Souvenirs

By Peed, Mike | The New Yorker, August 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Souvenirs


Peed, Mike, The New Yorker


Catherine and Edward Hayner, of Harrison, New Jersey, were not exactly Bonnie and Clyde, although their love was burnished with a crime. On June 25, 1949, after a wedding at the town's Holy Cross Church and before a honeymoon in Lake George, Tot and Ted, as everyone called them, spent a night at the Waldorf-Astoria. Ted was a loan officer at a bank; Tot, the daughter of the Harrison police chief. That evening, the couple ordered room service, and, before returning the cart, Tot, in a gesture of newlywed derring-do, slipped into her purse a sterling-silver cocktail fork, etched with the word "Waldorf." For more than sixty years, the fork hid in the couple's silver drawer. "They were nose-to-the-grindstone, hardworking people," a granddaughter, Christine Hayner, said the other day. "I'd ask my grandmother about the fork, and she'd quickly protest, 'It's just a fork!' "

Matt Zolbe, the Waldorf's marketing director, does not think that a fork is just a fork. Last month, Zolbe announced, on Facebook and Twitter, the Waldorf Amnesty Program, in the hope--quixotic, detractors say--of retrieving the many goods that have disappeared from the hotel over the years. "I don't plan on asking a lot of questions, and I won't pursue charges," said Zolbe, who is specifically looking to recover items taken between 1893, when the Waldorf opened, and 1960. Just as Greece wants its Elgin Marbles, the Waldorf wants its cocktail forks.

Sitting in the hotel's Peacock Alley restaurant on a recent afternoon, Zolbe demonstrated how easy it is to cadge a piece of cutlery. With his snow-white hair combed straight back and his gold cufflinks, he appeared the perfect Waldorf guest (twenty-four hundred dollars for a night in a suite). He lifted a fork and, as if reaching for a handkerchief, slid it into his jacket pocket. As of that afternoon, the new amnesty program had reaped just one item: Tot and Ted's fork, hand-delivered by Christine Hayner, who works in sales at the Waldorf.

So how much stuff do guests filch from hotels each year? Bjorn Hanson, the dean of N.Y.U.'s hospitality program, thinks it's about eighty million dollars' worth. "It's anything you can imagine," Hanson said. "Light bulbs, fire extinguishers, alarm clocks, the numbers on the doors." At the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco, someone once walked out with a giant koi from a pond. …

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