photo by Vance Lauderdale
A friend of mine — okay, it was a cellmate from my old Penal Farm days — recently berated me because I often go to estate sales. “Those are just for old ladies looking for old things they can use to furnish their old-lady homes,” she said. Or words to that effect. Ouch, that stung.
This may indeed be the public perception of these sales. After all, often they are a means of clearing away the detritus of a long life. And in the past, I suppose, people went there to buy this person’s cast-off garments, dog-eared books, and other things that were destined for the scrapyard.
But these days, estate sales serve several functions. First of all, yes, they still serve as a way to sell off a person’s belongings, though the selection can be as varied as anything you might find at Target: almost-new flat-screen TVs, gently (or never) worn clothes, all kinds of furniture, books, artwork, appliances, toys, rugs ... really, just about anything anyone could possess in their lifetime.
For historians, they are also good sources of historical items: photo albums, photographs, scrapbooks, yearbooks, old magazines, and other things that now line the hallways of the Lauderdale Mansion, stacked floor to ceiling in some rooms. Heck, for that matter, in some rooms they are actually holding UP the ceiling.
But the other benefit is that such a sale gives people (and by “people” I mean folks who are not Lauderdales) a chance to peek inside some of the grandest homes in the city. It lets us ooh and ahh over their architecture, furnishings, artwork, and other eye-popping elements. And to prove my point, I’ll just show you one example here. Last weekend, an estate sale was held at a home on Belvedere that had once been the private residence of Bartlett and Helen Tully — the “Tully” of the large and prosperous Anderson-Tully Lumber Company. It was a grand home indeed, just spectacular in every detail (and as you might expect, adorned with high-quality woodwork in every room). But the best feature was certainly this magnificent stained-glass window set into a landing on the main stairs. Measuring some 10 feet wide by 10 feet tall (or thereabouts) if it’s not the largest stained-glass window installed in a private home in Memphis, I’d say it still ranks as one of the most beautiful.
And if it weren’t for an estate sale in the home, this wonderful feature would never see the light of day — for those of you who aren’t Lauderdales, I mean.