Over the years that I’ve been hitting sale circuit, one thing that’s always intrigued me are finished basements. We have finished basements today, it’s true, but back then it seemed as if people were keen on replicating their favorite hangouts, and of course, their favorite hangouts tended to be bars. I don’t believe that too many folks build bars in their basements–today, you have weight rooms and home theaters and video centers. You see fewer pool tables and bars and bowling alleys.

Wait–bowling alleys? Yes, friends, this weekend’s sales, which were weak, to say the least (that went for the weekend before as well), did offer the home of a man who had a regulation-sized Brunswick bowling alley. Among other treasures.

Even more peculiar, a quick look at the Hennepin County Property records indicates that this gentlemen wasn’t even known as a bowler. He was known–I think–as one of the most daring, most dangerous, most hated and most loved Stock Car racers in the state’s history.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | 1 Comment


Once upon a time, there used to be two giant Superpowers in the world. One was called The United States of America and the other was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These two countries hated each other, and built giant weapons, A-bombs and H-bombs, that, when dropped on cities, would destroy everything–from the tops of the tallest buildings to the bottom of Gimbels’ basement. They fought surreptitiously through smaller countries, like Vietnam and Korea, in a great conflict that was once called “The Cold War.”

Naturally, people were terrified, as they should be. Everyone had witnessed two of these bombs going off in Japan, and saw the destruction. They lived in a state of fear, and told stories to help make them feel secure, to feel that they had a semblance of control.

One of those types of stories was about Space Aliens, and another of those types of stories was about bomb shelters. The first was a metaphor for the possibility that we could destroy ourselves; the second was a fabrication designed to make us feel as though we could somehow survive this thing. It may also have been a convenient way to sell tons of concrete brick.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | Comments Off


With every election year comes all the accoutrements that voters can buy to show off their love and/or support of a certain candidate. Yard signs and bumper stickers are ubiquitous, and in some cases t-shirts. But let me tell you, people don’t wear their pins and buttons like they did back in the day.

If there’s one thing you see in estate sales, it’s buttons and pins (and don’t ask me what’s the difference–I don’t know.) People used to love their freaking buttons. In the 1980s, kids like me wore smaller pins for bands, especially British pop bands, like the Police or Madness. But in the generations prior to that, folks wore buttons advertising their involvement in a parade, in this civic venture, and that, pins with jokes, wide as a baseball or as small as a dime. Heck, the president once encouraged people to wear buttons to help fight inflation!

This weekend’s sales revealed a home of  a woman who was a moderate Republican, probably much like the lawyer I wrote about this summer who came out of the closet and left the GOP’s good graces. If you can imagine this, she was a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, and, if her buttons are to be believed, a supporter of Ronald Reagan.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | Comments Off


Baseball fans are a fortunate lot, especially in October. Whether or not your team is in contention–as a Tigers fan, over the years my team is quite often not in contention–there’s always a ton of great baseball coming your way. There’s nothing better in my mind than the cool of autumn and the thrill of those playoff and World Series games. Even when they are broadcast on Fox.

But set aside the game itself–the highs and lows, the miraculous plays and the dunderheaded moves that make you groan–and the drama that is inherent in baseball, and marvel at the accoutrements, as thrills are evident in all sports. What baseball fans have over other athletic events is our history–and that is unique in all the sports.

Yes, it is true that basketball, hockey, and football have history in a literal sense. They’ve been around for many decades, true. But it’s also nearly literally true that fans of those sports don’t give a flying handshake about their sport’s history. They just don’t. Yes, you have old farts looking back fondly at Bud Grant’s Vikings of the 1970s, but show me a kid, someone born after that era, and you’ll see someone whose eyes glaze over at the mention of Fran Tarkenton. What they care about is now. There is nothing else.

But baseball fans! Holy cats, do we love our history. True, kids get into the players from their own time first and foremost, the golden age that exists in their youth (mine was the late 1970s), but give these youngsters a few years and they are rattling off the hallowed numbers and dates of the pastime: 56, .406, 755, 1951, and so on.

This weekend found Janice and I wandering a barren wasteland of estate sales in Minneapolis and Edina, coming home with only a few books and a nice, thick robe that I’ll spare modeling for you. But this week’s sales paled compared to one I stumbled upon on the edge of Edina, that of longtime Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) member Frederic J. Souba, from whose home I bought some wonderful books, scorecards, cans with pictures of 70s ballplayers, and found an old sign from Nicollet Park that I promptly donated to the Minnesota Twins. Oh, baseball!

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential, The Noble Sport: Baseball | 1 Comment


Apparently, last week was International Book Week. This is not sponsored by an organization or store, just an internet meme, streamlined by whomever decided to post such a thing on Facebook and watch it roam about like Ninja Turtle devotees at local comic cons. You know the drill: “Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence as your status.”  According to the rules, you weren’t allowed to mention the title. I find that a little perplexing, considering it then becomes impossible to know what the person was reading, thus keeping others from sharing whatever title you were enjoying at the moment.

Perhaps even better, there’s a book out called Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores, edited by Micawber’s owner Hans Weyandt. Inside are some of the best books that “fly under the radar” but “off bookstore shelves”, that is, off independent bookstore shelves, thanks to the efforts of concerned booksellers.

I humbly like to think of my own book in that company, though God knows the only way The End of Baseball will fly off shelves is thanks to hurricanes, earthquakes or windowpane acid. But both of these “events” have made me examine my favorite titles, the books I would haul with me to a desert island, you know if I were on a sinking ship that happened to hold my entire book collection.

Two of those titles would most certainly be Don Marquis’ the lives & times of archy and mehitabel and Will Eisner’s Spirit Archives (which is kind of cheating since there’s over twenty volumes. So sue me.)

And so it was that on Saturday, with Janice and I taking in four different sales in St. Paul, in beautiful neighborhoods just off Summit Avenue, I found an autographed copy of a Don Marquis archy title, and, at a warehouse sale in Golden Valley, rare gun safety posters illustrated by Mr. Eisner. In the interest of attempting to keep this column family friendly, all I can say is this: Holy. Freaking. Freak.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | 2 Comments


Well, friends, this was a miserable week in sales, nothing but a tight fist of five diggers sales so filthy and lackluster they only seemed to drive one into a miserable existential angst. The rest were clean sales, but not estate sales, nothing more than extra large garage sales full of overpriced furniture and $30 French press coffee pots.

So we’ll make this one brief, shall we? As usual, I scored a stack of well-kept Life magazines from 1949 and found, for your amusement, this insane article about… the 1949 National Potato Chip Institute’s Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | Comments Off


If you’ve been reading this column regularly, you know that one of the most sought after items by yours truly are old magazines–Life, Look, Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post (pre-1970s), and the sweet, sweet Mad magazines of yesteryear (again, pre-1970s, mostly because I own most of those.) You almost always find Life; the others are a bit more difficult.

Over the circuit this weekend, Thursday through Sunday, I emerged with copies of all the aforementioned periodicals, and heavens-to-Betsy, they didn’t stink as though they’d been stored with the bodies of dead mice. That’s good.

To be honest, though, outside of Mad, I read very few of the articles and short stories in these crumbly weeklies. What intrigues me are the advertisements. Ads have changed and they haven’t changed–though they were a lot more wordy back in the day, they still prey on the usual fears and concerns: death, sexuality, thrills and chills, hunger. Some of them are downright offensive, reflecting the time’s sexism; others, as you will see, are downright disgusting.

This was a strange week–a lot of sales, but not a whole lot of good stuff. We were joined by ESC visiting dignitary Mayor Mike Haeg and First Lady Tammy Dahlke, who came away with some great arts and crafts materials that they will no doubt put to good use (since they possess talents other than being able to kill an evening with beer and fifty-year-old magazines.) But outside of two stinky, though fascinating sales, this weekend’s “clean” sales really didn’t reveal a whole lot. Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | 1 Comment


Thanks to my recent trip to Brooklyn, and a visit from my sister-in-law and niece and nephew, we didn’t hit many estate sales this weekend (kids can only take so many musty basements.) However, I’ll use this opportunity to share some thoughts from a pair of longtime readers, Bill Pentland and Dennis Nyback.

I met Bill Pentland through Facebook, if you must know. Bill, a chauffeur and ex-spouse to the Stars (as he describes himself), is one of the few people I know exclusively through that strange and wonderful (and often evil) site. A mutual friend introduced us, and I’ve been following his amazing posts from Southern California ever since. Bill read my piece, Instant Relatives!, and weighed in with his own experience unearthing strange photographs in a letter on Facebook. He kindly allowed me to reprint it here:

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | Comments Off


For over a half a year now, you’ve been reading about my peregrinations around the Twin Cities, plumbing basements and ascending attics in search of trinkets, household goods, books, ties, Life magazines, and most of all, interesting stories.

Every time you wander into a home with the sign out front, every time you read in the newspaper about “fifty years of accumulation”, you have to remember that to get to that point, there’s already been a platoon of dusty souls who’ve worked days to clean, organize, and eventually sell you the possessions of the deceased. Often–heck, always–it’s a huge job.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | Comments Off


Back in the day, when it was a Sunday and the library was closed, and you had maybe five channels on your television set, no computers, no cell phones, no iPads, you had to entertain yourself with your wits and the toys and puzzles and distractions you’d accumulated in your lifetime. You read a book. You struggled with the yard or tinkered in your workshop. Gathering your children to the kitchen table, you’d cut through the tape on the cardboard box of a Space Age model, and then proceeded to build something from the future, all the while getting high on Tang and the fumes from airplane glue.

Maybe you accompanyed someone on the piano, or retreated to the basement to pay very, very close attention to that new Sonny & Cher album you just bought and were grooving to on your expensive stereo. Maybe you drew, maybe you birdwatched, maybe you canned fruits and vegetables.

It seemed that the people who lived in the homes we visited this weekend partook in many of these pastimes. This weekend we noticed a plethora of diversions, mostly accumulated in people’s old-fashioned finished basements, a relic of another time. For back in the day men installed bars in their basements, to entertain couples who played weird board games while slowly getting bombed. Probably people shrank into the basement in order to flee the oppressive heat of summer when their window unit was on the fritz. In many of the homes on our junket, we saw all the trappings of the lost generation of folks who didn’t have computers to distract them, but other items–games, binoculars, Viewmasters, and more. Much more.

Continue reading

Posted in Estate Sale Confidential | Comments Off