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Claim: William Waldorf Astor rewarded a helpful hotel manager's kindness by making him the manager of the grand Waldorf hotel.
Status:True, but embellished.
Origins: For over a century the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York has reigned as a symbol of the grandeur of the American dream. It all began when William Waldorf Astor razed his home at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street to construct the Waldorf, a magnificent hostelry that, when it opened on 13 March 1893, boasted 450 rooms and an army of nearly 1,000 employees. The Waldorf hosted the most famous of guests and the most elegant of society functions (after John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria next door in 1897, the two hotels were run jointly as the Waldorf-Astoria) until it was closed on 3 May 1929 to make way for what would become the world's most famous skyscraper, the Empire State Building.
A new Waldorf-Astoria was constructed on the block extending from Park Avenue to Lexington, between Forty-ninth and Fiftieth Streets and opened in 1931. Although it was William Waldorf Astor who conceived and financed the opulent Waldorf Hotel, it was the Waldorf's first manager, George C. Boldt, who established the premiere level of service for which the Waldorf (and later the Waldorf-Astoria) became world-renowned. The story of how George C. Boldt, who came to America as a nearly penniless European immigrant, ended up as the manager of the finest hotel in the world is a rather remarkable one. One version of the tale (origin unknown) that has been circulating on the Internet lately reads as follows:
One stormy night many years ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night.
"Could you possibly give us a room here?" the husband asked. The clerk, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town.
"All of our rooms are taken," the clerk said. "But I can't send a nice couple like you out in the rain at one o'clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It's not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night."
When the couple declined, the young man pressed on. "Don't worry about me; I'll make out just fine," the clerk told them. So the couple agreed.
As he paid his bill the next morning, the elderly man said to the clerk, "You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I'll build one for you."
The clerk looked at the couple and smiled. The three of them had a good laugh.
As they drove away, the elderly couple agreed that the helpful clerk was indeed exceptional, as finding people who are both friendly and helpful isn't easy.
Two years passed. The clerk had almost forgotten the incident when he received a letter from the old man. It recalled that stormy night and enclosed a round-trip ticket to New York, asking the young man to pay them a visit.
The old man met him in New York, and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky.
"That," said the older man, "is the hotel I have just built for you to manage."
"You must be joking," the young man said.
"I can assure you that I am not," said the older man, a sly smile playing around his mouth.
The old man's name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The young clerk who became its first manager was George C. Boldt.
This young clerk never foresaw the turn of events that would lead him to become the manager of one of the world's most glamorous hotels. The Bible says that we are not to turn our backs on those who are in need, for we might be entertaining angels.
Although the basic facts of this version are true, some of the details are (typically) exaggerated. First of all, George C. Boldt was no mere hotel clerk. He had arrived at New York Harbor from central Europe in the 1860s with little money, and the only job he could obtain was as a dishwasher at the Merchants' Exchange Hotel. After a brief excursion to Texas in search of better employment opportunities failed to pan out, Boldt returned to New York (with even less money this time) and took another kitchen job. Boldt was soon promoted to a cashier position, where his industriousness and attention to service made such an impression on an upstate New York hotel owner that Boldt was offered a position as a hotel manager. In time, Boldt turned a 24-room hotel on Philadelphia's Broad Street into the Bellevue, the best hotel in Philadelphia. (Another property, the Stratford, was soon added to form the Bellevue-Stratford.) Thus it was Boldt the manager of the Bellevue who, on the evening when the enormously wealthy William Waldorf Astor entered the Bellevue in search of living space for himself and his wife, moved his own family out of his personal suite of rooms to accommodate Mr. and Mrs. Astor. (A mere clerk would not have a room of his own in a hotel like the Bellevue, especially one that could accommodate a couple.) At forty-three, Astor was not exactly "elderly"; and Boldt, who was about forty, was no "young
Additionally, it came as no surprise to Boldt when he was tapped to manage the newly-built Waldorf Hotel in 1893. (As noted above, William Waldorf Astor didn't build the "Waldorf-Astoria" — he built the Waldorf Hotel, which didn't become the Waldorf-Astoria until John Jacob Astor IV erected the Astoria Hotel next door four years later.) Boldt didn't suddenly receive a ticket out of the blue from Astor one day — he and Astor had become close friends since meeting at the Bellevue two years earlier. And the Waldorf certainly wasn't built for Boldt — Astor enjoyed visiting hotels and "wanted to outshine them all" by building the grandest one yet. He would have done so whether or not he had had Boldt waiting in the wings to manage it.
The George C. Boldt story has a sad coda, however. Boldt eventually became quite wealthy himself, and he invested $2.5 million in constructing an exquisitely detailed replica of a 16th century Rhineland castle (enclosing a 120-room mansion in eleven buildings) on an island in Alexandria Bay as a Valentine's Day present for his wife Louise. Boldt's wife died suddenly in January 1904, and the heartbroken hotelier order all construction work stopped. The unfinished castle was left to the mercy of the elements (and vandals) until it was acquired by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977.
Last updated: 11 March 2007
Dash, Judi. "Tall Tales from the Thousand Islands."
Chicago Sun-Times. 29 August 1993 (p. T1).
Morehouse, Ward III. The Waldorf-Astoria: America's Gilded Dream.
New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-87131-663-3 (pp. 1-28).
Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.
Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1979. ISBN 0-88469-100-4 (pp. 706-707).
The [Bergen County] Record. "Awakening to the History of Older Hotels."