Ida Wood had been a New York socialite at the very end of the 19th century, but in 1907, she suddenly withdrew from the world and moved into a room at the Herald Square Hotel with her sister and daughter and hid herself away. Each day, the bellhop would knock at the door and ask if the sisters wanted anything. Ida Wood would open the door a crack and request the same things—evaporated milk, crackers, coffee, bacon, and eggs. Each day, she would tip him ten cents and tell him that that was all the money she had in in the world.[
The daughter died in 1928. In 1931, Ida Wood, now in her nineties, suddenly opened the door wide and called for help. Her sister was dying. When staff entered the hotel suite, they found that the bathroom had been turned into a makeshift kitchen, and the suite was filled with empty cracker boxes and rotting food.
Among the debris, they also found share certificates, bonds, and cash stuffed into shoeboxes, as well as diamond necklaces hidden inside the empty cracker cartons. Ida Wood even had $500,000 in $10,000 bills pinned to the inside of her nightgown.
That all seems incredible, but Ida Wood’s life was a series of incredible incidents. She met her husband after writing to him, at that time a stranger, to propose an affair, offering him “agreeable intimacy” and presenting herself as the daughter of a wealthy and aristocratic family. In fact, she was the daughter of poor Irish immigrants. She made her money in a deal with her husband, who was a gambling addict. Every time he won at the tables, he shared the winnings with her 50–50, but if he lost, he also paid her half of his losses. When he ran out of money, she would loan it to him in return for shares in his newspaper business.
He died virtually penniless, while she kept a fortune hidden inside empty cracker boxes.