Sticky Fingers 

Peabody hotel asks former guest to return stolen "souvenirs."

Many people have an old hotel ashtray or ice bucket, innocently taken as a token of a memorable vacation, stashed away in a drawer or closet. But if those items say "Hotel Peabody," the folks at the historic downtown hotel want their stuff back.

The Peabody's "Amnesty for Artifacts" program, part of an effort to enlarge an exhibition of vintage Peabody hotel objects, promises no questions will be asked about returned items.

"We're not going to hold it against someone if they took something as a keepsake," says public relations director Kelly Earnest. "People often stole things in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s when the hotel used its logo on everything. People didn't travel as much then, so they wanted something to take back with them."

In 1939 alone, guests at the Peabody stole 11,000 towels, 1,600 sheets, 100 wool blankets, 2,400 pillowcases, 600 pairs of lace curtains, and 6,000 pieces of silverware.

Though the hotel will also accept recently pilfered items, Earnest says they will only exhibit older objects.

Currently, the Peabody's memorabilia room, located on the mezzanine level, boasts an impressive collection of returned vintage hotel goods like sterling silverware, fine china bearing the Peabody stamp, elaborately decorated room keys, and old menus offering entrées such as baked cow-tongue sandwich.

"We want to fill the room up with more stuff, more memories," Earnest says. "If you have any of these items lying around that you'd be willing to part with, we'd love to have them back."

The Peabody hopes to have the updated exhibit complete by next January.

Though the program promises no questions will be asked, stories are encouraged. Several years ago, an 81-year-old woman who identified herself in a letter as "an anonymous war bride of 1943" returned a bath mat that she'd nabbed during her honeymoon.

"In her letter, she said she was raised to be very proper and she did not steal things, but her husband did not smoke or drink, so they felt like they deserved to take something," Earnest says.

Of course, not all the lost items were stolen from the hotel. The Peabody held two massive garage sales several years after it closed in 1973. At the first sale, 1,800 people waited in a line outside the hotel to buy TVs, beds, tables, and lamps.

These days, Earnest says pilfering is not as big of a problem as it used to be: The Peabody no longer prints its logo on everything.

People still take the bathrobes, but the Peabody simply charges the cost to the guest's credit card.

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