Through an innovative amnesty program, former guests were asked to return baubles they’d taken from the hotel over the years. Now a treasury of good things is back.
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Be honest: At some point you’ve taken something home with you from a hotel. Maybe it was just a posh robe, but for some people it goes a bit further. At the Waldorf Astoria countless valuables have mysteriously disappeared over the hotel’s long history. You might remember hearing the news earlier this year that the hotel announced a first-of-its-kind program that offered former guests amnesty for returning the shiny objects. Well, the results are in: The hotel managed to collect some valuable items, and they’ll go on display in an on-site museum, Host to the World, in the coming months.
Matt Zolbe, the Waldorf’s director of sales and marketing, explains how the amnesty idea came about. “When we tour the hotel with clients, we find them captivated by our archival photography. To see a young Sinatra, or a photo of Kennedy in 1960, or Princess Grace prior to her engagement party—these images make the corridors come alive. We wanted to add actual items from those times.”
As it turns out, the stories the hotel heard in the process are as good as the returned items. “One man posted online that many decades ago he met his wife at the Waldorf; she was then an employee in our housekeeping department. He married her and returned to Germany,” says Zolbe. “An offer was made to return her…. We assume the offer was tongue-in-cheek.”
Here are a few more stories.
Silver Coffee Pot
Dating from 1938, this coffee pot was taken by a honeymooning couple who didn’t have much money but had splurged on an $8 room at the Waldorf, which they considered “America’s Palace.” Over the years the pilfered pot was passed down through the family—and now to the hotel. The piece has a clever design with a long handle that allowed waiters to pour coffee without having to reach over diners’ shoulders.
Pair of Knives
The two knives were taken at two separate events by one guest. In the 1950s a charity fundraising luncheon for children’s hospitals twice honored a woman named Gussie Herold, and she brought home one knife from each luncheon as a souvenir. Her granddaughter Paula Herold eventually inherited the knives—and returned them to their rightful owner.
In the late 1950s the Peacock Alley bar served snacks to late-night drinkers on these shell-shaped dishes. One guest, an appliance salesman, was so impressed by the design that he liberated a couple of the dishes and brought them home, where his family used them for special meals for decades. His daughter, who had innocently accompanied her father on the fateful hotel stay, finally sent them back.
This coaster from the 1950s has a ridged base that helps raise the bottle above any condensation. The family that returned it fingered a wealthy ancestor as the culprit, and surprised themselves in the process, as they hadn’t known him to be the kind of man to engage in petty theft.
Silver Demitasse Spoon
The spoon dates all the way to 1925. It turns out the woman who took it had a silver collection she built by taking demitasse spoons from restaurants she’d dine in with friends over the years; her family finally confessed for her. Demitasse spoons have been stolen from the Waldorf more often than other item, presumably because they’re so easy to conceal. By one count, 25,000 of them have disappeared.
The history of this item, from 1948, remains a mystery. The good Samaritan who returned it enclosed a letter signed “Jane Doe,” and said she had acquired it at a yard sale. Likely story.