Dollars From Above


He Had Money To Throw Away

(info from The Windsor Star Archives and Time Magazine)
An eccentric philanthropist who threw money from a hotel window and went on a brief cheque-writing spree had Windsorites agog on March 29, 1944.

He was Harry Falconer McLean, a reputed multi-millionaire contractor of Toronto and regarded throughout Canada as the rich uncle of the masses.

On a rainy day he tossed $5000 in small bills from the fifth-floor window of his room in the Prince Edward Hotel, once a leading Windsor hotel on Ouellette. He had missed a planed connection en route from Chicago to Ottawa.

He earned wider fame in the 1940s in a series of public giveaways as “Mr. X” – hitting the headlines first in November, 1943 when he tossed $5 000 in $100 bills to war wounded in Toronto.

McLean was swamped with 27,000 marriage proposals but ignored them all. He married twice – in 1917 to Irene F. Robertson who passed away in 1942 and in 1951, he married Margaret K. Fitzpatrick.

McLean, who died April 30, 1961 at his home in Merrickville, Ontario, left an estate of only $108,058: $38,605 in stocks, $1,417 in securities, $26,200 in real estate, $30,760 in household goods, and $75.82 in cash.

“I like to see people grovel for money,” he gleefully told reporters at the time.

Known for a while as Mr. X, he was notorious for giving away his money. He once tossed $5,000 in $100 bills to war-wounded veterans in Toronto.

The Prince Edward Hotel was torn down in the 1970s

A Windsor Star reporter wrote of the 1944 visit: “Several hundreds of one-dollar bills floated down from the upper floor of the hotel before people realized what was happening. Then there was a general scramble. Cars stopped in the middle of the street. People began running around like mad. Word of the money spread and soon a crowd gathered. It was raining, but people ignored the muck and wet to grasp at the money. It wasn’t dignified, but it was fascinating.”

To the first reporter and photographer to interview him he gave a canvas bag containing $100 in quarters. To others he gave cheques for $1,000. He gave a $5,000 cheque to the Windsor Police Burial Fund. One reporter got a cheque for $5,000. He gave $500 in quarters to a hotel switchboard operator. He issued a total of $45,000 in cheques with the when was in Windsor. Most of the cheques were never cashed. His legal guardians stopped payment.

As he left Windsor, McLean said: “I just wanted to start something and I did. I’ve had one hell of a good time. Financially, I’m cut off now, but look out for me again.”

He described in a story by Windsor Daily Star reporter Norm Hull, who later became editor of The Star, as “big, jovial and plain speaking.”

“It has now been learned that Mr. McLean has been a Santa Claus with a bag loaded with bills and cheques since the last war (1914-1918) and that his distribution of what he has to those who haven’t, now totals an amazing fortune, Hull wrote.

His biggest cash gift to a person was a $2,000 donation to the five-month-old son of a Halifax taxi driver who was courteous to him.

He gave $10,000 to a Digby, N.S., nurses’ home and made sporadic public donations to soldiers.

Years before he came into the limelight, McLean, a tall man of striking appearance with the nose of a Roman senator and a mass of nearly-white curly hair, had become known in the hotels of North America as a free spender who gave parties that continued for days.

He once bought a hotel floor clerk an expensive phonograph when he thought she looked lonely.

He tossed money around like confetti but resented any attempt to cheat him. When a boardwalk chair attendant at Atlantic City tried it, McLean lifted him in his huge hands and threw him into the ocean.

He developed a faculty of being able to size up a man to his satisfaction at sight and often said his gifts were not given as indiscriminately as it seemed. He remembered everyone he met and could call a laborer by his first name 30 years after meeting him.

He had come up the hard way, starting life as a water boy on a railroad construction job in Minneapolis. When he felt himself responsible for a railroad car of coal being dumped at the wrong location, he stayed up all night shoveling it back into the car.

He was a journeyman construction hand in Canada and the U.S. until he started his own firm and handled an estimated $400 million in contracts in the next 40 years. His developments included the Abitibi Power canyon project, pushing railroads to remote Canadian towns, building the Montreal aqueduct, and helping link the Catskill watershed to New York City.

His latter-day fame came with his first 1943 public donation of $5,000, quickly followed by others before and after he was identified.

Identification came in 1943 after he disbursed thousands more in Halifax, including the aforementioned $2,000 to a taxi driver.

McLean was born in Bismarck, N.D., of Canadian-born parents.

He earned wider fame in the 1940s in a series of public giveaways as “Mr. X” – hitting the headlines first in November, 1943 when he tossed $5 000 in $100 bills to war wounded in Toronto.

McLean was swamped with 27,000 marriage proposals but ignored them all. He married twice – in 1917 to Irene F. Robertson who passed away in 1942 and in 1951, he married Margaret K. Fitzpatrick.

McLean, who died April 30, 1961 at his home in Merrickville, Ontario, left an estate of only $108,058: $38,605 in stocks, $1,417 in securities, $26,200 in real estate, $30,760 in household goods, and $75.82 in cash.

 

 

Advertisements

About Elaine Weeks

How history was taught in my day: memorize lots of boring dates and facts, watch corny old black & white history films. There was one bright spot, however. Grade 9 history at Walkerville Collegiate with Miss Falls (Georgina) when she taught a section on local history and took us on a field trip to explore some of Windsor's built heritage. Due to a peculiar series of events, celebrating local history became part of my business. My company, (partner is Chris Edwards,) Walkerville Publishing Inc., launched "The Walkerville Times" in 1999, which in due course became "The Times Magazine". Our goal was to make history real. I am a writer, editor, blogger, photographer, mother, wife, sister, activist, traveller, gardener, knitter, masters track & field competitor (when I have time), glass is nearly full person.
This entry was posted in Lost Buildings, People, Windsor Then and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dollars From Above

  1. brian mclean says:

    Harry Falconer McLean was one of Canada’s greatest engineers. His most important gifts were to posterity, and in the form of the major engineering projects he completed.

  2. ElaineW says:

    >I wonder if anyone has any older relatives or friends who remember that money drop on Ouellette Avenue?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s