Lady Victoria’s Priceless Pearls
Photo/ Text by Donna Malloy
The Hidden Staircase. Webbed though out the hotel, secret passages like this one exhibits years of wear from the service staff of the Belleview Biltmore.
Morton Friedman Plant, son of railroad tycoon Henry Bradley Plant, observed her from across the room at the Belleview. Used to getting what he wanted, Morton was not concerned that the captivating woman was with her third husband. Not dissimilar to the movie “Indecent Proposal” where Robert Redford’s character offers Demi Moore’s husband $1 million dollars for a date with his wife, Morton offered the woman’s husband $8 million dollars in exchange for his wife. Who was this engaging woman who captured the heart of one of American’s most eligible bachelors at the time?
Later in life, she would be known as Maisie Plant, a New York socialite. Born in 1878, Mae Caldwell Manwring Plant, like her husband, became accustomed to the finer things money could buy and no one said no to Maisie, except Morton.
Shortly after they were married, a double strand of natural pearls caught her attention. Maisie coveted them, but Morton refused to purchase them for her. Undaunted, crafty Maisie devised a plan. She approached the jeweler, Pierre Cartier, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
In exchange for the pearl necklace, the Plants would give Cartier his first flagship store in America; their Neo-Renaissance mansion on Fifth Avenue. The year was 1915; the pearls were priced at $1.2 million dollars and the House of Cartier has remained at this location for the last 94 years.
Maisie was floating on air. Now she could proudly pass along through the hallways of the Belleview, head held high and her neck encrusted with the $1.2 million dollar, double strand of natural pearls. But would her happiness last forever?
The eyewitness, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. He relates the following story:
“Working at the Belleview in the 80’s was different than it is today. Back then, the staff had access to the service stairwells that had hidden entrances to every floor. Using the staircases instead of the elevators, the staff could work behind the scenes, undetected by hotel guests. They could also sneak up to the 5th floor and smoke, undetected.
On one occasion, the Houseman, who was responsible for organizing the maid staff, started his shift on the 4th floor. Something caught his attention. As he looked up from his cart, a woman materialized in front of him. Adorned in violet-blue, her hooped skirt encompassed the entire hall. So frightened was the Houseman that he ran out of the hotel shouting: ‘I saw her, I saw her.’ The Houseman never returned; not even to pick up his last pay check.”
In years to follow, the Victorian woman has become known as Lady Victoria. Or maybe Lady Victoria is really the ghost of Maisie Plant. Legend has it that even today, Maisie’s ghost restlessly roams the hallways of the Belleview, searching for her lost pearls.
According to “Wisdom of Pearls,” Jill Newman, Maisie’s pearl necklace did show up in 1957. At a Parke Bernet auction, Maisie’s necklace sold for a mere $150,000.
More recently, in 2004, a similar natural, double-strand pearl necklace sold at Christie’s for $3.1 million dollars. Because only one gem-quality pearl is uncovered from every 25,000 wild oysters found in the ocean, these pearls are considered the rarest in the world today. And because farming these perishable mollusks is a costly enterprise, one strand of the pearls can command up to $100,000.
If only Plants’ heirs had held on to her necklace for a few more decades, they could have sold Maisie’s pearls for much more. As the saying goes; be careful what you wish for.
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