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Helen Hayes

Helen Hayes (1900 -1993) “The First Lady of American Theater.”

We never know who is going to walk through the door of the Merchant’s House. One day in August of 1971, it was Helen Hayes. She had just retired from the theater, and she and her friend Anita Loos, the playwright, had decided to take a year exploring the City, visiting sites that were unfamiliar to them, including the Old Merchant’s House, as it was then called.

This was before the restoration had taken place, and the house was showing its age. The caretaker apologized: “There just isn’t enough money to do all the things we should do.”

“Just the same,” the actress replied, “the old place is still here with its original furniture, drapes, and chandeliers. No amount of rust or wear can keep their beauty from shining through.” As she left, she remarked to her companion, “With a little financial help they could give New York City back one of its treasures in pristine order.”

It would take over nine years and a lot more than a “little” financial help, but she was right. The House had just received the initial grant from the government for the restoration. The treasure was on its way back. Helen Hayes helped; she left a contribution of ten dollars.


The two women wrote about their New York sightseeing adventures in Twice Over Lightly. (1972).