‘Mystique,’ Memories, Mementos at Grey Gardens

Estate sale includes items from Beale era
"Little" Edie Beale used a magnifying glass to read a search order from the Suffolk Health Department in October, 1971, as officials watched on the porch of Grey Gardens, where she lived with her mother, Edith Bouvier Beale. The department had responded to reports that the two women were harboring diseased cats and that the rundown house's furnace was unsafe. "Miss Beale called the inspection 'a raid,' engineered by henchmen of 'a mean, nasty Republican Town,'" in a page-one story. Jack Graves

A celebrated, if unusual, component of East Hampton’s history will be dispersed, one piece at a time, starting Friday at 10 a.m. when an estate sale is held at Grey Gardens, the 28-room house at 3 West End Road made famous by a 1975 documentary about its eccentric inhabitants, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale.

Big Edie and Little Edie, who lived at Grey Gardens for more than 50 years, were an aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who spent childhood summers at nearby Lasata, her family’s estate at 121 Further Lane. 

The Beales were found to be living in squalor with a large number of cats and other animals, resulting in a 1972 eviction order issued by the Suffolk Health Commission. Lee Radziwill, a sister of Ms. Kennedy Onassis, suggested a documentary to the celebrated filmmakers Albert and David Maysles, resulting in the 1975 film “Grey Gardens.” 

The elder Ms. Beale died in 1977. Ben Bradlee, the late executive editor of The Washington Post, and his wife, the journalist Sally Quinn, bought Grey ardens from Little Edie in 1979. The younger Ms. Beale died in 2002. 

Ms. Quinn recently sold Grey Gardens for a reported $17.995 million. She had been renting out the property since 2015, one year after Bradlee’s death. 

Susan Wexler of Behind the Hedgerows will conduct the estate sale. A Facebook page for Behind the Hedgerows details the “rare opportunity to acquire a part of the Grey Gardens mystique and legacy,” stating that much of the house’s contents date to the Beales’ residence. Items owned by Ms. Quinn and Bradlee, including a home office desk, will also be offered, according to the Facebook page. 

The sale will run Friday until 5 p.m. It will resume on Saturday, also from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking, according to the invitation delivered via Mailchimp, will be at the Georgica Beach lot.  

Would-be early birds have been advised to rethink that strategy. “I’m sure people are going to be lining up,” Ms. Wexler said. “I’ve even hired a night watchman -- I’m afraid people will be camping out. It’s been a really interesting experience, I must say.”

East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., a former police officer, shared his recollections of Grey Gardens yesterday. “I was there when we went in with the Suffolk County health officials with a search warrant under the Agriculture and Markets law, just to get them back into the mainstream as far as the condition of their house,” he said. “They were ensconced there for years,” he said, chuckling at the memory. “A real cast of characters, very bohemian.”

Years earlier, Officer Rickenbach had fielded an inquiry from Big Edie as to who could repair an old LaSalle touring sedan that sat in the driveway at Grey Gardens, in which she and Little Edie would travel to Washington for President-elect John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The car “had been there for a number of years, to the extent that bittersweet vine had grown right into the motor casing and crank case, and traveled through the whole vehicle,” the mayor recalled. Repair “wasn't going to happen,” he said, laughing. The LaSalle “was part of the landscape of Grey Gardens. But she was so excited that she had received an invitation.” 

“There's quite a bit that's original to Grey Gardens that Sally found in the attic when she bought the house,” Ms. Wexler said on Tuesday. It has been cleaned and restored as necessary, she said. “Upholstered furniture was reupholstered, wicker was cleaned up. There's quite a bit of wicker.”

“I know that Ben and Sally were very sympathetic . . . and wanted to maintain the integrity of the house,” said the mayor, who knew the couple. “They did a superb job, in my memory. Some of the furnishings there, I suspect, are original and vintage.”

Also to be offered in the sale are photographs, framed prints, antique pillows, chairs, antique desks, a dining table, baskets, small decorative items, and a breakfast table with four chairs, Ms. Wexler said, along with garden furniture and ornaments. Lighting, china and glassware, curios, beds and bedding, and mirrors are also included. Some of these, according to the invitation, are featured in the Maysles brothers' documentary.

Looking back, “it’s a bygone era,” Mayor Rickenbach said, “and it was exciting to be a part of it.”