The Inside Rail

I went down the rabbit hole. Yup, I admit it. With a sound mind and not enough time, under my own volition and without emotion, I did it. The Marylou Whitney Collection. I knew I shouldn’t. But I did it anyway. Like John Muir walking in the woods, reality drifted, days turned into nights, nights into days. Time meant nothing. 

An email announcing the charity auction came through a few weeks ago, I didn’t think much about it. Then another one came. And maybe another. I made the first move, registering my credit card to show some unity, just in case I saw something cool, if I had time. Oh, what the hell, take a look, make the first move, just for fun. And then I started scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling. Tapping on items to “watch,” bidding on a couple of can’t-miss, impulse buys, cursing when the Lego love purse was sold out. I envisioned the women in my life in ball gowns and costume jewelry, in sun hats and pearl chokers, draped in Hermes scarves and C’est Simone capes, while minimizing the window on my laptop every time Annie walked in my office. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Oh, just working away.” 

“Hey, what size shoe do you wear?” 

“What?” 

“What size shoe do you wear?” 

“Eight.” 

“Dress?” 

“Six…” 

“How about in a hat?” 

“Check my helmet in the barn.” 

“How about my sister, Sheila…my mom…Aunt Vicki…your cousin Helen…” 

“Whatttttt?” 

It went on like this for a few days until I had measurements down like an Italian tailor at Barney’s. But, still, I knew I was out of my depth. Shoes, hats, purses, trinkets, yeah, I can handle, I quickly offered $100 for a pair of Sesto Meucci sneakers and $210 for a pair of Givenchy sunglasses. But the dresses, whoa. Short or long? White or black. Cocktail or ballgown? Room for hips? Length from bosom to waist? Too much leg? I’ve done this before – Bergdorf’s online, Intermix in the West Village – and most have wound up at the local thrift shop or Helen’s closet in the Hamptons. But, it’s so enticing. I call for reinforcements. 

“Of all your friends, who has the best fashion sense…?” 

A long conversation about the fashion tastes of her friends and family (including Helen) ensued. Nothing was decided, one was too preppy, one too funky, one old-fashioned, one too bold, one too southern, one too rococo (whatever the hell that is). I had no backup. But, alas, I continued scrolling, researching the history of an Arnold Scassi yellow cocktail dress, the origin of an Orient & Flume peach glass paperweight, the value of a Via belted coat with scarf and filled a shopping cart of other items worn by racing’s first lady. And one driven by her. I sent a link to Whitney’s green convertible Jaguar to my vintage-car collecting friend Chris Ambrose. XJS. V12. 1992, 36,000 miles. Leather seats. “Hey, buddy, how about a road trip to Saratoga to bring these wheels back to Virginia. You buy. I’ll drive.” He liked the idea. 

It was just last summer when we looked up from our desks halfway through a Friday card to learn that Marylou Whitney had died. Socialite, grande dame, queen of Saratoga, pick a description, the 93-year-old was an icon. One of the last pillars of a long-lost era was gone. We were taken aback, like everyone, just a moment to stop and reflect, take note. 

Nearly a year later, Whitney’s widower, John Hendrickson, devised the idea of auctioning 1,500 of Whitney’s belongings, with all proceeds donated to Saratoga Hospital to build a medical facility for backstretch workers in Saratoga. In 2005, the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.) launched a clinic from a small trailer on the backstretch, offering primary care, disease management and prevention and other services. In 2009, B.E.S.T. joined forces with Saratoga Hospital, continuing to improve the lives of the men and women who keep the show on the road. Along with Hendrickson, Whitney was a tireless advocate for the backstretch workers, donating time, money and voice to the cause. Now, her closet empties for the first and final time, all to help those workers. 

With a charitable bent and a natural curiosity, I continued to stroll and bid, imagining I was going toe to toe, bid for bid with Caroline Cardone and Cate Johnson, Beverly Steinman and Barbara Banke, Linda Rice and Lilly Phipps. As of right now, I’m the winning bidder of an Ashlyn’d clutch and I’m stalking and skulking the rest of the trove. 

So, take a look, secure a piece of racing history, a shard of Saratoga royalty, pass down an heirloom, finish your Christmas list in July, support the backstretch workers. You have until 11:59 tonight. Just lay off the Sesto Meucci sneakers, the Givenchy sunglasses and the Ashlyn’d clutch.