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The Billionaire Estate Sale

Before the pandemic, I enjoyed the hobby of tracking interesting stories. I’d visit abandoned structures and historic places. I’d investigate unsolved mysteries tied to my area. Then, I’d photograph and write about them, and publish them here. I never realized how much I enjoyed doing this until I was forced to stop. 

Then suddenly, an opportunity presented itself. My alarm on Saturday woke me up at 6 a.m., so I could drive out to the affluent part of the Cities and secure an entry ticket to an estate sale.

Only, this was no ordinary estate sale. This one was held at the colossal estate of a billionaire, and the story behind it is fascinating.

He made his fortune in business, buying the struggling companies and turning them profitable again. He didn’t have the best reputation regarding his character, but his business sense was obviously unrivaled. In April 2019, the billionaire murdered his wife and killed himself inside the home. A basic Google search will easily pull up the news articles.

Some facts about the property:

-Listed on market in June for $12 million

-6 bedroom, 10 bathroom

-30,000+ square feet

-Built in 1939, has 8 fireplaces

-Pool, and a 3,500 square- foot guest house

-Has 750 feet of shoreline on Lake Minnetonka and another 200 feet on Lake Tanager 

-$85, 590 in property taxes (2019)

-Initially sold off a portion of his 32 acres intended for development

When I heard this sale was scheduled, I decided to follow my curiosity. I think I was expecting the interiors to rival that of the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, because I’ll admit to feeling a bit disappointed when I ventured inside. Looking past the sale set-up, I noticed I wasn’t wowed or charmed by the architecture or foundation or the decorating. It felt ... tacky. At the same time, it seemed to humanize this wealthy family who felt so far removed from my own experiences. It made me sad. To think of what happened within these walls, and then there I was browsing the material possessions that represent their lives, their family, their memories to haggle down in price. The dishware that meals were consumed from, the statues sculpted by the wife, the trinkets on display, books shelved throughout, and the sitting rooms - what conservations were had? What moments shared? Was there laughter? Were presents unwrapped Christmas morning after the sounds of excited children ran in? The estate and its neglected grounds were now merely a silent shell of itself.

The saddest thing I encountered was a heart-shaped crystal paperweight that was engraved with the phrase, “Grow old with me, the best is yet to be.” I felt chilled to the bone knowing what had taken place a little over a year ago.

In the end, I did purchase a painting by the murdered wife for my own house, and with it, comes an interesting story to tell about it. The jury’s still out on whether or not the painting is haunted or not.

Update October 28, 2022: the home, which went unsold, has since been demolished.

The Symbolic Sighting of a Pair of Swans

Across the street from my house is a pond.

We see it best from our driveway.

One day, I was performing some menial tasks. We had lost track of what day in quarantine we were on. The kids were still reeling from the sudden end to their 3rd and 7th grade school years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I was working from home. Life as we knew it had come to a screeching halt. We were struggling to make sense of it, while still trying to navigate our way through the uncertainty.

Keeping busy with menial tasks helped.

As I approached the end of my driveway, I glanced over at the pond. And there, I saw a pair of massive Trumpeter Swans.

I was in awe, as I don't think I've ever seen swans outside of a zoo or nature preserve.

And then, there they were. Across the street. As though I was meant to see them.

Why is NOW the first time I'm observing a pair of swans in the surrounding landscape of my home?

As it turns out, swans symbolize the 'awakening of the power of self', and the 'development of intuitive abilities'. They are 'messengers of faith' and 'transformation', not to mention 'purity', 'grace', 'tranquility' and 'union'. There was a reason why I was to see them when I did - they brought me reassurances.

These past few weeks were chock full of unknowns, and I relied heavily on what felt right in my gut to forge on. How will my children talk about this upheaval when they reflect back on it? Will they recall the many treats we baked and home-cooked meals we made? Will they remember the increase of time we had together, since home was now also school and an office? Will they recall the marathon Xbox sessions, or the cats behaving like dum-dums since they're not accustomed to their humans being around so much? Will they complain about how lacking our Internet speed is? I wonder if they will talk about how important it is to have hope and an enduring faith, that though life has been completely transformed, the union of our little family of four strengthened in its bond.

Life now will be defined as "Before Covid" and "After Covid".

From my perspective, Covid-19 made me see how much of my pre-quarantine life I needed to dismantle before I can start anew. The things that no longer serve me will be left in the past. I will begin with what I know, what I am certain of; and use it for the foundation to build upon for the next chapter. Did a simple sighting of a pair of giant swans in a pond foretell this clarity?

I don't know.

I do know, however, if I had been subconsciously seeking some sort of sign, then surely the symbolism and happenstance of a pair of Trumpeter Swans that brought me this revelation, is it.

I may not know what tomorrow is going to bring, but I know I have faith that it will get better. I just have to be true to myself and trust my intuition as we continue to weave our way through this.

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother 40 whacks
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father 41

Everyone know this rhyme, and everyone knows this crime.

See What I Have Done is Sarah Schmidt’s debut novel, and a gripping triumph. It’s a thought-provoking fictional retelling of the infamous unsolved double murder, and is a testament to the limitations of criminal investigations of the 1890s.

I remain convinced Lizzie Borden killed her father and step-mother for their fortune, and am even further convinced that the all-male jury severely underestimated her.

Is a woman truly incapable of such brutality? 

What this story does, is paint a picture of motive. Lizzie and her sister, Emma, grew up in one fucked up household filled with abuse of all kinds. The double murder of Andrew and Abby Borden was not the first in the family – another relative drowned her two young daughters before slitting her own throat. 

To help Lizzie and Emma, their uncle (their deceased mother’s brother) hired a “fixer” to set Andrew straight. Someone beat him to it though – as in, he was hacked to death.

This novel doesn’t close the case, but it does provide insight into how an environment can influence one’s actions. It recalls a crime that lives in infamy while wondering if there is more to the story than what lies in plain sight.

The U.S. Naval Academy - Annapolis, MD

Dear Diary,
We toured the Naval Academy, as it was near the lacrosse tournament fields.

We've previously toured the Chapel at the Air Force Academy (the only building the public can access on campus) so we were curious. Our tour did not disappoint.

Established at this site in 1845, it was then called the Naval School. It was later renamed the United States Naval Academy in 1850.

We entered the oldest building on campus, formerly storage for munitions. At the time of construction, the sea waters lapped right up to the entrance. On one side of the building is a replica of a Wright Bros. B-1, and the other is a model ship from the period.

Today the building houses receptions.

Next was Bancroft Hall, the largest dormitory in the country.

A superstition held by midshipmen is if you toss a coin and it lands inside the quiver of Tecumseh, you'll do well on your exams.

Our tour guide pitted the kids' against each other to see who could succeed.

Midshipman stand in formation in this court. Campus was mostly void of appointees as they were deployed for their summer field training with either the Navy or Marine Corps.

We ventured inside to check out a mock-up of a typical dormitory, the rotunda and to see Memorial Hall.

Though the door into Memorial Hall, you can see a replica of the iconic, historic flag, Don't Give Up The Ship.

But first, take in the breathtaking architecture and craftsmanship.

The U.S. Naval Academy is free, with a highly disciplined regiment that is seeped in tradition. My son couldn't fathom the 6-week Plebe Summer without the use of Internet or his cell phone.

I didn't take pictures of Memorial Hall, as it honors Academy graduates who lost their lives in war.

We then ventured forth to the Chapel, which was very busy with wedding rehearsals. We were fortunate to catch it at an ideal time in between.

The Chapel at the Naval Academy had a much more traditional feel than its contemporary counterpart at the Air Force Academy.

Then, we were granted access to the crypt of Revolutionary War Naval hero John Paul Jones, who lies underneath the Chapel. His remains were brought here in 1905 after buried for 113 years in obscurity at a Parisian cemetery in France.

It was there our tour concluded.

Downtown Annapolis is a charming, seaside retreat.

Favorite house 

The sea is central to the way of life 

Concluding our experience, we ate a delicious seafood dinner along the shoreline at a restaurant only the locals know about (and were kind enough to share!) - The Point Crab House. I tried crab cakes for the first time!

The National Mall - Washington, D.C.

Dear Diary,
After our tour of the U.S. Capital, we explored more of the city and the National Mall. We didn't have time to venture into any of the Smithsonian institutions, which presents a good reason to return.

Just across from the Capital building stood the Supreme Court. We were not allowed inside.

So we headed towards the Mall, stopping first to eat at a delicious Mexican restaurant located near the White House, MXDC Cocina Mexicana. The margaritas hit the spot and our lunch was divine!

The Washington Monument 

The World War II Memorial with the reflection pond and Lincoln Memorial in the background 

In addition to the WWII Memorial, we also took in the Vietnam Memorial. And while the WWII Memorial seemed to pay tribute to the world at war and the states' contributions, the Vietnam Memorial was much more personal.

The kids and I walked the expanse of the wall, observing the vast number of names etched into the slabs. At our feet were small tributes left by families, some of which included the names, ages, causes of death and locations served. To read that, and then locate the name and rub our fingers across the etching, made the experience so haunting that I will never forget it.

 MLK, Jr. Memorial

The kids' learned about the significance of those immortalized by these monuments in school. To have had the opportunity to bring them to these places, and watch them connect their lessons to a physical, personal experience was impactful. Their eyes lit up, and it made it that much more real.

The Jefferson Memorial was closed for restoration 

A cool tree we passed while exploring 

View of the Capital building from our hotel rooftop

Another site I'd like to tour when we return, because I have a morbid fascination, is Ford's Theater. We also ran out of time to pay our respects at Arlington. Though I'm grateful to have had these experiences in D.C., I know I've just barely scratched the surface.