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“She’d come and see me,” recalls one friend who lives nearby, “and she’d say, ‘Well, I think I’ll go back to the ghetto now.’”
“She didn’t cook, so she didn’t care about the kitchen,” says Joan Hall. The glass fronts on the original kitchen cabinets had been repeatedly painted, a refrigerator was far too short for the allotted space, and peeling paint marred the master bedroom in which she died.
Still, the apartment was worth plenty, and Margo, the sole beneficiary of Eppie’s will and one of the trustees of the Esther P. Lederer Revocable Trust, got it, along with the rest of her mother’s worldly possessions (according to a close relative, that is; the trust, unlike the will, is not a public document). Margo kept the jewelry and a few other items, put the co-op on the market for $4.4 million (an offer is pending board approval), and brought in Butterfields, a second-tier San Francisco auction house, to tag her mother’s belongings and sell them to the highest bidders. (Sotheby’s and Christie’s weren’t interested.) What Butterfields didn’t want, Bunte Auction Services in Elgin took. By late September, the apartment, once the stage for Eppie’s famous teas in honor of movie stars and senators, looked like a secondhand-goods shop, but soon everything had been shipped to San Francisco and Elgin, where it was auctioned the weekend before Thanksgiving.
According to news reports, people at the Butterfields show room in San Francisco wondered if Eppie had any family. So many of the things seemed personal-party dresses, handbags, a portrait of her by the society painter Roger Robles, a painting of a ballerina in a pink and white tutu that Jules had bought for her, believing correctly that the dancer bore a striking resemblance to Eppie. So many personal items ended up on the block-extensive, carefully filed correspondence from such icons as Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and Winston Churchill; her honorary degrees; her high school and college yearbooks; a collection of owls, symbols of wisdom, many of them gifts from her closest friends; a complete set of her columns; signed photos of Eppie with such luminaries as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan, and Robert Redford that had lined her “brag wall.”
Friends think that Eppie would have been mortified to know that some of her treasures-her scrapbooks, for example-didn’t sell and that others went for a pittance. Butterfields took in $250,000. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that one man, who bought only items bearing her name, said, “It was going really cheap. No one seemed to want them. . . . I’ll probably offer some of this for sale on eBay.” The Chicago Public Library bought some of her papers for just under $6,000, says Cindy Pritzker, the chairwoman of the library foundation. A few years earlier, Pritzker had gone to tea at Eppie’s with Mary Dempsey, the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and Maggie Daley, the mayor’s wife. “I think she was pretty excited to [donate the papers to the library] and then it was kiboshed,” says Pritzker. She recalls that Dempsey “made a point of telling Eppie how [her papers] would be displayed and cataloged.” Now they have been picked over and scattered-five letters to Eppie from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for example, were sold separately for a total of $1,116. (Pritzker, however, insists that in the end they got what they wanted for the library.)