The story of the abundant socialite who concealed in a hotel space for 24 years

The story of the abundant socialite who concealed in a hotel space for 24 years

When 93- year-old Ida Wood opened the door of her suite at the Herald Square hotel in New york city in June 1931 crying for aid for her passing away sis, it was the very first time she ‘d left her room in almost a quarter of a century.

Hotel staff claimed Ms Wood called out, “My sibling is sick. Get a physician. I think she’s going to die!”

The hotel supervisor and a physician hurried to suite 152, where Ms Wood’s sis Mary Mayfield lay dead on the sofa. But, as the men looked around the space, they were shocked by what they saw.

Suite 152 was a hoarder’s paradise, stuffed with hundreds of mouldy boxes, yellowing papers, wooden trunks, garbage, numerous old cracker boxes, and decaying food wedged next to invaluable artworks and jewellery.

And so began an interesting journey for attorneys to unravel the secret of Ida Wood, the frail old woman who explored the Herald Square hotel and stayed there for 24 years. Hotel housemaids understood not to bother with suites 551-552 The only indications of life they ever saw was when, very occasionally, a frail old-timer would emerge to pass out sheets for washing, or to accept the groceries they ‘d have provided each week– eggs, bacon, evaporated milk and crackers.

With Mary’s death and the discovery of the filth and hoarding in the room, Ida was transferred to another space downstairs while attorneys were brought in to investigate. Who was the reclusive old female? How did she happen surrounded with so much wealth? Why did she live with such mess and gunk?

It wasn’t long prior to Ms Wood’s spectacular story became public and the maze of lies, massive riches and fraud started to unravel.

It was 152 years ago this month that Ms Wood married among New York’s wealthiest and most extremely related to business people. Where did her life go so wrong? Papers leapt onto the story, that the female who declared she was “broke” was actually a wealthy former socialite who hid herself from the world in the consequences of her spouse’s death.

The discovery of the Aladdin’s cavern of treasure at the Herald Square made headings around the world: “Recluse, 93, hoarding millions defies treasure searchers.”

The story of Ms Wood is unusual and absolutely interesting, loaded with deception and hoax, squalor and incorrect identity. Her story resulted in one of the most spectacular inheritance cases in American history. And the paradox? That on her sibling’s death, the most remarkable part of Ms Wood’s story was simply beginning.


When Ida Mayfield, 19, launched herself into the New York social scene in June 1857, she declared to have actually grown up in Louisiana. She had a number of excited suitors, but there was just one guy that captured her eye: Benjamin Wood, 37, publisher of the New York Daily News and the brother of the Mayor of New York City, Fernando Wood.

According to Joseph Cox, author of T he Recluse of Herald Square the truth that Ms Wood was wed to his second better half did nothing to hinder her from chasing him. Ms Wood knew that he was rich and powerful, and she was hopeful that her excellent looks and slender figure would be adequate to catch his attention. Her chase began in earnest when she heard on the grapevine that he had several affairs. So she penned him an incredibly forward letter(this was not what girls did in the 19 th Century)

May 28, 1857

Mr. Wood– Sir,

Having become aware of you typically, I venture to resolve you from hearing a girl, one of your “former loves,” mention you. She states you love “new faces”. I fancy that as I am new in the city and in “affairs de coeur” that I might contract an agreeable intimacy with you; of as long period of time as you saw fit to have it. I think that I am not incredibly bad looking, nor disagreeable. Perhaps not rather as good-looking as the lady with you at present, but I understand a little bit more, and there is an old stating– “Knowledge is power”.

If you would want an interview address a letter to No. Broadway PO New York mentioning what time we might satisfy.

According to Cox, Ida had her heart set on being Mr Wood’s brand-new mistress. She likewise understood that she had no possibility of fulfilling him because she was not in the social circle of the New york city’s rich and powerful. By sending out such a forward letter, she had absolutely nothing to lose.

The letter plainly sufficed since Mr Wood accepted satisfy Ida who informed him she was the daughter of Henry Mayfield, a Louisiana sugar planter, which her mom was a

descendant of the Earl of Crawford.

Mr Wood quickly became besotted with the dark-haired beauty and it wasn’t long prior to she was joining him at gatherings amongst New York’s elite. She was said to have fulfilled Abraham Lincoln and danced with the Prince of Wales when he went to New York in 1860.

It’s not known if Benjamin’s better half Delia understood about his long-time mistress but, when she died in 1867, he married Ida. (Ida was stated to have actually brought to life a child, Emma, before the marital relationship however that was not quite the fact.)


The Woods’ marital relationship was hardly sunlight and happiness, thanks to Benjamin’s dependency to gaming. He spent hours gambling away his fortune at his favourite club and, one night, he even bet The Daily News That night, luck was on his side and he didn’t lose his most crucial asset.

Mrs Wood, who had actually had enough of her other half’s gaming, feared his wild habits would mean they ‘d lose everything. So she made a smart handle him. Some might say it was ingenious. If he declined to stop gambling, then he needs to offer her half of his jackpots and pay her whenever he lost.

Her savvy deal with her spouse meant that, eventually, all of his property and businesses were transferred to her. She sensibly invested her “earnings” into shares and stocks. He didn’t constantly lose though; according to Cox, one night he spread $100,000 dollars across their bed and asked her to count it.

When Mr Wood passed away in 1900, the New York City Times wrote, “Mr Wood possessed no property which his personal effects was of small worth.”

The Panic of 1907

A year after her partner’s death, Mrs Wood sold The Daily News to the publisher of the New York City Sun for more than $United States300,000 (She had actually likewise helped edit and publish the paper).

Then, in 1907, she grew increasingly paranoid about losing her cash in the Financial Panic(also referred to as the Banker’s Panic) and fast withdrew all her loan from the banks. According to Cox, Mrs Wood left of the bank with about $1 million stuffed into a shopping bag. She offered all her properties as well as valuable items such as oil paintings tapestries, furnishings and sculptures.

According to Cox, all we know of Mrs Wood’s story from there is that she explored the Herald Square Hotel (presumably with her child and sis). As she approached the reception desk and was asked how long she ‘d be remaining, she informed the hotel personnel she wasn’t sure, but that her stay may be extended if the suite was to her taste.

Which’s where she remained till she was required to step outside once again on the day of her sis’s death. When she opened the door to the world, the world came entering.


In the days following Mary’s death, lots of people went to the Herald Square. Legal representatives began piecing together the weird puzzle of Mrs Wood’s life and, even as she was telling people that she was poor and had no place to live, it soon became clear she was an extremely rich woman. But who was she?

More ideas became the rubbish was cleared away: trunks filled with expensive jewellery, fine lace from Ireland, Venice and Spain, lots of gowns, lockets, bracelets, watches, tiaras and uncashed gold certificates. In an old shoebox was $247,000 money, and $500,000 pinned to a pocket of an old dressing dress

There were also lots of uncashed dividends cheques, gold certificates dating back to the 1860 s. A diamond locket worth $40,000 was found stashed in an old box.

When It Comes To Mrs Wood, her individual hygiene was stated to be awful as she hadn’t bathed in several years. She did, however, take care of her face; smothering her skin in petroleum jelly every day.

When lawyer Morgan O’Brien initially laid eyes on her, he informed Cox that it was simple to inform she had actually once been exceptionally appealing.

” Her complexion in spite of her age, was as velvety and pink and unwrinkled as any I have actually ever seen. It was link tinted ivory, her profile resembled a charming cameo,” Mr O’Brien said.

Intriguing note: Together with hundreds of containers of petroleum jelly, it was clear Mrs Wood had a thing for Cuban stogies and snuff from Copenhagen.

( As for her “child” Emma, it was revealed that she was actually Mrs Wood’s younger sis who had resided in the hotel suite until the late 1920 s prior to dying of an illness in 1928.)


According to the New York City Times, presumptive relatives and their legal representatives came out of the woodwork, attempting to make a claim on Mrs Wood’s fortune. Some even offered to take care of her. It was all too much for the 93 year old and she died in March 1932.

At the time of her death 1130 individuals were arguing that her loan belonged to them.

Considered That the US remained in the middle of the Great Anxiety, it’s hard to blame them for attempting

Cox, who was with the New York Public County administrator and wrote his book about his experience on the Ida Wood case, had the task of looking for the correct heirs.

His search took him several months, from mouldy boxes of moth-eaten documents in a hotel suite to a cemetery in Massachusetts, to a bakeshop in Ireland where Cox finally discovered the truth.


” Ida Mayfield” was actually Ellen Walsh, born in England and raised in Massachusetts. Her dad, Thomas Walsh, wasn’t a sugar planter from Louisiana however a poor Irish immigrant. Her mom matured in the run-down neighborhoods of Dublin.

When Mr Wood was a teen, she escaped from home and took the name “Mayfield” because she thought it sounded nice. Then, her younger sister Mary took the surname too. Emma Wood, who Ida told people was her daughter, was in fact her sis, who died in medical facility a decade before Ida’s death

As for Ida’s spouse Benjamin Wood, it’s thought he was well mindful of Ida’s real identity, but, as an act of true love, he never offered away her secrets.


The hundreds of Woods and Mayfields who were identified to get their hands on Ida’s cash were left bitterly disappointed. An astonishing New York trial discovered that because Ida died with no direct successors, her fortune needs to be inherited by ten living Irish loved ones who got around $90,000(more than $1 million today). Provided that the inheritance was handed out throughout the Great Depression, we can only picture how Ida’s loved ones felt to get such an incredible amount of cash.

Despite the fact that Ida’s life had been constructed on a foundation of exaggerations, her reasons for doing so were about raw ambition. In creating an entirely produced past for herself she was far more than an imaginative scam artist.

In the end, the fact that her real relatives handled to benefit from her fortune implies that there was a pleased ending after all, even if it was just of the monetary windfall kind.

Find Out More