Lyndhurst Estate: Analysis of an Average Week’s Mail Circa 1915

Return to Sender: Sorting through a week’s worth of mail at Lyndhurst.



The mansions on the Hudson were meant to be places of rest during the Gilded Age, but plenty of the era’s notable names found they couldn’t totally escape a level of fame and duty we might think of as unique to our own era. During the latter part of the period, and well into the 20th century, Helen Gould Shepard, Jay Gould’s eldest daughter and heir to his Lyndhurst estate, was known as one of the world’s biggest philanthropists. Around the year 1915, just after the Gilded Age, her secretary compiled a summary of the week’s mail, tallying the massive number of requests and letters that Mrs. Shepard received. Below, excerpts from that list, which ultimately described more than 1,300 missives requesting more than $1.5 million—or about $33 million in today’s currency.

Analysis of an Average Week’s Mail

# of Letters Subject Money Requested
1 Wishes to Form Colony in Cuba…  $1,000,000
231 Requests for Money (149 not naming sum)…  187,880
91        "          for Loans (16 not naming sum)…  156,203
149        "          to raise Mortgages (4 not naming sum)…  77,575
43        "          to Aid Churches (27 not naming sum)…  56,981
1 Anti-Saloon League of Idaho…  5,000
1 Wishes to Sell Farm…   2,600
4 Wish Help toward Trousseau (3 not naming sum)…      2,000
11 Requests for Pianos (3 not naming sum)…         1,400
1 Wishes to Sell Ring…  1,200
1        ”        Donation to Patriotic League…  500
1        ”        to Sell Sevres Vase…  500
1        ”        Monument to Parent… 500
13 Treatment of Cancer, Morphine, Keeley, etc. (12 not naming sum) 150
1 Wishes Passage to England…  75
1        ”        Expenses Defrayed to Secure Prisoner’s Release… 30
1        ”        to Get Goods from Storage…  30
1        ”        Help to Publish Music…  25
1        ”        to Buy Set of Teeth…  15
1        ”        Help to Get Watch from Pawn…  3
18 18 Cranks…  
8 Requests for Autographs…  
17 German Letters…  
6 French Letters…  
4 Russian or Swedish Letters…  
7 Naming Child after Mrs. Shepard…  
2 Help to Publish Book…  
3 Want Bibles…  
2       ”        Bicycles…  
19 Advertisements, Circulars, etc…  
53 Requests for Positions  
32        ”        for Interviews…  
5 Wish to Sell Books…  
5        ”        to Use Mrs. Shepard’s Name…  
10 Donations towards a Church Organ…  
1 Wishes House so Girl can Marry at once…  
1       ”        to Sell Photographs of Mrs. Shepard for his own profit.  
1        ”        Air Pillows furnished to a Regiment of Soldiers…  
126 Personal Letters…  
6 Books…  
31 Catalogues, Pamphlets, etc…  
8 Magazines…  

 

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