An online auction of personal items that belonged to Marylou Whitney brought in $400,000 - double what the philanthropist's widower, John Hendrickson, expected.
Whitney died last summer at 93. All the proceeds from the auction will go toward construction of a medical clinic at the Saratoga Race Course to replace the trailer where backstretch workers currently go for medical attention. Saratoga Hospital will manage the clinic.
"She would've gotten a kick out of seeing her friends bidding each other up," Hendrickson said Sunday after the auction had closed at midnight.
Hendrickson said he thought the sale, which started July 27, would bring in $200,000 or $250,000. Among the 1,500 items were a diamond choker that sold for $40,000 and a 1992 convertible Jaguar in British racing green that sold for $22,000. But items also sold for $35 to a couple hundred dollars from among the pages and pages of hats, scarves, jewelry and curios on the site.
The sale concluded Saturday the day of the Whitney Stakes, a race at Saratoga named for the Whitney family. Marylou Whitney's former husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt "Sonny" Whitney, followed his family's tradition of owning race horses - one Marylou took up after Sonny's death in 1992. The race, with its $750,000 purse, was won by Improbable, with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding. Betting on Whitney day, a 12-race card, set a new record - $35,796,435 - eclipsing the previous record set last year of $31,835,863. While races at Saratoga are going on without fans in the stands because of coronavirus, wagering off-site has brought in record totals.
Hendrickson said going through his wife's things and pricing them was difficult, although he had help. Many of the necklaces, earrings and broaches were gifts he gave her.
"How do you put a price on a memory?" Hendrickson said.
Items that didn't sell, mostly clothes, will go to eBay and other sites without Marylou's name attached, he said, and proceeds from those sales will also go toward the clinic. He hopes to earn another $50,000. Although the auction is now closed, the Saratoga Hospital Foundation is still taking donations. In a separate effort, Hendrickson is still overseeing appreciation efforts for Saratoga's backstretch workers, a campaign he and Marylou started 14 years ago. Before COVID-19, there were dinner gatherings, games and prizes on Sunday night. Now, the all-volunteer team provides box meals.
Hendrickson said most of the items were sold to people he's never met. But he did describe a dinner that was held between friends who were each bidding on the same beaded purse on their phones. They didn't know they were outbidding each other, although they were sitting at the same table. Hendrickson said friends from around the country called him Saturday to say hello and say they could feel Whitney's presence on Whitney Stakes Day. Racing was her world, however, Hendrickson said, and he is working to build a life without his beloved wife. He will keep Cady Hill, the Whitney estate in Saratoga Springs, but doesn't plan to make it his primary residence.
Hendrickson said the completion of the sale gives him more closure as he "makes baby steps" in his grief.
"How do you get over someone like Marylou?" he said.
But knowing her fans will have things that were once hers is meaningful, he said, adding "everywhere you turn in Saratoga, there's a reminder of Marylou."
"People I've given various things to let me know when they wear the brooch or whatever, it makes them think of her, and that makes me smile," Hendrickson said.