Top of the Rock – a history

Top of the Rock – a history

On a recent trip to NYC, one of the first attractions I visited in NYC was Top of the Rock. I’d already been on the Empire State Building, so now it was time to experience something new. I hadn’t bargained that I’d learn a hell of a lot more about the circumstances of the construction of 30 Rock Plaza as part of the process. In fact, if the 1929 Wall Street Crash hadn’t happened, it’s possible that the iconic building might not exist at all.

Rockefeller Center

For those of you that don’t know, Top of the Rock is a building in the Rockefeller Center complex, which has no fewer than 19 commercial buildings. Situated just off the famous 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, the complex consists of 14 iconoic Art Deco buildings (and a private street called Rockefeller Plaza). Five more buildings were later added, bringing the total to 19.IMG_20170113_174059

Rockefeller Family

And the name? Yep, you guessed it, named after the eminent investor John D. Rockefeller (Jr). In 1928, the site was owned by Columbia University. They leased the land to Rockefeller, envisioning that it would be the site for the new Metropolitan Opera Building. But things didn’t go quite according to plan…

The Great Depression

The site (which was originally a botanical garden in the early 1800s) was cited from 1926 as a potential place for the new Met Opera Building. In 1928, Benjamin Wistar Morris and Joseph Urban were hired to come up with blueprints for the Opera Building. When it became clear that the Met couldn’t fund their plans itself, John D. Rockefeller Jr was recruited as an investor (though his father John D. Sr was not involved). New designers were hired, and Columbia agreed an 87 year lease for the plot to Rockefeller.

The principal architect was Raymond Hood, a student of the Art Deco movement which was gaining pace in the late 1920s. By December 1928, was all-systems-go, but two factors were to trouble the plans…

The Great Depression

The first of these factors was the fact that Met was becoming increasingly worried. It didn’t think the proposed site for it’s new opera house was going to be profitable.

And 10 months later, everything came to a halt with the 1929 stock market crash. A few weeks later, on December 6, 1929, the Met confirmed it could not afford a new opera house afterall. Plans were halted. The era of the Great Depression had begun. 

It was a dilemma for Rockefeller, however, who had signed an 87-year lease on the site. He needed to act quickly. Within a month, he had devised new plans to make the site profitable. He entered into talks with Radio Corporation of America, to build a mass-media entertainment complex on the site. Radio City was born. 

And thus, building began – well, that was, after a few plans fell by the wayside, mainly due to the public giving negative feedback. Four small retail buildings and a 41-story tower earmarked the beginning of Rockefeller Plaza in 1931. This was despite the fact that Rockefeller initially did not want the Rockefeller family name associated with the commercial project, but was persuaded on the grounds that the name would attract far more tenants.

After more plan changes, the plan for the building that was to become 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened in 1933.

Building the Tower

Lunch Atop A Skyscraper

(Photo from https://www.rockefellercenter.com/blog/2014/03/12/rock-history/)

“Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper” is on the of the most famous photographs ever taken in New York City. It was taken on September 20, 1932, showing The Rock construction workers having their lunch with no regard for Health and Safety! According to the Rockefeller Website, the photo was taken 840-feet above the ground – about the 69th floor, during the final months of construction in 1932. And the website confirms that these men are not actors – they are genuine construction workers. Whether or not the photo was staged is another debate!

The website gives a very accurate description of what this photo represents historically:

“Regardless of the specifics, this image came to represent a specific time in modern New York’s history. There’s a nod toward the Depression, when workers were happy to have a job (despite the lack of safety harnesses), as well as a strong representation of the exciting period when New York City grew vertically at a rapid rate. A 2012 film called Men at Lunch explores the immigrant backgrounds of the men in the photo, identifying some as Irish and Swedish.”

‘Men at Lunch’ – documentary

In 2010, two Irish brothers happened upon the photo in a pub in Co. Galway. Upon learning that two men from the region were claimed to be in the photograph, the brothers began researching a documentary on the origins of the men, discovering that they were mainly Irish and Swedish. In 2012, their documentary ‘Men at Lunch’ was released. 

Conclusion

So that’s how a supposedly panoramic view of the city I’m calling home for the next three months left me realising there is always a much bigger story behind such iconic buildings. Who knows what might be on the Rockefeller Center site today if the 1929 Crash hadn’t happened? 

 

Historic Facts I learned about the Lares Trek, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

A trip to Peru is not complete without a visit to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Instead of the traditional four-day Inca Trail hike, I completed the very similar Lares Trek and learned some fantastic historic snippets along the way. Here’s what they were (and you can learn more about the Lares Trek with G Adventures here)

The Inca Empire reached it’s peak just 50 years before the arrival of Columbus

Contrary to popular belief, the term ‘Inca’ refers to the ruler of the last great native Empire before the Spanish conquered South America. The civilisation arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century, but it was not until 1438 that the Cusco became the administrative centre of a kingdom that stretched from Colombia to Ecuador, through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and more. It’s official language was Quechua, and incorporated millions of people, until the last Inca resistance against the Spanish in 1572.

The Spanish…

Launched a policy of oppression against the Incas for their wealth. The Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro invaded the Inca Empire in 1532. As well as massacres, many locals died from diseases brought over by the Europeans that they were hitherto never exposed to. However, of all the Spanish conquests of South America, the Incas proved to the hardest to overcome, taking 40 years of resistance before the Spanish could claim victory.

However, the Spanish are not believed to have known about the existence of Machu Picchu.

We only know about the pre-Columbian history of South America from the Spanish

Because the Inca people did not write down their history. They used word of mouth. They  did, however use a system of knotted strings known as quipu to send messages around their empire. Similar systems were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians.

A quipu was a portable device with a wooden bar, and hanging from it were a wide variety of colours and strings with knots tied in various ways and at various heights. It often had up to 1500 strings, and the way they were woven might also have indicated a meaning (or so it’s suggested).

And to ensure that nothing was forgotten, the Incas also had a body of expert, known as the khipu kamayuq, who memorised the oral account which fully explained a particular quipu. Their job was hereditary, meaning the oral tradition was passed from generation to generation.

Quechua predates the Inca Empire

The main language spoken in the region is Quechua. Quechua is the name for a family of languages that probably all derived from one common language in early times. And Quechua far predates the Incas Empire. Quechua has numerous dialects, and the although the Spanish colonials initially encouraged its use, from the middle of the reign, they suppressed it.. Yet the language survived, and today an estimated that around 10 million people speak a Quechua language. Movements are afoot to preserve the language, and in 2016 Peru made history by broadcasting the first ever Quechua language news bulletin.

Guinea Pigs are Sacred…and are eaten

One of the most common cuisines in Peru is Guinea Pig. Many restaurants will have displays outside of a plate with a whole cooked guinea pig and all the trimmings. On the Lares Trek, we visited a house which had guinea pigs roaming freely under the bed. And there are other traditions attached to the guinea pigs that illustrate their importance. For instance, a Quechua girl must skin a guinea pig to prove she is ready for marriage. Guinea Pigs were commonly used in healing and religious ceremonies, often being offered as sacrifices to the Gods.

In Machu Picchu, the remains of Guinea Pigs were found in caves, suggesting they were used for religious purposes or sacrifices there.

Ollantaytambo is an ancient Inca settlement

If you hike the Lares Trek, you’ll spend some time in the stunning historic town of Ollantaytambo. It’s name in Quechua means ‘rest spot’, and it has a unique history, being part of the royal estate of the Emperor Pachacuti during the Inca Empire, and later conquered by the Spanish. It would become a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca Resistance against the Spanish.

Sandwiched between the mountains, there are some stunning ruins to view (and hike to!). It’s paved with small cobbled streets, a beautiful open main square, and well-preserved Inca Ruins. Although damaged by the Spanish, the buildings still have the remanence of that pre-colonial era.

Tip: While in Ollantaytambo, look for houses with red plastic bags hanging outside on posts. These houses are where locals go to drink chicha, a local brew made out of corn.

Hiram Bingham, the man who ‘discovered’ the remains of Machu Picchu…Machu Picchu own

…believed he had found the Lost City of the Incas…but he hadn’t.

Hiram Bingham was a Yale University Professor who, in 1911, set off on an expedition to find the final stronghold and seat of Inca power after the Incas were forced to flee from the Spanish conquistadors – Vilcabamba having become fascinated with Inca Ruins on a previous visit to Peru. Having heard about Inca Ruins in the region from a farmer near Aguas Calientes, he climbed his way up and became one of the first white men to see the ruins of Machu Picchu for decades.

He later published a book about Machu Picchu called ‘The Lost City of the Incas’, but the city that was actually the final stronghold of the Incas was Vilcabamba, north-east of Lima.

Hiram Bingham PD
Hiram Bingham and a local guide in 1911 (image: public domain)

Hiram Bingham wasn’t the first to ‘discover’ Machu Picchu

In fact, locals in the Aguas Calientes region knew about it all along, and numerous other explorers are believed to have visited it in the 1800s, such as the British explorer Thomas Payne, a German engineer called JM von Hassel and another German called August Berns who apparently wanted to plunder the ruins in the 1860s. The site is also listed on an 1874 map, and it is claimed that it had been visited by three explorers from Cusco as early as 1901, just ten years before Hiram Bingham found the site.

More information on doing the Inca Trail with the Lares Trek is available here.

The small Wexford village forever affected by the deaths of three young women during WWII

You can read my article for http://www.thejournal.ie in remembrance of the bombing of a small village in Wexford during WWII here: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/campile-bombing-ireland-4203766-Aug2018/

Remembering Cheiro, the Dublin man who became an infamous member of the Occult

82 years ago today, a man from Dublin passed away in Hollywood, California, having been one of the most famous figures of astrology of his time. Born in 1866, and also going by the name of Count Louis Hamon, ‘Cheiro’, as he is best known, was to become a symbol of the occult, a self-described clairvoyant and a world-renowned fortune-telling expert. Known for his ability to foresee world events, his clients are claimed to have included Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and even Joseph Chamberlain. So how did a man from Dublin become arguably THE symbol of the occult in the early 20th century?Cheiroy

BACKGROUND

It was while travelling in India as a teenager that Cheiro met the Indian Brahmans, who was to become his Guru. Cheiro wrote in his memoirs that he was permitted by Brahmans to study an ancient book that has many studies on hands. After studying thoroughly for two years, he moved to London and started his career as a palmist, becoming popularly known as ‘Cheiro’ (taken from ‘chirology’ meaning studying the hands to tell fortunes).

PREDICTIONS

Some of the phenomenons Cheiro is purported to have predicted include the Boer War and the death of Queen Victoria. In 1925, he is alleged to have predicted the future partition of India. And he also claimed to have predicted the sinking of the Titanic, 13 years before it sank, while reading the palm of Harland and Wolff chairman William Pirrie. His office in the West End of London famously always had a queue of people waiting to hear about their future.

HIGH SOCIETY

But Cheiro’s unusual gift for the occult was not his only talent. He also befriended and read the palms some of the most eminent people of the day. Some of his clients included King Edward VII), General Kitchener, William Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain as well as other leading military, judicial and political figures from both sides of the Atlantic.

He also read the hands of many literary and artistic figures such as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde -and is alleged to have been a major source of inspiration along the way. Mark Twain included references to fingerprint identification in his novel Puddin’ Head Wilson, and Oscar Wilde is believed to have written the short story Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime based on his encounter with Cheiro. Mark Twain said of his visit: “Cheiro has exposed my character to me with humiliating accuracy. I ought not to confess this accuracy, still I am moved to do so.”

WRITER

And Cheiro was also a writer himself. He wrote numerous books on fortune-telling, some of which are still in print today. His books reveal something about his abilities. Although he undoubtedly had a gift for the occult, Cheiro was known to have ‘premonitions’ more so that actual reading things from people’s hands. In Confessions – Memoirs of a Modern Seer, it’s clear that Cheiro saw himself more as psychic than a palmist.

DEATH AND LEGACY

Moving to America is his later years, he read the palms of the Hollywood elite as the infamous neighbourhood was gathering pace. He is also alleged to have tried his hand at screenwriting. Upon his death on October 8, 1936, his widow claimed that he predicted his own death to the hour, the day before he died. Later that month, Time Magazine wrote: “On the night he died, said his nurse, the clock outside his room struck the hour of one thrice.”

CLICK ON THE LINKS BELOW TO READ MORE ABOUT CHEIRO:


2,500 year history of the Irish language

2018 marks 125 years since Conradh na Gaeilge (or the Gaelic League) was set up, marking the birth of the Irish language revival (in 1893). In the previous 300 hundred years, but largely in the 50 years since the Great Irish Famine, English had long surpassed Irish as the main language spoken on the island. Yet, the 2016 census revealed that around 37% percent of the population can speak Irish (up from 16% in 1901), so certainly, things have changed in the 125 years since Conradh na Gaeilge was founded. But where did the Irish language originate, and for how long was it prevalent in Ireland?

From the first settlers to the Celts (circa 8000-1500BC)Archaeology can trace human settlement in Ireland back to at least 8000 years before Christ (that’s 10,000 years ago!). The origin of the first Irish settlers is hotly disputed, but the most accepted view is that they originated in modern-day Spain, on the Iberian peninsula. Without any written evidence however, linguists can only rely on the modern Irish language itself for clues as to what languages it replaced. It’s been suggested that perhaps the early settlers spoke a language similar to that spoken in North Africa, but we aren’t sure what exactly they spoke. These pre-Celtic languages are thought to have some influence on what is now called the Irish language.

Common Celtic (500BC-1500 BC approx)Around 2-3,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, Irish developed from a dialect brought to the island by the Celts. The Celts originated in central Europe, but seeing as Ireland was invaded many times in that period, we can’t be sure exactly when they arrived with their language.. What’s known, however, is that the Celts eventually succeeded in conquering the country and their language became widespread through it. The first mention of the word ‘Gaelic’ came from the Welsh, by Christian times the language was prevalent not just in Ireland, but also on the Isle of Mann (Mannish), the south-west of England (Cornish) and Scotland (Scots Gaelic).

Old-Irish (500-900 AD):The first real examples we have of the Irish language written down are from the remains of Ogham stones from around 1,500 years ago. The Irish language is the earliest known vernacular language written north of the Alps. Ogham consisted of various strokes and dots representing letters, and was usually inscribed on upright stones. Believed to have largely been memorials dedicated to warriors, hundreds of these still survive in Ireland today.  

Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century, and in the succeeding years, Irish scribes would annotate Latin scripts with Old Irish. It’s from these ‘glosses’ that we known most about Old Irish.

Middle-Irish (900-1200 AD)Ireland was invaded many times in 900-1300 AD period, firstly by the Vikings, and later by the Anglo-Normans. It’s during the 900-1200 period that some Scandinavian words began to be adopted by the Irish language, and are still in use today. Words such ‘pingin’ (penny) and ‘margadh’ (market) and a number of nautical terms used in Irish today are believed to have originated with the Norse. But the syntax of the Irish language was largely unchanged by the Vikings.

Early Modern / Classical Modern Irish (1200-1600 AD)The Normans arrived in Ireland around 1169 and a started a period of multilingualism in Ireland. The vast majority of the Normans spoke French, but gradually, began to speak Irish as their main language, and it was to remain the main language of the country for a few hundred years. However there is significant evidence today of the French influence on Irish. Words such as cóta (coat/cloak), gáirdín (garden), seomra (room, chamber) and séípéal (chapel) are all words that are understood to have their roots in the Norman language. Additionally, the language itself went through many changes during the period 1200-1600, with many dialects emerging.

But although Irish was the most common language spoken by the ordinary people, it was during this period of English administration that English became more widespread, as it was necessary for administrative and legal affairs.

1600-presentThroughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population, particularly in the West of Ireland. However English became the predominant language among the more prosperous members of the Irish-speaking community, and this increased greatly in the 19th century due a number of factors: after the Great Famine of the 1840s – English was adopted to prepare children for emigration to England, America and Australia in later life. The National Schools system, the first state system of primary education, was introduced in the 1830s, but one of it’s main aims was to teach Irish to children. Children wore a “tally stick” (the “bata scoir”) in the classroom, and a notch was carved into the stick if they spoke Irish. At the end of the day, they would be punished if they had notches carved on their tally stick.

And so, by the late 1900s, the Irish language was almost extinct. The 1901 census revealed that only around 16% of the population could speak Irish. With this in mind, some scholars became interested in preserving and reviving the language, and this was something that was to tie in greatly with the Irish Independence movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. A sort of renaissance of the Irish language ensued. Organisations such as the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (1876) advocated the need for the Irish language to be taught in schools. And as noted above, in 1893 Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) was established to gather support or the resurgence of the language and to bring written and spoken Irish in line with each other.

The Official Standard (Caighdáin) Gaeilge was declared by the government in 1958. In 2016, 1.76 million people stated on the census that they could speak Irish, amounting to around 37% of the population. A sharp rise from 16% in 1901! And with more and more Irish language festivals taking place across the country from Belfast to Carlow to Donegal, with ‘meet-up’ groups such as Pop-Up Gaeltacht gathering ever more numbers, will Irish become a mainstream language once more?

Did Columbus really discover America?

ship-1433438960L8bIt’s one of the most celebrated moments in history – “In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue”. It was on August 3, 1492, that the fateful voyage departed Europe. The next year, he returned to Europe proclaiming the land for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. But was he really the first European on American shores? What physical proof exists today? Did Columbus discover America?

THEORY 1: THE VIKINGS

PHYSICAL PROOF: L’Anse Aux Meadows

It is accepted among historians that around 500 years before Columbus sailed, the Vikings actually had settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland. The Norse Saga’s (stories about ancient Nordic history and travel) tell us that after the heroic expeditions and settlements of Erik the Red, founder of Greenland, his son Leif converted to Christianity and began making diplomatic voyages eastwards.

This is where the history gets hazy – the sagas give two differing accounts of what happened next. 1) He arrived in America after sailing off course while returning to Greenland from Norway, and 2) a trader had told him stories of a strange land west, and Leif decided to go in search of it. What’s not disputed is that Norsemen certainly did reach – and settle – and area of modern-day Newfoundland known today as L’Anse aux Meadows. The sagas tell us that Eriksson originally called the area he landed ‘Helluland’, Norwegian for “Stone Slab Land” – possibly present-day Baffin Island.

The Norsemen then voyaged south to a timber-rich location they called Markland, before finally setting up a base camp likely on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland. They called the area ‘Vinland’.

Eriksson returned to Greenland the following year for supplies; and although he himself never returned, there remains evidence of a Viking settlement there. In the 1960s, the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad discovered Viking remains at L’Anse aux Meadows. The remains of the Viking village are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

So whether or not you believe the story of the Sagas¸ what’s not disputed is the fact that Norsemen settled in North America at least 500 years before Columbus.

THEORY 2: THE IRISH

PHYSICAL PROOF: Tim Severin’s 1976 voyage in the Currach

Anyone who grew up in Ireland (like me!) will know the story of St. Brendan which comes from Navigatio, a ninth-century account of Brendan’s travels in the Atlantic Ocean. Many versions of the story exist, with much crossover in other mythology (especially Welch).

St Brendan allegedly travelled tirelessly to establish monasteries, continuing the work of Ireland’s patron Saint, Saint Patrick. He is told to have frequently sailed to places such as Scotland, Wales, and Brittany to preach the Gospel. And the, one winter, he is told to have embarked on a mission that would remain in historic memory for more than 1500 years. For 40 days St. Brendan fasted and prayed atop a mountain on the rugged Dingle Peninsula, before going in pursuit of a fabled land over the horizon. He is told to have crafted a traditional Irish boat called a ‘currach’, with square sails and leather skins stitched together to create a watertight seal over the vessel’s wooden skeleton. Then along with a crew gleaned to be somewhere between 18 and 150, depending on the account, he sailed out into the Atlantic, encountering towering crystal pillars afloat in the oceans, an island of sheep, among other fabled encounters.

Finally, as the boat drifted through a fog – landed was cited – Paradise! A lush land of vegetation, fragrant flowers, and an abundance of fruit. After staying for 40 days, an angel told the men to return home. When St. Brendan came back to the Emerald Isle after the seven-year voyage, pilgrims who heard the sensational story flocked to his side in remote County Kerry until he died around 577 A.D.

The story comes with an immediate word of caution – Navigatio was written some five hundred years after the purported voyage took place. Yet that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t highly revered – it became so widely known that cartographers began to include Paradise, recorded as “St Brendan’s Island”, on maps. Columbus himself is said to have taken note of the elusive island as he embarked to on his own voyage in 1492.

Could St. Brendan have influenced some of Columbus’ voyage? Similarities on what St. Brendan saw – and where they might have been. Think of what Columbus’ crew claimed to have seen on their journey – ‘towering crystal pillars’ could have been icebergs. The ‘island of the sheep’ could have been the Faroes, and foul-smelling fireballs have been sulfuric dioxide spewed by Iceland’s volcanoes.

But would a trans-Atlantic voyage have even been possible in the sixth century? In 1976, modern-day adventurer Tim Severin attempted to answer the question – and succeeded.

So whether or not you believe the story of St. Brendan finding America before Columbus – one thing is known – it’s not entirely impossible.

THEORY 3: THE POLYNESIANS

PHYSICAL PROOF: The Chicken Bone

Moving to the other side of the world, we can’t forget the Pacific neighbours of America – those of the Polynesian Islands. It’s known that they definitely sailed as far afield as Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island in relatively small boats. These navigators had the tools and knew how to sail using only the starts and their ability to detect land nearby. So is it in inconceivable that they reached South America?

In 2007, an ancient chicken bone was discovered in Chile – chickens aren’t native to America and they can’t fly, so they could only have been brought there by other settlers. The bone was dated anywhere between 1304 and 1424 – so well ahead of Columbus’ era and the subsequent European settlement of the southern part of America. DNA extracted from the bones also matched closely with a Polynesian breed of chicken, rather than any chickens found in Europe. The bone was a close match for chicken bones found in Pacific Islands such as Tonga, American Samoa, Hawaii, and Easter Island.

And arguers for the case claim that’s not the only tangible evidence: Scientific arguments based on linguistic evidence and fish-hook styles suggest increasing evidence of multiple contacts with the Americas. And in the style of Tim Severin, in 1947, Thor Heyerdahl, the famous Norwegian anthropologist, made the voyage from Peru to Polynesia aboard his Kon-Tiki raft to prove that the trip was doable in a rudimentary vessel.

So again, whether or not you believe that the Polynesians could have reached American land before Columbus, one thing that’s known for sure is that it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

The one thing we do know for sure, is that Columbus was NOT the first non-native American to reach the continent.

Hetty Green: The Witch of Wall Street, and an eminent investor

hetty_green_cph-3a42973

I recently read Charles Stack’s biography of Henrietta Howland Robinson Green, the American businesswoman and financier nicknamed as the “Witch of Wall Street”, who was one of the richest women in America during the Gilded Age, one of the few women on Wall Street. The book is entitled ‘Hetty Green: The Genius and Madness of America’s first female tycoon’, and both descriptions of her in the title are hugely appropriate.

Born in 1834, Henrietta ‘Hetty’ Green (nee Howland Robinson) was born into a rich whaling family in Massachusetts. The only surviving child of Edward Mott Robinson and Abby Howland, Hetty honed her craft reading the financial papers to her maternal grandfather and her father. At age 13, she became the family bookkeeper and was incredibly knowledgeable in financial affairs.

When Hetty was 26, her mother died, leaving her daughter $8,000 dollars (nearly $200,000 today’s money). But just a few short years later, Hetty would become embroiled in a bitter battle to inherit her mother’s sister’s fortune, which would ensure that all inheritance from her grandfather’s company would go to her.

From her mother’s death, Hetty was determined to ensure every penny of Aunt Sylvia’s fortune went to her. But the invalided Aunt Sylvia, whose relied on the care of servants and health professionals, had other ideas. Sylvia was aware of her niece’s greediness, and temper, and wanted to be sure that all the people who had given their lives to make hers a bit better were remembered. Hetty, knowing this, hastened to her aunt’s home to discourage Aunt Sylvia from bequeathing any money to anyone escape her, Hetty. When Hetty realised Aunt Sylvia’s plans to leave money with her servants, Hetty got so angry she pushed one of them down the stairs. Aunt Sylvia eventually relented and signed a will in Hetty’s presence, bequeathing her entire fortune to her niece.

Hetty was horrified to learn that Sylvia had created a new will after signing the aforementioned with Hetty, leaving most of her $2 million estate (nearly $31 million) to charity. Hetty challenged the will’s validity in court by producing an earlier will that would have bequeathed all of her aunt’s fortune to her. The case, Robinson v. Mandell, which is notable as an early example of the forensic use of mathematics. The court ultimately decided that the earlier will produced by Hetty was a forgery, although she was awarded $600,000 after five years of legal battles.

In 1865, Edward Robinson died, leaving Hetty approximately $5 million (equivalent to $77,293,000 in 2015) which included a $4 million trust fund that drew annual earnings, something she wasn’t pleased about.

Two years after her father’s death, at the age of 33, Hetty married 44 year-old Edward Henry Green, a Vermont businessman who had lived in Asia for several years making his fortune. Hetty requested that Edward sign a prenuptial agreement before the wedding, renouncing all his rights to her money. The couple soon fled to London, probably to get away from the hype created by the Robinson vs. Mandell case. They spent seven years living in the Langham Hotel off Regent Street, during which time Hetty bore two children – Edward Howland Robinson “Ned” Green, and Harriet Sylvia Ann Howland Green (known as Sylvia).

When her children were small, Hetty took to being a mother while her husband pursued investments. However, she soon wanted to make use of her astonishing fortune, and formulated her investment strategy which she stuck to all her life. She made conservative investments, always had substantial cash reserves, and never lost her cool. She began by investing in greenbacks, the notes printed by the U.S. government immediately after the Civil War. When more timid investors were wary of notes put forth by the still-recovering government, Hetty bought in majorly. She claimed to has amassed a fortune of $1.25 million from her bond investments in one year alone.

The family returned to the US in the mid 1870s, settling in Edward’s hometown of Bellows Falls, Vermont. Hetty spent a few years living her with the reputation of an eccentric. She famously quarrelled with all her in laws, servants and neighbours, and was noted for her stinginess in spite of her growing fortune.

The largest investor in the financial house John J. Cisco & Son, Hetty was horrified when the bank collapsed, in 1885 and hastened to New York. She soon learned that the bank’s greatest debtor was none other than her husband, Edward Green. The firm’s management had surreptitiously used her wealth as the basis for their loans to Edward. Emphasizing that their finances were separate, Green withdrew her securities and deposited them in Chemical Bank of New York. Enraged by his dealings, she and Edward would never live together again (although there is evidence that they did reconcile in later years).

Throughout her life, Hetty had a reputation for her stingyness – an ironic fact considering her enormous wealth. While most Wall Street tycoons took a coach in the mornings, Hetty opted to walk. She could have afforded numerous houses in the most affluent parts of New York, a mere stone’s throw to Wall Street, but instead she spent most of her later years in a simple apartment across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey (this was possibly also to avoid having a permanent residence that would bring her to the attention of any tax officials).

One tale claims that Green spent half a night searching her carriage for a lost stamp worth two cents. Another asserts that she instructed her laundress to wash only the dirtiest parts of her dresses (the hems) to save money on soap. Perhaps most interesting, instead of enjoying the new restaurants that were springing up in Downtown New York, Hetty’s lunch while she worked at a Wall Street bank (because she didn’t want to pay rent for her own office) in New York consisted of oatmeal cooked in a big vat on radiator. Her stingyness, combined with her dour dress-habits and austere personality would nickname her ‘The Witch of Wall Street’.

But for all her eccentricity, Hetty was a phenomenally successful businesswoman. While she often dealt in real estate, lending and mines, her main investments were to be in railroads during a golden era of railroad building across America. As soon as Ned became old enough, she stationed in him in Texas, where he learned the tricks of the trade while managing their railroad investments.

The City of New York came to Green for loans to keep the city afloat on several occasions, most particularly during the Panic of 1907. She would travel thousands of miles alone—in an era when few women would dare travel unescorted—to collect a debt of a few hundred dollars.

Edward and Hetty never lived as husband and wife after the John J. Cisco debacle, but there is evidence that they reconciled in later years. Hetty nursed Edward for a few months until his death in 1902.

Hetty was notoriously disapproving of all of Sylvia’s suitors, believing them to just be after her fortune. When Sylvia was in her late 30s, Hetty finally agreed for her daughter to marry Matthew Astor Wilks, a minor heir to the Astor fortune. With $2 million of his own, it was enough to convince Hetty that he wasn’t just a gold-digger. Nonetheless, she compelled him to sign a prenuptial agreement waiving his right to inherit Sylvia’s fortune.

Hetty Green died aged 81 at her son’s New York City home. She earned the title of ‘World’s Greatest Miser’ in the Guinness Book of Records, but left an estimated net work of somewhere between $100 and $200 million, equivalent to around $2-4 billion in today’s money.She was buried in Bellows Falls, Vermont, next to her husband. She had converted late in life to his Episcopalian faith (from her Quakerism) so that she could be interred with him.

You can buy Charles Stack’s biography of Hetty Green here.