Buying a piece of history

Forty people were allowed into the house (left) at a time to browse and buy items. Among the items for sale were a silver handheld mirror (above) and furniture. Recently sold for an undisclosed amount, Grey Gardens (above) used to be the home of the
Recently sold for an undisclosed amount, Grey Gardens (above) used to be the home of the Beales, who were relatives of former United States first lady Jacqueline Onassis. It was also the estate of Mr Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post.PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG
Forty people were allowed into the house (left) at a time to browse and buy items. Among the items for sale were a silver handheld mirror (above) and furniture. Recently sold for an undisclosed amount, Grey Gardens (above) used to be the home of the
Forty people were allowed into the house (above) at a time to browse and buy items.PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG
Forty people were allowed into the house (left) at a time to browse and buy items. Among the items for sale were a silver handheld mirror (above) and furniture. Recently sold for an undisclosed amount, Grey Gardens (above) used to be the home of the
Among the items for sale were a silver handheld mirror (above) and furniture.PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG

Everyday things were for sale at the home once belonging to Jacqueline Onassis' eccentric relatives

NEW YORK • It was not just an ordinary garage sale over the past weekend. Not when the property, Grey Gardens, used to be the 6,000 sq ft abode of former United States first lady Jacqueline Onassis' eccentric Beale relations.

It was also the estate of Mr Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post, and his journalist-wife Sally Quinn. They bought it in 1979 for US$220,000, restoring the estate to its original grandeur. 

The East Hampton, New York property, listed for US$18 million (S$24 million) and recently sold for an undisclosed amount, was the scene of a bustling sale over the weekend.

People started lining up at about 4am and were admitted to the house 40 at a time.

They moved through the immaculate property in a kind of civilised stampede, shod in blue booties issued to keep the place clean.

Antique dealers Tom Preston and David Bell were so enamoured by Grey Gardens, a 1975 documentary about the home's eccentric inhabitants, mother-daughter socialites Big Edie and Little Edie, that they were the first two people in line, arriving at 4am, six hours before the doors opened to the public.

The third and fourth people to join the queue happened to be Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and a pal of his, in from Los Angeles just for the sale.

On offer were ordinary things of daily life - drinking glasses for US$2, cloth napkins for US$6 - and a raft of items from the Beale days. Besides wicker furniture in the attic, there was also a silver handheld mirror which appeared in the documentary that immortalised the Beales and the outrageous clutter in which they nested.

Mr Bradlee's rolltop desk was priced at US$675.

No matter their shopping goals, the crowd at Grey Gardens was as interested in seeing the home as they were in seeing the sales inventory. Some even admitted to driving slowly past the house in the past because they so admired it.  

Mother and daughter duo Betty and Maryann Dankowski attended the sale not just to shop. They have long been fascinated by the lore surrounding the house.

Mr Alex Rosenfield, a lawyer from New York City, purchased a US$495 chair. It bore the claw marks of their many cats and he was unsure where he might keep it. He described his purchase as "sort of impulsive" and said he initially sought to attend the sale to "just kind of see the house".

Ms Susan Wexler, whose auction house ran the sale, said she realised that buyers were not there just for the merchandise - though they purchased everything from a 50 US cent bottle-opener to a US$2,000 curio cabinet and its contents of miniature animal figurines collected by the Edies.

She added that when security officers informed buyers lined up to get into the house on Sunday that there was nothing left, many decided to wait for their turn anyway.

"Plenty of people said: 'We just want to see the house and gardens'," she noted.

"It was like a museum."

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2017, with the headline 'Buying a piece of history'. Print Edition | Subscribe