Ida Walsh Mayfield Wood
Imagine arriving in New York City in 1857, age 19 years old and determined to invent yourself a new persona. Ida was clever and certainly resourceful as she began her plan. She read every society page and listened to every bit of gossip she could. In the society pages, the name Benjamin Wood kept cropping up. One day, Ida brazenly devised a plan to send a letter to Mr. Wood. On May 28, 1857, she penned the letter to him. The letter read in part as follows:
Mr. Wood - Sir:
Having heard of you often, I venture to address you after hearing a young lady, one of your 'former loves,' speak of you. She says you are fond of 'new faces.' I am, in fact, new to the city and in 'Affaire de Coeur' that I might contract an interview with you for as long a duration as you see fit. After all, 'knowledge is power.' You may write to me at No. Broadway, PO, New York. Does seem rather forward, but Ida was adamant about becoming someone else.
Benjamin was married to his second wife, Delia Wood, at the time, but he agreed to meet her. Ben was intrigued as Ida began elaborating on her life. She told him she was the daughter of Henry Mayfield, a Louisianna sugar planter, and Ann Mary Crawford, descendants of the Earls of Crawford. Almost immediately, Ida became his mistress and had a daughter, Emma Wood. After his wife Delia died, they were married. Ida made it into the high society of New York. At a ball, she danced with the Prince of Wales, met President Abraham Lincoln, and had servants and footmen.
Life as Mrs. Benjamin Wood
Ida was welcomed into New York's society. She had her servants and footmen and enjoyed all that came with her new status. However, while Ida was extremely frugal, Benjamin was a true gambler. But Ida didn't try to change him, she merely made him pay her half of anything he won, but he had to absorb any losses himself. Often she waited outside of Morrissey's gambling hall to collect his winnings. She also began to have everything put in her name as she was afraid he'd gamble his assets away.
Benjamin was a powerful figure in New York and owned and edited the New York Daily News; eventually, Ida became the owner. In 1900, Benjamin died, leaving Ida very wealthy.
Ida's Reclusive Life in Herald Square Hotel
By 1907, with a panic, the top news, Ida, her sister Mary, and daughter Emma took rooms 551 and 552 at the hotel and dropped out of sight. Part of her reason for sealing herself off may have had something to do with the financial crisis. Almost as if frugal Ida was isolating herself from the world so it wouldn't affect her. Ida sold the NY Daily News for $250,000., went to her bank, withdrew her account of almost one million dollars, stuffed it in a bag, and returned to the hotel. She sold every possession she had, including furniture, sculptures, art, and other miscellaneous items. For the next twenty-four years, Ida remained a recluse until, on March 5, 1931, she opened her door and called for help, saying, "my sister's sick, get a doctor."
Suddenly, mayhem turned the room into chaos. Her sister was dead, and a physician, the hotel manager, an undertaker, and her lawyer were summoned. All around the room, yellowed newspapers cluttered the room, old wrappings, cereal boxes, and several trunks were seen. The lawyer, Morgan O'Brian, began questioning everyone. The manager had been employed for seven years and had never seen Ida or her sister, and they paid their bills in cash. The floor maid said she had never entered the rooms, and only twice did she exchange bedding with Ida. A bellhop stated he knocked daily on her door asking what they needed, and it was always the same. Ida requested evaporated milk, crackers, coffee, bacon, and eggs. She always tipped ten cents to him.
Ida suddenly began talking, telling how she was a southern belle, and she and her husband were members of New York society. Heads turned to Ida, and all seemed to think she was senile. The lawyer called his father, who verified Ida had been a beauty and a socialite but believed she wasn't destitute. Besides her sister dying, her daughter Emma had died in 1928, so Ida was alone and needed assistance.
Death of Ida Walsh Mayfield Wood 1932
Ida died in 1932 intestate meaning with no will. Mr. O'Brian, now faced with probate, listing Ida's finances and determining potential heirs. He found that she had not cashed dividend checks from a railroad company in twelve years. They started going through the trucks both in the room and others in the hotel basement. Thousands of dollars were hidden throughout her hotel rooms and trucks. Jewelry worth thousands found in empty cracker boxes.
After Ida's death, over one-thousand people claimed to be her heirs and seeking to claim her assets. Her estate was worth almost one million dollars. After a lengthy search by Mr. O'Brian, even to Ireland, it was determined that there were only ten legitimate heirs, living in Ireland, England, and the United States. Ida was a fascinating person, especially inventing herself to reach her goal of being someone important.
Ida is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queens, New York, Benjamin is also buried in Calvary Cemetery. Some say that Emma Mayfield was really another sister and not her daughter.
To read more about Ida and how difficult it was to trace her ancestry back since she invented herself, the book, can be found on Amazon, The recluse of Herald Square. By Joseph A. Cox, and his in-depth search of Ida Ellen Walsh Mayfield Wood. Includes her real name, her fictitious name, and her married name.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 14, 2020:
Thank you so much for your visit. Glad you liked it.
L.M. Hosler on December 13, 2020:
Interesting story. I enjoyed reading it.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 12, 2020:
Thanks for your visit, I appreciate it.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 11, 2020:
Doug West from Missouri on December 11, 2020:
Good story. She would do well in today's Covid-19 quarantined world.
Readmikenow on December 10, 2020:
Fascinating story. I enjoyed reading it.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 10, 2020:
Thanks for your visit Alicia. I appreciate it.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 09, 2020:
What a strange life Ida led. It was interesting to read about her. The last part of her life sounds sad.
Rosina S Khan on December 09, 2020:
This is an interesting account of the New York Socialite who rose high in status and became wealthy although she became a recluse in her later years. I enjoyed reading about the woman. Thanks for sharing.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 09, 2020:
MG, thanks for reading. She knew what she wanted and devised a plan to get it. Conniving, but clever. Maybe I should invent myself.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 09, 2020:
Fascinating article. It was wonderful to read about this lady.