A group of three to four well dressed men walked into the hotel one evening. One of the gentleman approached.
“Are you the night manager?” he asked. The man was wearing a nicely fitted dark jacket that was adorned with a pocket square and a fedora. He looked me squarely in the eyes and without saying another word, drew my attention toward his hand which he held at his side. Upon turning his palm over, he revealed a small handgun.
In a very calm tone he said “We don’t want any trouble and if you cooperate, no one will get hurt.” There was no threat or anger in his voice, it was simply business.
It was the 1940’s at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. The night manager was my grandfather. This is one of the stories I would ask my grandpa to tell me again and again growing up, and just to be clear, this is not fiction, it really happened to him!
Now it’s been a while, maybe 20 plus years since I’ve heard him retell this event, and I no doubt have confused the facts with other tales he’d tell. Not only was he the night manager at the St. Regis, he was the night watchman at the Regency, or maybe it was the other way around? Sadly I can’t remember.
So you want to hear the rest of the story? Of course you do…
My grandfather continued:
I noticed he was not pointing his revolver at me. He was not holding it in a threatening manner at all. The weapon rested comfortably in the palm of his hand as if he was holding a deck of cards. He just wanted to make me aware he had a gun and he meant business. At that moment the neatly dressed man had my respect, not my fear.
I knew that my responsibility was to protect the safety of the hotel guests by doing what they asked, my grandfather said, and that by doing so, these gentlemen would leave with no one getting hurt.
The man asked where the hotel operator was and I gestured. He asked her to step away from the switchboard because back then, the only way to make a call out of hotels was to go through the operator. Little did the robber know, this was a very modern hotel, one of the first in the city that allowed the guests to call out of the hotel directly from their rooms, bypassing the switchboard.
Next he asked to be taken to the safe deposit boxes where his partners quickly got to work drilling out the locks. The noise was such that the hotel guests began to call down to the lobby and complain.
"How is it that the phones are ringing?” the man asked. My grandfather explained how the switchboard was no longer a necessity for the guests to place calls. The man decided to cut his losses, rounded up his crew, took what valuables they were able to, and headed out into the night.
My grandfather was also a firefighter in the days before they had respirators, a printer—he started his own newspaper in Scranton, PA, and he was a father. He took me to Boy Scout meetings and I remember he was strict - okay, he told me not to jump on the bed once and that forever stuck with me. I was fortunate that he lived a long time, even though he had Emphysema undoubtably from his firefighting days. Oh, and he smoked a pipe occasionally. Much of what I remember about my grandfather though were his stories. When I re-tell one of them, I remember him.
Thank you for your stories Grandpa. I miss you.