Ida Wood was thought to be a millionaire socialite from New Orleans who married well after she came to New York as a teenager. She married well, alright, but most of her story was untrue. After her husband died and a business venture failed, she moved into a hotel suite in Herald Square with her two sisters and lived there without going out in public for the next 24 years. Then in 1931, she had to get help for her ailing sister, and her reclusive lifestyle was uncovered.
In the days after first reaching out for help, a parade of lawyers, undertakers, purported relatives and hotel staff filtered through suites 551-552. They discovered that the millionairess, once touted in the papers for her fragile beauty, was now stooped and withered, and sported a wild bramble of gray matted hair. She had been living there with her sisters Mary and Emma in near isolation for more than two decades. The rooms were almost entirely filled with refuse; the doctor who came to examine Mary could barely find a place to stand amid piles of old magazines, boxes, suitcases, strange collections of newspaper clippings and bits of cloth.
The sisters didn’t just hoard objects — hidden among the junk was Ida’s entire fortune. Roughly 1 million dollars in cash and jewelry were found in cardboard boxes, trunks and Cracker Jack boxes, and $500,000 was found in an oilskin bag that Ida hid under her skirt.
Ida Wood died the next year, and it came out that her life was even stranger than that of a hoarding recluse. Wood’s story is told at Ozy.