Waldorf=Astoria Recovers Stolen Items, Memories

In 1949, newlyweds from New Jersey spent their first night as husband and wife in the iconic Waldorf=Astoria in New York City. Upon finishing their room service dinner, the bride tucked a fork into her luggage.

Sixty-three years later that fork returned home as part of The Amnesty Program launched July 2 by the 81-year-old hotel.

Just recently the hotel’s public relations department put out a call for items that secretly checked out. Past guests are encouraged to return all items predating 1960, with no questions asked, through Sept. 15.

Director of Sales and Marketing Matt Zolbe wants the date the item was taken and associated memories. The Amnesty Program was developed to recover items and build the hotel’s archives and historical gallery. Zolbe is hoping to retrieve silver such as demitasse spoons used during the hotel’s supper club years as well as ashtrays and linens.

The program isn’t about the stuff, but the stories. “Our hope is to hear stories about how the Waldorf is significant in people’s individual lives,” says Zolbe. “The hotel is famous not just for the performers and diplomatic visitors, but the mile markers it represents in our lives. Everybody wants a piece of that.”

“We don’t want our archives to just be the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,” he says of the famous couple who, among well-known others, established a residence there. “We want emblematic items showing why the Waldorf is important to Middle America.”

Of course, the Amnesty Program’s public relations value is playing out well on two levels. First, it’s been highly publicized in mainstream media including newspapers, radio and television. Second, it’s feeding the hotel’s social media efforts.

“We want to introduce the Waldorf to the next generation so they understand the allure, the luxury it’s represented,” says Zolbe. “We want to use social media to accomplish that -- Twitter (@WaldorfNYC), Facebook, Pintrest and Tumblr.”

“The way you’re able to develop friends and fans [on social media sites] is to be interesting. You have to have content,” he says of the hotel’s strategy. “Offers and updates on your products aren’t how people want to engage you. They want to be captivated. We think The Amnesty Program can be one of the elements we use in those forums.”

The stuff and its stories will be presented in the lobby museum as well as on social media.

That “stuff” includes things as simple as a coffee cup taken by a soldier and his girl. While she expected a night in the famed hotel, he could only afford dinner. So, they celebrated at the hotel’s supper club and kept the coffee cup as a memento.

With the exception of a vase taken in the 1930s, most items have little real value to the hotel. For example, one woman cherishes a placecard from her mom’s first anniversary dinner in 1938. The couple had a champagne toast at midnight in Wedgewood Room, a symbol for her of an ultimately romantic night.

Full disclosure: This writer absconded with an ashtray in the 1980s as a marker that she’d made the big time after a journalism lunch in the famed hotel.

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