A fabulous fortune and what it did to the lives of three people.
In January 1952 a messenger boy of a New York bank mailed 119 letters, each containing a cheque, thus distributing the estate of a quiet, retiring widow who had recently died. He did not know his action was the final step in breaking up one of the last of the great American fortunes. The cheques totalled something more than $100,000,000.
'The Day They Shook the Plum Tree' is the story of that fortune and the people it possessed. It began with the purchase of 'one black cow' in 1624; it grew slowly through farming, Indian trading, slavery, land scales shipping and whaling. It became gigantic in the hands of Hetty Green, who, through perjury, penury, ruthfulessnes and financial genius managed to die in 1916 the richest and most detested woman in America.
Two people in particular detested Hetty: her son, Ned, and her daughter, Sylvia. Ned tossed away $3,000,000 a year on yachts, coins, stamps, jewels, orchid culture, Texas politics and ineffectual benevolence. Sylvia simply turned her back on the world. Arthur Lewis makes this strange story live and gives a fascinating insight into the eccentricities of the unimaginably rich.