Since April, groups have gathered outside Bergdorf Goodman on Sundays to join E. Jean Carroll’s walking tour of the “most hideous men of New York.” The meeting place’s significance only became clear two weeks ago. In June, Carroll published an article alleging that US president Donald Trump raped her in the storied department store in the mid-‘90s. “Now the secret’s out,” she told a group of 16 who joined on July 7, the first tour since she made her accusations public.
Carroll pointed at the heavy revolving door where she remembers meeting Trump more than 20 years ago. “Donald Trump in the ‘90s was a great figure in New York. I hate to tell you—we all loved him,” she hollered. Carroll, who is 75 with the energy of a 25-year-old, described how Trump asked for her help picking out a handbag. She didn’t dwell on the alleged sexual violence that followed. “It was shocking, it hurt, I fought, it was against my will, and I got out,” she said. “It was just a few minutes of my life. I am past it, I am well, my chin is up.”
She spent less than four minutes discussing the encounter. Later in the tour, I asked what she made of Trump’s comment, made while denying her allegations, that she wasn’t his type. “I loved that,” said Carroll. “If you look at the pictures, Ivana and I looked almost identical back in the day.” (Both Carroll and Trump’s former wife are blond with heart-shaped faces.)
Dressed in riding boots, light grey jodhpurs, and a peach jacket, Carroll started the tour by applauding two men in the group. “Unprecedented!,” she cried.
After acknowledging her connection to Bergdorf’s, Carroll turned to the Plaza Hotel across the street, where women were blocked from its Oak Room until 1969. “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, you could not make a business deal in New York unless it was in the Oak Room,” she said. She held up a photo of Betty Friedan, who successfully led protests to open up the bar and restaurant, now used for private functions, to women. “Which just ruined men’s fun,” pouted Carroll. “When you’re signing your next million-dollar contract, remember—good old Betty helped us out.”
Next stop was Tiffany & Co., where we heard about Paula Smith, the woman who in 1994 won an unprecedentedly large settlement of $365,000 when she sued her former employer. Smith was head of estate jewelry at Tiffany, and when she complained about sexual harassment, the company took action—by firing her.
In just a few blocks and over two hours, we covered Trump Tower, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Fox News, CBS headquarters, and Studio 54. As we traveled the sites, Carroll recounted allegations against Trump (referencing Ivana Trump’s now-recanted rape allegations), Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Louis CK, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves, and Kevin Spacey.
Most of us know how #MeToo stories go. The grotesque details are no longer shocking; the tales of powerful men exploiting their authority coalesce into a cacophony of abuse. Carroll’s accusations in June largely disappeared into the din. They didn’t appear on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, or Chicago Tribune; the New York Times only published a print article two days after the news broke, and later said it underplayed the story.
With her bawdy humor and enthusiastic shouts, Carroll, who encouraged the group to bring snacks and canned wine on the tour, is trying to tell a different story. Alongside photos of the men in question, she also held up images of Jane Mayer, a journalist who revealed allegations of physical violence made against New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, athlete Andrea Constand, whose testimony effectively convicted Bill Cosby, and Barbara Underwood, the attorney general who replaced Schniederman and sued Trump. “Are you getting it yet?” asked Carroll. “The real story’s about the women.”
There were major gaps in the tour’s narrative. Carroll left out Roger Ailes entirely because, she said, he was her friend. Al Franken, who was pressured to resign from the US Senate following sexual misconduct allegations, was described by Carroll as a great guy. (She worked with him on Saturday Night Live.) And though she held up a photo of Woody Allen, Carroll isn’t so sure he’s hideous. She had lunch with him once or twice, she said, and he seemed like a nice man.
It’s not yet clear what will come of Carroll’s allegations against Trump, or her walking tour. She pressed the 16 of us to buy her recently published book; her original accusations are an excerpt of this larger work. Perhaps the Sunday meetings serve as a somewhat inefficient way of promoting it.
Carroll said she took to the streets to start a conversation: “Tweeting is one thing. Going out and using a microphone in New York City is another.” After quizzing the group on the gender pay gap mid-route, Carroll got us to brainstorm ways to fix it, and encouraged us to share emails so we can plan a date to publicly reveal salaries. I haven’t heard anything yet, but at the end of the afternoon the group seemed buoyed by the experience.
Halfway through the tour, a bearded, muscular passerby seemed to recognize Carroll and listened in for a few minutes, holding up a bulky camera to take photos. He was a large, frowning man, and I instinctively tensed when he approached Carroll. But, it turned out, he only wanted to say thank you. “Keep going,” he said to her. “Persevere!”