Waldorf-Astoria gets everything but kitchen sink back in souvenirs amnesty

 

The hotel has been recovering long-lost property from sticky-fingered guests with no questions asked, writes in JAMES BARRONNew York

A SILVER coffee pot, a couple of knives, a fork, a coaster for a bottle of wine: the goods were spread out on a table the way the police would spread out guns or drugs hauled in from a raid that would make the TV news.

But the well-polished table was made of African maple, fancier than anything in the usual police station. And this was no precinct house; it was the Waldorf-Astoria. The stolen goods had been returned under an amnesty programme.

Bring back our spoons, the Waldorf said. Our forks. Our long-lost teapots that had been “secretly checked out,” as the hotel put it on its Facebook page. “We’re giving you the chance to give it back, no questions asked.”

Some newspaper articles were more pointed after the hotel announced the amnesty in June: “Do you have a souvenir from New York’s legendary Waldorf-Astoria hotel that perhaps you shouldn’t have?” USA Today wondered. “Perhaps Aunt Bessy had sticky fingers?”

The Waldorf does not know how many Aunt Bessies have left with larceny in their luggage. The hotel says it has not kept track of items that have disappeared over its long history, first as side-by-side hotels on Fifth Avenue, then for the past 81 years at 301 Park Avenue.

And hotel officials acknowledged that even a Perry Mason would have a hard time proving that some items had been stolen. “Our towels aren’t branded,” said Meg Towner, the hotel’s social media manager. “The bathrobes are. But bathrobes take up a lot of space in a suitcase.” (A “plush terry robe” sells for $125 on the Waldorf’s website.)

The silver coffee pot sent back by Judy Schreiber, a psychotherapist who lives in San Diego, would have crowded a suitcase – probably her father’s, she said.

“My dad and my mom had a one-night honeymoon in 1938,” she said. “I think going to the Waldorf was a huge deal in those days, huge. There was not a lot of money around. And, the story goes, my dad stole it, basically. Every year on their anniversary, he took it out and served coffee on it.”

Matt Zolbe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said that Schreiber was one of about 15 people who returned items before the amnesty ended. An additional 15 or so items have been promised.

He said he was pleased by those numbers. After all, the Waldorf did not start the amnesty because it needed used silverware, he said, but because it was looking for attention on social media.

“Social media is ravenous for content,” he said, and that puts pressure on hotel executives to hold their Facebook followers’ interest. The Waldorf had 15,882 of them as of last Friday, and the amnesty programme will give them something to see. The hotel is posting images of the returned items and will eventually display them in the lobby – but not the police photos of the people who handed in the items.

“The word ‘amnesty’ was always used as a word that would be compelling in and of itself,” Zolbe said. “The idea that we would be litigious was never part of the programme, and the word ‘amnesty’ was probably less useful for social media. ‘Amnesty’ is probably why we got snarky comments like ‘What do you think the statute of limitations is on something taken in 1935?’”

He said some items came from John Does and Jane Does, people who had slunk in and, desperate to avoid the third degree, had declined to give their names as they slipped the pirated items across the front desk.

Most of the objects, though, came from people who had signed their names and had told stories that might or might not hold up in the interrogation room.

Paula Herold, a theatrical producer, said her mother’s response to the amnesty had been straight-faced. She had summoned Herold and had sent her off to the Waldorf with two butter knives that Herold’s grandmother pocketed at charity lunches in the 1950s – one knife one year; the other the next. “She only went those two times,” Herold said. “God only knows, the Waldorf might not have any silverware if she’d gone more.”

Nathanael Mullener, a retired psychologist from New Orleans, said he was sending back a teapot, “a compact, pink one-cupper with silver trim” that had had a place in a corner cabinet in his family’s house in Queens when he was growing up. “It looks like it may have come from the ’20s or ’30s,” he said. “I’m 75 years old, and it’s been in my life as long as I can remember.”

Its provenance troubled him, Mullener said, even when he was younger. “I actually couldn’t enjoy using it. There was no doubt it was pilfered. I could understand why someone would want it, but I couldn’t understand anyone in my family taking it, with a few exceptions.”

Other hotels have tried amnesties: the Mayflower Hotel in Washington announced one in 2007, but did not accept everything that was offered.

“We had somebody who wanted to return a bathtub,” said Keith McClinsey, the director of sales.

He said hotels had to be careful about the authenticity of items they took back. One item the Mayflower would not accept if it had another amnesty was the brass-plated plaque from Room 871, the suite in which Eliot Spitzer (former governor of New York until his resignation) stayed with a prostitute. McClinsey had the plaque that was there when Spitzer checked out taken down as soon as the story hit the newspapers.

“We replaced it with an identical one,” he said. “That one was stolen, as we expected it might be. We went through about five of them.” He said one was soon advertised on eBay. – (New York Times)