Christopher Burge, a specialist in impressionist and modern painting, stood in a howdah atop a 9-foot-high wooden elephant yesterday and auctioned off part of Macy's parade.
Buyer's snapped up a flock of giant Easter bunnies, a couple of Santas, Humpty Dumpty complete with his castle and wall, and a 45-foot-long alligator powered by a jeep in its neck, among other items.
The jeep and alligator have been around for a lot of Macy's 50 parades, but they figure to be in good condition having been driven only on Thanksgiving and never over two miles an hour.
Burge, in blue stripes, dark tie and British accent, had barely mounted his elephant and called the auction to order when it became obvious the sale was not going to fall on its face for lack of buyers interested in enormous, used fiber glass and wood animals.
In the same instance, as the bidding got underway for Humpty Dumpty, it became clear that future nostalgia buffs searching for traces of early Macy'c animal design will have to spend their time in Kansas and Texas.
Humpty went for $4,000 to Lamar Hunt, Texas millionaire and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs football team. Hunt bought it, he said, for an amusement park he owns in Kansas City called Worlds of Fun.
While some of the casually-dressed crowd, including lots of children who had dropped by the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue, gasped at Humpty's price, its creator. Fanny Bass, said he couldn't duplicate the orange, yellow and red fiber glass and wood egg-creature for $4,000 today.
The underbidder on Humpty was Bill Waugh of Fort Worth, who had to wait until the sixth sale item before beginning a successful bidding streak that cost him more than $30,000.
Waugh bought the elephant out from under the auctioneer for $3,600, captured the jeep-mounted alligator for $7,000, paid $5,500 for a tortoise that used to race the hare along the parade route.
"I need some Rolands," Waugh joked, and, then jabbed his hand aloft and held it there until everyone else stopped bidding against him and he had added the sale's most expensive item, a 21.5-foot-high shoe-house which holds 15 people and which in one parade was occupied by Martha Raye as the nursery rhyme's old woman whose lifestyle planned parenthood so deplores.
Waugh got it for $15,000. He was bidding for his company. Casa Bonita, which runs a chain of restaurants in the South and Southwest. Waugh said his company is considering opening an amusement park.
If television exposure in New York sells meals in Fort Worth, or tickets to amusement parks in Kansas City. Waugh and Hunt may have done handsomely. TV crews asked the new owners to pose for interviews next to their fiberglass treasures.
Mary's and Christie's auction gallery put on the sale for the benefit of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Mary's donated all of the sale items and Christie's arranged the auction and provided auctioneer Burge and other staff members' time. Burge will be running a major sale of impressionist paintings later this month. In response to the question how he was selected for today's sale, a Christie's official said Burge had not volunteered. However, he clearly had no fear of heights and kept the sale running briskly despite roving reporters, cameramen and spectators who sometimes made it difficult for him to see the bidders.
Bass said the 77 lots sold today represent a small fraction of the Macy's stock. A major reason for the sale was to open up some warehouse room for the new creations built each year. Macy's officials said, New "Big Apple," and Watership Down floats will appear in this Thanksgiving's parade. It will be the 51st parade since the first one in 1924. There was no parade two years during World War II.
Not every buyer was from Texas and not even every big spender.
While the Texans flew in, Peter Hahn got a bus at 8 a.m. this morning at Ovid, N.Y. Hahn runs a Volkswagen dealership in Romulus, N.Y., and said he had lots of free time for trips like today's because he has sold all his cars and can't get any more right away from the manufacturer.
Hahn bought a wood and steel circus wagon with rubber bars that can be pulled by a horse. He paid $3500 and said he wanted it mostly for his adopted 2-year-old son, Derek, although he might take it over to his dealership from time to time.
Hahn also wanted to buy some of Macy's rabbits to replace the Volkswagon rabbits he doesn't have, but he felt the rabbit auction prices were too high and let them go.
The ugliest item on sale (by near unanimous vote of an unscientifically selected sample) was an all-fiber glass banana split, six feet high and eight feet wide, with chocolate and vanilla scoops, a banana and a maraschino cherry. "Perhaps, it would look better if we stood farther away from it," were the kindest words said it.
Macy's should leave food sculpture to Claes Oldenburg.
Perhaps the most surprised person in the crowd of about 500 was George Hubbert. He made the first bid of $50 on a 6-foot-8-inch-high loving cup painted gold which is described in the sales catalogue as the "Grand Prix Trophy Cup" and is said to have been ridden on by actor Hugh O'Brian once upon a time.
When there was no second bid, Hubbert found himself the cup's owner and began to regret his now satisfied desire to raise his hand at the auction.
"Did I want it?" Hubert said. "Heck, no," Hubert, a salesman for Bill-Ray, a Brooklyn home improvement company, looked a little dazed standing next to the loving cup which towered over him. CAPTION: Picture 1, The Macy's Parade's 13-foot-tall tortoise; Picture 2, fetch $5,500 at yesterday's auction; the 45-foot-long, jeep-mounted alligator went for $7,000.; Picture 3, Macy's Humpty Dumpty and its new owner. Texas millionaire Lamar Hunt. Photos by Donal F. Holway for The Washington Post.