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East Hampton’s fabled Grey Gardens nearly empty after estate sale

Weekend sale’s success attributed to ‘cult’ status of former home to eccentric ‘Big Edie’ and ‘Little Edie’ Beale, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and journalist wife Sally Quinn.

People lined up to see the nearly empty East Hampton house on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 (Credit: Newsday/Rachelle Blidner).

The fabled Grey Gardens estate transformed into a bare-bones museum Sunday as dozens of people lined up to explore the East Hampton house after it was mostly emptied of furnishings in a weekend estate sale.

People came from as far as California and started lining up at 4 a.m. Friday to purchase items and experience the house, which became famous in the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens,” the sale’s organizer said.

Nearly all the items that once belonged to “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and daughter “Little Edie” Beale — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin — were sold by Friday evening, the first day of the estate sale.

Sale organizer Susan Wexler said she has never sold all of the drinking glasses during an estate sale yet all but one of them were purchased at Grey Gardens by Sunday afternoon. Wexler attributed the sale’s success to the home’s “cult” following.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Wexler, of Bridgehampton-based Behind the Hedgerows.

The Beales bought Grey Gardens in 1923 and the home descended into squalor by 1971. The Beale women later became the subjects of a Broadway musical and an HBO movie.

Grey Gardens was purchased in 1979 by former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his journalist wife, Sally Quinn, who restored it.

The house is currently under contract with a buyer whose identity has not been disclosed. The home must be emptied before the deal closes, Wexler said.

Even with almost nothing left to sell, a line of more than a hundred people snaked the house’s driveway on Sunday. The estate sale represented one of the first public events held at Grey Gardens. Several visitors said they had a personal connection to the home, from watching the documentary countless times to intentionally passing the home on their way to nearby Georgica Beach.

Vito Brullo, 73, carried photos he took of the estate in the 1960s, when he also spent summers in the area. Brullo said he became fascinated by the Beale family and their “sad story.”

“Curiosity would come up to the fact ‘why is this house a shambles among these beautiful estates? Something must be wrong,’ ” Brullo said.

Inside the house, visitors took selfies, re-enacted scenes from the movies and tried to picture what had been in the rooms before they were emptied.

Alvina Smith, 64, a psychiatric nurse from Ronkonkoma, decided to bring home a piece of the famed grey-walled garden by clipping flowers and seedlings to plant at home instead of purchasing furniture.

“It’ll be interesting to see what comes up,” she said of the plantings.

Lydia Robinson, 46, an art teacher from Freeport, said she thought the house would be much bigger, especially because the Beales had larger-than-life personalities.

“It’s unexpected. It seems so large when you know about their history and they really were here,” Robinson said.

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