Once upon a time people who lived like paupers despite their vast wealth — sometimes not revealed till their deaths — were called “misers” and thought an unfavorable type of human being. There was for example Miser Steubendorf of East Tenth Street, who “was rich but lived alone and starved himself to death,” and the famous miser Hetty Green (pictured), whom we remember from childhood as the hard-faced millionairess who saved scraps of soap. The Times approved a girl who in 1916 spurned her miserable rich uncle’s bequest in part because “miserliness is the one sin that kills all humanity in a person.” And we all recollect the misers of Dickens and Moliere.
But in recent years, for whatever reason, such people have gotten much better press. You won’t even find the word “miser,” for example, in any reports of an unidentified old woman who lived on the streets until taken in by an apparently saintly accountant, and whose death two years ago, the papers now tell us, revealed that she was actually rich enough to leave $100,000 to Hebrew University…
This undoubtedly noble gift seems to have justified the 92-year-old hobo’s life of deprivation in the view of the press. The accountant and his wife who took her in — and are also unidentified — are said to have “adopted” her, yet CNN reports she earned her keep by “mov[ing] the couple’s car from one side of the street to the other so that it would not be ticketed.” For all we know they may have also had her moving barbells up to their attic.
How much the couple was left by the lady is not revealed; we like to think she left them some small (we might say “miserly”) sum, and thereby taught them, if they are apt, a valuable lesson about exploiting old bums. The University is naturally full of praise for her years of self-imposed penury, its spokesman declaring that “she probably saved it to do good for the world and for the Jewish people.” Maybe so; maybe she was just schizophrenic — she was a survivor of Hitler’s camps, which experience may have permanently unbalanced her — and lived for years in mental anguish, from which others now profit.
A criminal investigation would not, we think, be out of the question.