Item: Sturdy Louis Sherry chocolate box
Character: J.P. Morgan.
Historical event: The Knickenbocker Panic of 1907.
I have an old chocolate box full of black and white photographs of my grandmother as a girl. The photos are sweet and yet faintly scandalous, as, in many, she's romping on the Florida beach with the boyfriend who preceded my grandfather.
I treasure this box for the glimpse it gave me of my grandmother long before she became the Mimi I knew.
While we were talking about the things we have learned doing genealogical research, I told my friend about this treasure trove. She was struck by my description of the lavender Louis Sherry box.
Did I know, she asked, that Louis Sherry was at the heart of the run on the banks in 1907?
(In strict honesty, let me admit that I also didn't know that Louis Sherry sold more than chocolate and ice-cream, and those things circle my sun pretty closely.)
Luckily, Mary not only has a PhD in the topic, she is an impassioned and delightful storyteller. To paraphrase (and probably confabulate some details), it goes something like this:
When the situation started getting dire, in October of 1907, J.P. Morgan called together a group of important bankers. He offered to front his own cash money to keep the banks solvent in an effort to keep things from going even more pear-shaped.
There was a meeting at Louis Sherry's restaurant. Other diners saw this tense late-night gathering of bankers and put two and two together to get -4. The run on the banks spread across town that week.
A quick poke around the interwebs shows me that Louis Sherry's was one of the most exclusive restaurants in those halcyon New York years before the first World War. In the same stratum as Waldorf's and Delmonico's. There was even a very deluxe 5th Avenue building for the restaurant, designed by the Sanford White (he of Girl in a Red Velvet Swing and Ragtime fame).
After Prohibition and the rise of Bolshie waiters who just wouldn't do the work, these fabulous New York eateries faded or geared down. Louis Sherry himself turned back to his confectionary shop, which makes chocolates even now.