Volume 80, Number 49 | May 5- 11, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Cynthia Crane

‘Bernie’s Blues’: Couple sell cherished memories for a song

By Stephen Wolf

An estate sale is like a treasure hunt all in one place, a salmagundi of wonders, dear but selling cheap. Caught up in the bargains and the hunt we might not stop to consider “the why.”

The Jan. 27, 2010, issue of The Villager ran an article headlined “Ruffled but Un-embittered by Madoff Ripoff” about Cynthia Crane, longtime Greenwich Villager, cabaret star and neighborhood activist. As a result of being one of Bernie Madoff’s myriad financial victims, her townhouse on W. 11th St. (the same street on which she was born) was put up for sale, as were her Paris flat and her precious 1909 Steinway Grand. The house where she lived with her husband writer/director/producer Ted Story for more than 40 years, raising two daughters and luring almost 30 bird species, some of them rarely seen, to their backyard aviary — all that had to go.

Like the rest of us, their lives, too, have gone on. The townhouse at last was sold; Cynthia and Ted have rented deeper Downtown, and now comes the estate sale. This is major downsizing, reducing a lifetime of belongings in a wonderful townhouse for a two-bedroom apartment. There are closets of clothes, some from the Gallery of Wearable Art, shelves of shoes, enough hats to fill many times the hat rack, also for sale. There’s jewelry, gowns Cynthia wore (one still with the red AIDS ribbon) when she sang at Danny’s Skylight Room, Don’t Tell Mama, the National Arts Club, Tavern on the Green, The Russian Tea Room, for the U.S.O. on military bases, at the outrageous Michou’s, the Museé de Montmartre and the American Embassy in Paris.

She’s taking her music but selling music-related equipment, selling some exercise equipment and the barely used roller blades she never mastered. There’s fine art from Louis Tocqué to Hiroshige acquired by her New York forebears who date back to the Civil War. She’s leaving the feeders for “her birdies” but selling the Rube Goldberg fountain.

There are books of all sorts, trinkets and knickknacks, and some of the antiques are truly magical: a huge clock case that must have hung in a bank, a mirrored antique apothecary cabinet that spent years in Bellardo’s delightful shop on Christopher St. There’s an antique cradle that rocked their two grown girls as babies, as well as the girls’ wondrous, detailed, captivating, three-story brownstone dollhouse, which, like their home itself, is filled with souvenirs from travels across the U.S. and abroad.

There’s stained glass, antique irons, old license plates and theatrical lights from their days running the IRT (Impossible Ragtime Theatre), along with the big flag that hung outside the theater on W. 28th St.

It’s an odd and sometimes eccentric collection from an odd, eccentric couple who are determined — despite their loss and our gain — to have a good time when the doors open.

The estate sale is at 142 W. 11th St. The preview is Thurs., May 5, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the sale itself occurs Fri., May 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sat., May 7, from 9 a.m. 4 p.m. Surely music will be playing (Piaf, perhaps, or something from the big band era), and while their hearts may be heavy there will be smiles on Cynthia and Ted’s faces, for they know things could always be worse, and they know all this wonderful stuff for sale will bring such joy to the rest of us.

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