Belongings: Select items from the Maya Angelou Estate

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by Eric Ginsburg

By the final afternoon of a three-day estate sale for the great Maya Angelou, a few of the legendary writer’s neighbors had carved out their own piece of the action.

The author, poet and activist loved hosting parties, but it’s hard to imagine there had ever been this many cars lining the small side street where Angelou resided, wedged between Wake Forest University, where she taught, and Old Town Club’s golf course and country club in northern Winston-Salem.

Somewhere approaching 6,000 people lined up in front of the grand, fenced-off home before the sale opened on Aug. 6, waiting to enter in groups of 50 at most. With two hours remaining in the sale on the cloudless Saturday afternoon, the line of cars stretched all the way to the busy Coliseum Drive in one direction where local police had lined parking cones to stop attendees from pulling over along the thoroughfare.

The closest parking spot could be found almost half a mile down Bartram Road — free parking, that is.

SONY DSCNeighbors at three nearby houses had positioned themselves in collapsible lawn chairs at the edge of their stately circular driveways, with hand-drawn signs offering $5 parking. Coolers with bottles of water, going for $1 each, rested besides them, and in one case, umbrellas blocked direct sunlight.

If the same kids had set up lemonade stands at the edge of their sprawling front lawns when they were younger, they would’ve been lucky to bring in enough money for a bag of lemons. But these kids couldn’t do much better than an estate sale for the woman who won a Grammy and spoke at two presidential inaugurations, among a laundry list of other historic accomplishments. All three driveways appeared full, and soon police blocked non-residents from driving down the street altogether.

Only then did the line in front of Angelou’s massive home — one of two in the city — begin to dwindle as the multigenerational throng wove its way from room to room, circulating between three stories and taking the opportunity to gander at the complex’s magnificent backyard, patios and porches.SONY DSC

The day before it all began, Larry Laster and his family sat inside a front living room off the main entrance pricing paintings and sculptures while two more people sorted through belongings in the finished basement and an adjoining two-car garage, not far from another that could fit three next to a small greenhouse.

As they prepared, a large passenger van emblazoned with the insignia of the National Black Theatre Festival — based in walking distance from Angelou’s home and being held the same weekend as the estate sale — pulled up in front of the house. But with a gate and intercom system guarding the driveway, the van quickly turned around and left, offering passengers the type of view one would receive on a Hollywood tour of homes.

The celebrity status drove many of the purchases; a used typewriter would never fetch $5,000 otherwise, and some rather mundane kitchen items would be priced lower at another estate sale. Many of the countless pieces for sale were remnants, having already been picked over by friends and family. Laster sold about 200 more pieces of art from Angelou’s collection at his store, Laster’s Fine Art & Antiques, on Stratford Road in the months immediately preceding last week’s deluge.

By the time the public entered Maya Angelou’s primary residence, it hardly looked the same as she kept it. More than a year had passed, and in the interim much of what had made it hers changed hands. But considering how many things already left the expansive house, the residual pool of items still overflowed.

SONY DSCNew books lined shelves, and despite hanging paintings and drawings on practically every piece of open wall space, a stack leaned into the space by the top of the open staircase down to the basement. Her bedroom had been blocked off by furniture, in accordance with her family’s wishes, but five upstairs rooms and three bathrooms would be accessible, as well as a former dining room, bookcase-lined basement and several other memorabilia-stocked rooms.

The stained glass chandeliers in a front room would be priced too, at $1,000 each, and Laster said he believed the house built in 1960 would eventually be sold as well.

Below: Photos by Amanda Salter

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  • Maria Bailey

    I was honored to go a find memorable items belonging to Mrs Angelou!! I haven’t decided what I intend to do with them or which museum I’ll send them to but will surely be taking it to a resting place she would be proud of!