Boy, talk about déjà vu.
The New York Post reported yesterday that Bernard Madoff’s apartment will soon be for sale to help repay the billions he has stolen. A website quickly posted a floor plan of it. While the Post refers to it as a “penthouse,” it is, in fact, no such thing. Merely an apartment on the top floor of the building, no different from those below it.
Still, if not a penthouse, it is, to be sure, more than adequate digs, with private elevator hall, library, huge living room, dining room, four bedrooms with baths, pantry, kitchen, maid’s sitting room, and three maid’s rooms. If someone would be so kind as to take care of the finances, I’d move in tomorrow.
I had a frisson of schadenfreude at the thought of Bernard Madoff — under house arrest and wearing an ankle bracelet — having to watch while potential buyers inspect the place. But looking at the floor plan brought back a flood of memories from my long-lost childhood as well. For this was also the floor plan of my great aunt’s apartment, which was located on the sixth floor of the same building.
My grandmother’s younger sister, Aunt Marie (pronounced like “marry”– it was short for Marion) was one of my favorite relatives. She died in 1972 at the age of 88. Incomparably witty, with flashing blue eyes even in old age, she told me wonderful stories whenever I went to dinner there. There were tales of New York in the Gilded Age, of Prohibition, and the war years. I remember one of a fancy wedding at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, about 1905. The ceremony was scheduled for four o’clock, but the organ kept playing and playing until around quarter to five when the minister came out and announced that he was very sorry but “there will be no wedding today.” The groom had failed to show up.
Dinner itself was a bit of a blast from the past, served by a maid in a Mary Petty uniform and even featuring finger bowls. There were, of course, always cocktails first in the living room (Aunt Marie liked her martinis at the ratio of 3½ to 1). Dessert was usually apple crisp, slathered in heavy cream, because she knew it was a special favorite of mine.
I remember one thing in particular that she told me, for it astonished me even forty years ago. She and Uncle Rowland bought the apartment in 1936. The purchase price — are you sitting down? — was $6000. The Post estimates that Mr. Madoff’s apartment will fetch $8 million. That seems a little high to me, but the monthly maintenance today is surely more than what my aunt paid to buy her apartment.