Thou shalt not steal from your hotel—no matter how big or small the item might be. Take New York's iconic palace of luxury, the Waldorf-Astoria. Over the years, larcenous lodgers have walked off with ornate art deco grillwork from the heating and air conditioning units. They've filched guestroom doorbells. They've absconded with brass-plated mail slots from the corridors. "Some guests will take pretty much anything," says Matt Zolbe, the hotel's director of marketing, "even if it's bolted down." The famed hostelry has embarked on an Amnesty Program to retrieve some of that long-lost plunder, specifically historic, pre-1960s swag. The question is, will the program be enough to compel high-rent kleptos to return their purloined property?
But first, a bit of background. The Waldorf=Astoria became one of the most famous hotels in America because of radio. Popular bandleaders like Benny Goodman and Xavier Cugat would perform at the hotel's three supper clubs in the 1930s and '40s, and the music would be broadcast around the nation, "coming to you live from the Waldorf=Astoria hotel." Every out-of-towner just had to see that world-famous hotel and, if possible, carry home a "souvenir." Some of the most popular items to have been liberated over the years, according to Zolbe, are small keepsakes like salt and pepper shakers and bread plates. You know, purse-size mementos. "But by far the most popular items were demitasse spoons," he says. "They seem to have been the most…portable."
Zolbe wants the lost loot repatriated so it can be added to the hotel's archive. Staff will evaluate the returned merchandise, and the best of it will be featured on the hotel's Facebook page and possibly put on display in the hotel lobby. Don't expect any compensation, though. The Waldorf isn't interested in rewarding thievery. "Some people over the years have asked for money or a free night at the hotel in exchange for the return of an item," says Zolbe, "but there's something off-putting about that, since, in all likelihood, most of these items were stolen."
So what exactly will you get if you return, say, a musty set of W=A bed linen you found in Grandma's old steamer trunk? Says Zolbe, "We hope they can take some pleasure in articulating a story of how that item came into their possession, recalling memories of what the Waldorf meant to them and their family." In other words, a confession.
On an utterly unrelated note, I asked Zolbe why the hotel insists on using an equal sign in Waldorf=Astoria. He told me that the original Waldorf Hotel and the adjacent Astoria Hotel in the 1890s were connected by a long corridor where one would often find the city's landed gentry parading in their feathers and finery. A smart-aleck reporter termed the corridor Peacock Alley. In memory of that early-day haven of hipness, the hotel has since inserted the equal sign so you can visualize the famous hallway that once connected the Waldorf and the Astoria.
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.