The Waldorf Astoria Amnesty Program: Celebrating Stolen Mementos

Three months ago, the Waldorf Astoria put out a call for the return of items which had been secreted out of the hotel throughout the years. Since that time, the hotel has received a deluge of packages in the mail, each containing an item which had been a memento of a special trip.

In a recent interview with As It HappensMatt Zolbe, the Waldorf Astoria’s director of sales and marketing, said they chose the word amnesty very specifically. The hotel is not looking to point the finger of blame for those who walked off with hotel property, but rather is looking to celebrate the historical markers of guests’ lives.  A stay at the famed Park Avenue luxury hotel often coincides with one of life’s significant occasions; a wedding, a honeymoon, a birthday, a big promotion, or just a special getaway.

So what kind of items has the hotel received? According to Zolbe, guests were conscientious about taking smaller-ticket items. “I did have one gentlemen who sent me a shoebox full of silverware, as well as a big copper kitchen pot with a lid,” said Zolbe. “But otherwise it’s typically someone who slipped one or two small items into a breast pocket and left with it.”

This month the Waldorf Astoria released photos of some of their favorites from the amnesty program. Notable items include demi-tasse spoons, coffee pots and knives, each with their own special history. Gussie Herold’s family returned a pair of knives dating back to the 1950’s, when Herold had been at the Waldorf Astoria for a dinner celebrating her fundraising on behalf of a local children’s hospitals. Herold won the award twice, and took home a knife each year to mark the occasion. The knives were returned by her granddaughter Paula Herold.

Zolbe has also seen the return of an inordinate number of demitasse spoons, which is the most frequently stolen item from the Waldorf Astoria to this day. According to Claude Phillipe, the Waldorf Astoria’s former head of sales and banquets, up to 25,000 demitasse spoons (accounting for ninety percent of the active demitasse silverware) go missing during the hotel’s busiest weeks. Many of the spoons are taken by collectors; Zolbe received one dating back to 1925, taken by a woman with a unique silverware collection, comprising one spoon from every restaurant and hotel she visited. According to the woman’s daughter, who returned the Waldorf Astoria’s spoon, her mother built up a sizable collection which is still in use by her family today.

“It’s been nice, it’s been pleasant,” said Zolbe. “I’m getting just really lovely stories of why dad brought this home and how it was on our thanksgiving table for many years, how it was part of family lore.” The amnesty program has helped cement this famed hotel’s place in the hearts of so many guests, who will cherish their Waldorf Astoria mementos for years to come.

Source and photos courtesy the Waldorf Astoria. Additional content courtesy the CBC’s As It Happens