She was always called the Snow Baby, the nickname given her by the Eskimos in northern Greenland where she was born.The only daughter of Adm. Robert E. Peary, the man who discovered the North Pole, Marie Ahnighito Peary was America's turn-of-the-century darling, seen in pictures as a round face half buried in a bundle of fur.
She was still called Snow Baby when she died in April at the age of 84, the possessor of thousands of antiques, art objects and state fairgrounds here.
They all came - the rug peopler famous father who led the first expedition to the North Pole.
It was his huge mass of memorabilia, ranging from Eskimo art to Persian rugs, that drew 325 potential buyers to the auction at the cavernous building at the Maryland state fairground here.
They all came - the rug people, the glass people, the furniture people, the antique dealers - to help liquidate the historic estate of the woman who was feted by kings and queens and whose 1914 Washington, D.C., debut had commanded a large headline in The Washington Post and a full picture page in The New York Times.
The auction, which had grossed more than $125,000 by 6 p.m. yesterday - double the autioneer's original estimate - was held here in Baltimore County because the only living son of Marie Ahnighito Peary lives nearby.
There were dealers and collectors and dealer-collectors. . They talked about items having "provenance," because their authenticity was beyond questions, and "associative value," a quality which transforms into treasure the castaway junk of the famous.
"The material itself not fabulous," said Martin Ellman, a New York dealer in prehistoric art.
"The Eskimo ethnic material is worth driving 50 to 60 miles to see and take a shot at," "Otherwise, Webster, a Washington antique dealer. "Otherwise, it's trivia. But there is undoubtely assiative value here. You want a litle bit of Peary at the North Pole, it's here. You won't get your investment out of it, but it's here."
Some bidders were willing to pay top prices. "I stopped believing in the good fairy, that I was going to get these things cheap," said an Alexandria man who paid $5,700 and $6,200 for two Persian rugs. "The only was is to bull through," he said.
Another man who paid $3,500 and 1,400 Polar expedition photographs refused to answer any questions about himself or his purchase. "I was just interested in the photos," he said.
The auction had been widely advertised in metropolitan newspapers and antique journals. Nearly 2,000 persons came here over the weekend merely to inspect the goods before the auction began yesterday morning.
About the only object missing from the collection was the bisque figure of the fur clad Caucasian child which was manufactured and sold as souvenirs of the "Snow Baby."
The Snow Baby - much like the teddy bear and the Lindy Hop - became part of an American popular culture drawn from the heroes and heroines of the turn of the century. The Snow Baby legend was further enhanced by a series of children's books she wrote with her parents before she was 10.
Donald May, a Carroll County man who works for Richard Opfer, helped haul the estate from the family home in Brunswick, Maine. "It was just like a museum up there," he said.
Tom Gordon Jr., of Westminister, was pleased with his acquisitions: a Greenland expedition flag for $75, two North Pole and plug tobacco tins for $140, two framed Turf's Arctic Soda Water advertisements for $150, and a pennant made for the marriage of Marie Peary to Edward P. Stafford Sr., for $75.
But he was also distressed. With many of the bidders, he said, "it's what something's worth, not what it was. It's terrible."
"My mother collected collections and she never threw anything away," explained Ed Stafford Jr., a NASA speechwriter, who was the Snow Baby's son and only living heir. "There's nothing I can do with all these treasures, and the estate needs money to pay off some obligations. you have to balance the monetary needs against the sentiment, and it's very difficult."