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A Place in History: George McGovern Auction

by Kristi Eaton
Friday Jan 25, 2013

George McGovern once gave his daughter a bookend made out of soapstone in the shape of a bear - a symbol of the "Terr the bear" nickname the former South Dakota senator often called Teresa, who froze to death 18 years ago in a snow bank near a bar where she'd been drinking.

The figure is one of many deeply personal items going up for sale starting Saturday at McGovern's Sioux Falls home. The three-time presidential candidate, one of the nation's most-outspoken voices for liberalism and against the Vietnam War, died in October at age 90.

Daughter Ann McGovern said the family decided to hold an estate sale over an auction because of the sentimental value of many of the items.

"What we're hoping is that a significant number of these things will either go to people we either know or have some connection with, and my parents collected a fair amount of art and some really nice pieces over the years, and to see them sort of sold at an auction or something where everybody is trying to get a bargain so they can resell it would be pretty distressing for us," she said.

No family members plan to be present during the sale, Ann McGovern said. Money raised during the sale will go to Ann McGovern and two other sisters. Proceeds from the sale of copies of McGovern's book, "An American Journey," will be donated to the hunger relief organization Feeding South Dakota, which McGovern championed.

"The hardest part for the whole thing is putting a price on his items. You know, it's so valuable memory-wise, maybe not monetarily, but it's his, so it maybe means more," said Deb Sorensen, who runs Finders Keepers Estate, Collectable & Antique Sales, which is handling the pricing of items and the sale.

Items up for sale include antique furniture pieces, fine china, campaign buttons and photographs of McGovern with other Senate leaders, including Robert Kennedy and Bob Dole.

And there are lots of books. Among them are a Franklin Library collection and some of McGovern's own titles - many of them out of print and a few autographed. One book is especially personal: In "Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism," McGovern writes about Teresa McGovern's years-long struggle with alcoholism. She died at age 45 in 1994, her body discovered facedown in a Madison, Wis., snow bank.

In another book, "The L Word: An Unapologetic, Thoroughly Biased, Long-Overdue Explication and Celebration of Liberalism," McGovern, who lost the 1972 presidential election in a historic landslide to Richard Nixon, wrote the forward for the author , David P. Barash. When the Barash sent him a copy, McGovern reread it and made notations on how he could have improved his writing.

"I thought that was so funny. He was always critiquing himself," Sorensen said.

A copy of "An American Journey" signed to someone named Melinda is being sold for $40.

All the items have a story behind them, Sorensen said, and the two women have tried to find out as many stories as they could, though some have been lost over the years.

A cloth embroidered with McGovern's name across the top is from his last trip to Africa, Sorensen said. An off-white wooden armoire with floral patterns was among the first pieces of furniture the McGoverns bought. Woven baskets that Eleanor collected come from as far away as Africa.

Two pieces will be auctioned off: a picture of the B-24 Liberator that McGovern flew during World War II with a handwritten note by the artist on the backside and a miniature ConAgra train.

A few items were purchased by family members or close friends days before the start of the estate sale. That includes a cane from a 1975 trip to Cuba that George McGovern took with his wife Eleanor, who died in 2007.

A photo of Fidel Castro driving a Jeep with McGovern in the passenger seat became an iconic image representing the friendship between the two . McGovern opposed the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and thought Americans should be able to travel freely to the Caribbean island nation.

Items going on sale range in value from $1 to thousands of dollars. McGovern's handwritten notes are priced at $6, while a framed photo of McGovern with one of his beloved Newfoundland dogs in Rome is $310. A Time magazine cover with McGovern on the cover is priced at $72, while pillows he once used are $8.

More than 1,000 people are expected at the two-day sale, which runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sorensen said. A waiting area will be set up in the garage while a small number of people will be let into the home at one time.

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