun. When the receiver is picked up on the phone, the big round eyes open, and the smirk on Garfield’s big orange face is quite endearing.
But it didn’t take long for the residents of Brittany to grow tired of Garfield’s smile…and after some time, anything to do with the kitschy little cat phones.
As cute as they were, the Garfield phones were undeniably litter. And a seemingly never-ending source of plastic phone litter is never good for any environment. Claire Simonin-Le Meur, president of the environmental group Ar Viltansoù, had been worried about the phones for a long time.
Claire and her team of activists would visit the beaches, and meticulously clean them of any sort of pollution. This included Garfield phones, which were remarkably well-preserved for the amount of time they had potentially spent in the saltwater. Some even appeared to be like new. Once their cleaning was done, it was only a matter of time before more Garfield phones appeared, and even the orange cat’s face would become something the cleaning crew would dread.
In 2018 alone, over 200 pieces of Garfield phones washed ashore in France and had to be cleaned up. So where in the world were the Garfield phones coming from?
Why do Garfield Phones Keep Washing Up on the Beach?
Claire Simonin-Le Meur had an idea about what was spawning the Garfield plague on her beach, but she hoped that her solution was incorrect. Clarie’s idea was that a shipping container of the Garfield phones must have been lost, and was sitting at the bottom of the ocean, sending pieces to wash ashore while simultaneously polluting the marine ecosystem around it.
This could be very problematic to local sealife–the plastics, metals, and paint could leach chemicals into the water, and the small pieces of the phone could be eaten by mistake once they detached from the main body of the phone.
This hypothesis led Simonin-Le Meur to search for the source of the phones. If such a shipping container could be found and pulled from the ocean depths, there was no telling what sort of damage could be avoided.
So, Simonin-Le Meur went to local divers and to the military, wanting their submarines to be used to look for the giant Garfield container. Her intentions were good, but everyone was skeptical that the shipping container would even be visible anymore. This meant Simonin-Le Meur was on her own if she wanted to find the Garfield source.
In 2019, her luck changed. She was on the beach, once again cleaning up debris, when she met farmer René Morvan. At the time, there had been an increased amount of media attention surrounding the Garfield phone mystery, and it had jogged the memory of the farmer. He asked Simonin-Le Meur if she was looking for Garfield, and when she confirmed his suspicions, the farmer knew just what to do.
“Come with me,” he told her. “I can show you.”
The Mystery of the Garfield Phones Washing Ashore is Solved
Morvan talked as he led Simonin-Le Meur, telling her all about his history with the Garfield phones. When he was just 20, a storm hit the coastline. This storm seemed to be the catalyst for the mystery, because not long after the phones began to wash ashore.
He and his brother wondered where something so strange as hundreds of Garfield telephones could have come from, so they went to find out what they could. The brothers walked the rocky shore until they came upon a cave.
And in the cave was Garfield.
Inside the cave, wedged so tightly it would never come loose, was a shipping container full of bright orange cat phones. It was an exciting discovery for the brothers, but nothing ever came of their finding. It wasn’t until decades later that his story would be able to settle a 30-year pollution mystery.
When Simonin-Le Meur and a documentary crew went back to the cave to put the origin of the Garfield phones to rest once and for all, it was a bittersweet moment. On the way to the cave, orange bits of the phones were scattered everywhere. But once they were inside the cave proper, they found the container, just as expected. Garfield, though…most of his remnants had long since washed away.
There was plenty of evidence that the shipping container had been full of Garfield phones when it got stuck, but it had been over 30 years. Most of the phones had washed either out to sea or to the beach in Brittany, where they had first gained their fame.
So, in the end, the mystery of the Garfield phones washing ashore was solved, but there wasn’t a pile of brand-new phones waiting like buried treasure. Instead, Simonin-Le Meur found a shipping container, but much more importantly, she found answers.
“#PollutionAlert: in Finistère, Garfield phones have been polluting the beaches for thirty years”
“For decades, Garfield telephones kept washing ashore in France. Now the mystery has been solved.”