Hamptons Society Lines Up for a Yard Sale at the Infamous Grey Gardens
Grey Gardens was the home of Jackie Onassis’s eccentric Beale relations, notorious for letting the 6,000-square-foot home devolve into an overgrown dump. Then it was the estate of Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of the Washington Post, and his wife, the journalist Sally Quinn.
Over the weekend it became a madhouse—in the best possible way.
The 1.7-acre East Hampton, N.Y., property, which was listed for $18 million and recently sold for an undisclosed amount, was the scene of a bustling, buzzy estate sale. That’s the polite word for a yard sale among the high rollers of Long Island’s East End, and it drew hundreds of buyers. Susan Wexler, whose Bridgehampton company, Behind the Hedgerows, managed the sale, declared it an “impressive” turnout.
People started lining up around 4 a.m. Friday, the first day of the sale, and were admitted to the house 40 at a time. The first space on the walk-through was an elegant porch with a hammock. Then came a foyer with gray-and-white-striped wallpaper and crown moldings. The visitors moved through the immaculate house in a kind of civilized stampede, shod in blue, hospital-style booties that Wexler issued to keep the place clean.
When the doors opened a few minutes before 10 a.m., the crowd of well-coiffed Hamptonites rushed in, eager to get out of the cold and shop the collection of the notorious Beale family. “They came in here like locusts,” Wexler joked. “But pretty orderly!” One person was escorted from the premises for unruly behavior.
On offer were the ordinary things of daily life—drinking glasses for $2, cloth napkins for $6—and a raft of items from the Beale days. There were wicker furniture that Quinn found in the attic, pieces reupholstered to salvage them from ruin, and a silver handheld mirror. The mirror appears in the 1975 documentary that immortalized the Beales, affectionately known as Little Edie and Big Edie, and the outrageous clutter in which they nested. Each item bore a little beige tag, with a gold sticker for pieces from the old days.
“There’s a good deal of original stuff, plus a lot of possessions from Sally and Ben, too,” said Wexler. Though the house is no longer for sale, she had flagged certain rooms for shoppers. “We indicate one room where the Beales stayed after they trashed the rest of the house,” she said. “One room is reported to be haunted by the original owner and the sea captain lover of Big Edie.”
Next to Bradlee’s rolltop desk, at $675, was a convertible sofa for $225. Items showed their age, especially those from the Beale years, with little dings in mirror frames, cracks in a desktop, and rust on the steel beds where the Edies dreamed their dreams. Four frayed pillows bordered in lace were snapped up for $45 to $75 apiece.
Preparations for the sale began nearly a month ago, when Quinn, widowed in 2014, brought in Wexler. There was a lot to go through. Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, had lived there for years. The Suffolk County Health Department raided the house in 1971 and found such horrors that it threatened to evict the charming pack rats. Jackie footed the bill for a massive scouring. Quinn and Bradlee purchased Grey Gardens in 1979 for $220,000 from Little Edie and restored the estate to its original grandeur. The downfall of both the home and the Ediths was chronicled in the documentary and later became the subject of a movie and a musical.
Wexler priced everything to move, at $1 to $795.
The early shoppers, some of whom arrived before dawn, were hellbent on taking home a piece of memorabilia. The more casual shoppers arrived later, breezing through the line in about an hour. No matter their shopping goals, they seemed as interested in the home itself as in the sales inventory. Some even admitted to having driven slowly past the house in the past.
Betty and Maryann Dankowski, a mother and daughter from East Hampton, attended the sale not just to shop—they had long been fascinated by the lore surrounding the house. East Hampton natives, the elder Dankowski remembered a young Little Edie strolling about town, and a relative was once summoned to the home to fix a television set. This was their first opportunity to look around inside. “If walls could talk,” Betty said.
Drew B. James and Lisa Bettencourt drove from New York City on Thursday evening. Both described themselves as enormous fans of Grey Gardens, the documentary. “I want to lick the walls, touch the floor!” said James, who had cleared his schedule to attend the sale. Neither were on the hunt for anything in particular. “I just want a tchotchke from Grey Gardens,” Bettencourt said.
Alex Rosenfield, an attorney from New York City who attended the sale in pink velvet slippers, purchased a $495 chair owned by the Beales, which bore the claw marks of their many cats. Rosenfield, who frequents East Hampton, was unsure where he might keep it, describing the purchase as “sort of impulsive.” He said he initially sought to attend the sale to “just kind of see the house. It’s beautiful.”
Items the price and size of Rosenfield’s were scarce. More common were household goods owned by Bradlee and Quinn. In one corner was a pile of home phones, at $5 apiece. Men’s hats sold for $2 apiece, and an Xbox system sold for $25. Come afternoon, as shoppers carried more rolls of wallpaper, trinkets and linens to the long checkout line, Grey Gardens had been nearly picked clean.