...Evalyn's heart of gold

soldiers at Evalyn's party
Evalyn was known to have a heart of gold, and a real concern for people in unfortunate circumstances. "For instance," says columnist Sarah Booth Conroy, "during World War II, she used to have veterans come to her house for big parties, particularly wounded veterans who had lost a leg or an arm or something like that. And she put up a water fountain on the street so that hot war workers could have water as they went down the street. And one time she went out in the middle of the night – a terrible, terrible night – because she got to worrying about people who were sleeping in the park and didn't have anything to eat, and she tried to find people to take in."

According to Evalyn, "I like to wear my diamond as a charm, and pretend it brings good luck to everyone around me."
Evalyn with first son, Vinson

Evalyn loved the notoriety but not the vulnerability that came with the family's great wealth. When her first child, Vinson, was born, the newspapers proclaimed him the "Hundred Million Dollar Baby," and Evalyn lived in fear that one day he would be snatched away. It was a nightmare that came true in 1932 for American hero Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, when their baby was taken from his nursery. Evalyn's immediate reaction was to help in any way she could.

Gaston Means
So she telephoned a maverick detective who she suspected had ties to the underworld. "Gaston Means came at half past eight," recalled Evalyn in her autobiography, "a fat and deeply dimpled scoundrel, who was, I thought, precisely what I needed as an instrument to get in touch with the kidnappers..." Adds Conroy: "Means saw an easy mark. He was very happy to come and tell her that for a mere $100,000 he could get the baby back."

To raise the cash in a hurry, Evalyn took out a short-term mortgage on one of her properties. Inventing endless yarns, one after another, Means led Evalyn on a wild-goose-chase across half the continent. "He kept telling her that he was going to get the baby back when he went to the South land and then went to Mexico and all," says Conroy. But Means, in fact, never had, at any time, any clues to the whereabouts of the baby.

Hope Diamond
Meanwhile, Evalyn's mortgage came due, and when the bank threatened to foreclose, Evalyn was forced to hock her most prized jewel to cover the loan. "None of my pleading had counted for a darn," remembered Evalyn. "I paced the floor a bit, then I set out for New York, accompanied by a woman friend and my young daughter. One pawnbroker let me have $50,000 on a collection of some of my lesser stones; another, Simpson's Pawn Shop at 91 Park Row, gave me the money for the Hope Diamond."

Sadly, the body of the Lindbergh baby was found buried in a field in New Jersey, dead since shortly after the kidnapping. When she realized she'd been duped, Evalyn had Gaston Means arrested, and he was subsequently sentenced to twenty years in prison. As Evalyn told reporters: "I had lived more than a score of years haunted daily by the fear of just what was happening to the Lindberghs. I tried to do what millions wished they might; in my case the wish was harnessed to my money. I am sorry that I failed, that I was tricked, but I shall always be glad that in my heart I was compelled to take part in the effort to ransom the Lindbergh Baby."

Sometime later, when she had the money, Evalyn went back to Simpson's Pawn Shop to redeem the diamond: "I pushed my cash across the counter, and when the diamond was brought I stuffed it into my dress. The people in the shop were concerned for me as I started into the noisy street; they thought I ought to have detectives along." But Evalyn had had quite enough of detectives.

notorious past | savvy sales pitch | one-of-a-kind | becoming a legend
heart of gold | curses debunked | timeline

Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
Hope Diamond
Taj Mahal
scene from Borobudur

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