The most miserly woman in Brooklyn

If you had hundreds of millions in the bank and could easily afford to buy any Brooklyn house or apartment you desired, would you? Or would the idea of paying real estate taxes rankle you so much, you prefer to go from crummy rental to rental for the rest of your life?

Hetty Green chose the latter. She made a fortune on Wall Street in the 1880s. But instead of building a Gilded-Age mansion, she slummed around in rentals in Brooklyn Heights (staying for a time in the St. George Hotel) and Hoboken to avoid taxes. 

Hetty and her dog, Dewey. Kind of Leona Helmsey-like.

Her miserly ways were legendary. Nicknamed “The Witch of Wall Street” and chronicled in the papers as a sort of celebrity curiosity, she “dodged between one city and another, using aliases, always posing as a transient and always proving non-residence,” says a 1930 New York Times article.

“She always dressed in cast-offs and looked like a ragbag….she [realized] she could save money by buying boot tops at wholesale and then sewing them to the soles, also bought at wholesale,” the article continues. Supposedly she’d only eat cold oatmeal and wouldn’t turn on the heat or hot water.

Hetty died in 1916. Today, her fortune would equal $17 billion. 

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3 Responses to “The most miserly woman in Brooklyn”

  1. wilsch Says:

    Hetty Green resided (or not) in Bellows Falls, Vermont, for part of her life.

  2. Paul Says:

    So somebody else found that motel, too.

  3. James Says:

    There’s a good biography of Hetty available now. It seems that although she was indeed miserly and hated to waste money, she was also driven by a kind of paranoia instilled in her by her family at a very early age. Her father wanted her to know that some men would only be interested in her money, but she evidently became convinced that pretty much everyone was out to get her. Aside from avoiding property taxes, moving from rooming house to rooming house probably made her feel a little safer, too. She was convinced that people would kidnap her children if she stayed in one place too long. Also, Hetty was not all mean and greedy. On more than one occasion, she agreed to give low interest loans to the city when its treasury was in trouble. Interesting woman in any case. And, interestingly, her one and only friend was Countess Annie Leary, the only Irish Catholic to be counted among Mrs. Astor’s first “Four Hundred.”

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