Still He Haunts Him: Heights author publishes biography of 1930s Wall Street con artist
A tall, imposing, and superbly attired older man attends an engagement party in 1963 in Far Hills, New Jersey. There he grasps the hand of the groom-to-be, thanking him for the invitation to the festivities, acknowledging that the party is the first time he has “been in society” since his “troubles” began.
The young man was Malcolm MacKay, who soon after his marriage moved to Brooklyn Heights, where he has resided ever since. The old man was Richard Whitney, the five-time president of the New York Stock Exchange and the national spokesman in the 1930s for what he called the “perfect institution.” Whitney had been a high society darling with a grand townhouse on the Upper East Side and a 495-acre spread in Far Hills. Among his numerous club affiliations, he was president of the Essex Fox Hounds, riding regally to the hounds on one of his 20 horses.
Richard Whitney’s name had been prominent in Republican circles in discussions of candidates for the 1936 presidential ticket. But he came to Malcolm MacKay’s party as an ex-con, having served time in Sing Sing for embezzlement. Whitney’s “troubles” can be described more accurately as a spectacular fall from grace, a plummet that MacKay describes in his new book, “Impeccable Connections, The Rise and Fall of Richard Whitney,” published by Brick Tower Press. As an example of the coverage the Whitney affair garnered at the time from incredulous reporters, MacKay includes an item from the Nation likening Whitney’s exploits to conjuring up images of “J.P. Morgan stealing from the collection plate at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.”
MacKay first knew Whitney as the grandfather of his closest childhood friend, who died in an auto accident while a freshman at Harvard. The story of his friend’s grandfather’s rise and fall has always intrigued MacKay, so several years ago he began researching the influential Wall Street figure, wading through documents, reading newspaper accounts of the times, and interviewing family members. “Impeccable Connections” is the result.