POTOMAC — It was more than an estate sale – for those who visited the late John Glenn’s home last weekend, it was a chance to connect with an American hero and icon and pay their respects.
Several people who attended the estate sale in the home of military pilot-turned-astronaut-turned-U.S.senator John Glenn Friday said the sale was a special way to connect with American history.
A queue of people extended from the front doorstep past the end of the driveway and into the street. Estate sale workers allowed 20 prospective patrons in the house at a time.
Inside, a chandelier hung from the tall foyer ceiling and a staircase with a light-colored, wooden railing leading to the second floor. Natural light from windows on the front of the house and from glass doors between the kitchen and back deck also brightened the foyer. To the left of the foyer was a table and chairs, seeming to signify a dining room. In the kitchen, the counter was covered with a mixture of plates, dishes and bowls for sale.
Museum representatives and collectors had purchased many of the advertised possessions Thursday, said Davi Peros, who worked for the company managing the estate sale.
The most outwardly enthusiastic fan of John Glenn at the house was 26-year-old graduate student Adam Sackowitz, who was first in line Friday and said Glenn is his hero. Sackowitz could be found wearing a blanket and a red bed sheet brought from home in Long Island over his winter coat, dress shirt, dark pants and dress shoes.
“A great American, love him,” he said. “[I] got to know him somewhat well. I met him a number of times; he left a huge impact on me. My grandparents were at the tickertape parade in ’62 in New York where I’m from.”
Sackowitz has an email address containing Glenn’s name. He was 14th in line when he attended Thursday and then returned Friday at 3 a.m. The bed linens were from when he took an hour-long nap on the ground during the beginning of his early-morning watch.
“He served his country during World War II,” Sackowitz said. “He served his country during the Korean War. He was the first American to orbit the Earth, and when John Glenn orbited the Earth, it was a time when a lot of people said, ‘The United States cannot compete with the Soviet Union.’ People don’t remember that. You know, Sputnik in 1957 and the fear of a red moon. “
“And it was Glenn’s orbit, you know that…foreshadowed America’s victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War,” he added, “in my opinion.”
Sackowitz, who is writing his graduate thesis about the astronaut-turned-senator, paid $2500 for a pillow that had belonged to Glenn as an infant. He said he was shopping for personal items because he wanted to preserve Glenn’s memory, and described Glenn – who he met multiple times between 2014 and 2016 – as someone who was “very humble” and “never forgot his hometown roots,” adding how many people referred to Glenn and his wife Annie as “the Kennedys of Ohio.”
The most notable room in the estate sale contained what was left of Glenn’s most personal items – ties, clothes and other mementos, including a picture of Glenn, his wife and two cats. Workers at the sale allowed only five prospective patrons inside at a time. A Montgomery County police officer stood by the doorway and enforced the five-person limit. About a dozen people waited in line to visit the room and examine its contents.
Middle school U.S. history teacher Stacy Palmer considered buying a chocolate bar with “NASA” and Glenn’s name on it, dated 1993. She said she wanted to bring something from the sale back to her school to share with her students. She said that she had the same birthday as John Glenn. As one of the first five people in line to enter the house, she was in the first group to visit the room that contained Glenn’s personal belongings.
A mother-daughter pair, Shouri and Sage Whitehead, were among the first people in line and waited to visit the specialty room. Sage, an eighth-grader, is a collector and said she enjoys studying history.
Her mother said they enjoy estate sales and attend five to six per year. The pair had traveled from Virginia, with her daughter taking the day off from school for the occasion. Sage recently learned about the Space Race in her history class; she called the trip a “historical adventure.”
“You can learn everything about somebody from their stuff,” Sage said. “You can learn their personality; you can learn what they like; not just what they did – yes, he was an astronaut; yes, he was a senator, but what else? You only know what he’s famous for. You don’t know how the person actually was without knowing his stuff. You can look at his stuff and you can know who he is.”
Palmer later worked her way down into the basement and sifted through pens, pencils, permanent black markers and yellow highlighters in a desk drawer. “I like to see where people have traveled,” she said about the pens.
Palmer held a book the size of a small legal pad titled, “Hollins Fluency System for People Who Stutter.” Palmer said she wasn’t sure why she was carrying it, and then, seeming to change her mind, added that Annie was “who he went home to every night, so, to get a part of her.”
An avid John Glenn fan, Palmer said she read in a book that Mrs. Glenn had a stutter.
“Even though he’s the one in the limelight, she’s the one he counted on,” Palmer added.
Some people at the residence were hardly strangers to estate sales; others said they attended specifically because it had been John Glenn’s home.
For Kevin Smith, 55, who lives in Warrenton, Virginia said Friday was his second day attending the sale. He held in his hand a metal tool with about 16 narrow tubes side by side, each with a small hole at the bottom. He said it was a candlestick maker.
He said he collects antiques and has been attending about two estate sales per week for the last two years.
“I just came to see what he had,” Smith said.
He purchased a baby rocking chair at the estate sale Thursday—not because it was Glenn’s but because he was looking for “something different.”
“When you see something you like, you have to have it,” he said. “There’s always something,” he added.
Rockville resident Stephen Cassidy, who graduated from Rockville High School in 2004, took a day off from his job at Gilly’s Craft Beer and Fine Wine to attend the event.
“Space exploration is a very, very important thing to my heart, especially because it’s where humans need to go and stuff, and it’s what we need to do next,” he said, later adding, “this was a man that in a lot of ways really formed history, so it’s really cool to be here.”
“I’m glad to have this opportunity to see his place and get some small memento and say [it] belonged to one of the first astronauts – it’s just really cool,” he said with a chuckle.