Blackmer House yard sale reveals fascinating pieces of actors' lives
SALISBURY — Dave and Sherry Rice kept making trips back and forth to their truck. “There were some very unusual things,” Rice said Thursday morning, carrying an 80-quart galvanized tub full of, for lack of a better term, “artifacts” from the Blackmer House yard sale. Historic Salisbury Foundation announced last week it had reached an agreement with Jonathan Blackmer to buy the 1820-21 house at 112 S. Fulton St. The foundation is expected to close on the house Monday. Meanwhile, Blackmer is holding a three-day yard sale, which started Thursday, to clear out many remaining items from the house and garage. This yard sale is particularly interesting because the house — damaged extensively in a Dec. 1, 1984, fire — was the longtime Salisbury residence of actors Sidney and Suzanne Kaaren Blackmer. So many of the yard-sale items are of a personal nature — clothing the Blackmers wore; magazines, books and playbills they read; golf clubs they played with; Christmas cards and letters they received; furniture they sat in; and just the regular household stuff — from tools and file folders to dishes and bottles. Some things were still covered in soot from the fire 28 years ago. Other things, like many picture frames, were charred yet clearly salvageable. Rice and his wife, Sherry, are veteran pickers who collect some things and resell others. The huge tub, which Rice also bought, carried an old Atlantic Imperial gasoline sign, which Dave liked a lot. He noted, too, the stamping on some English crocks he bought. Rice’s tub also included a tank driver’s helmet with ear flaps, a rusty coffee can and a metal magazine rack. Because Sherry liked it, Dave Rice purchased a cast aluminum inkwell, shaped like the head of a bulldog. “We were here early, like 6:45,” Sherry Rice said, then turning her attention to the house, “the historical society’s got a job in front of them.” Anthony Fisher, assisted by Gary Smith, supervised the yard sale, which drew a steady and, in many cases, lingering crowd. Lynne Ramsey and Chasity Kiker walked into the back-yard sale after getting off from their third-shift jobs. Kiker was drawn to a tambourine and a book, “Last of the Barons,” which “I picked up even before I saw her (Suzanne Blackmer’s) name on it,” she said. The book’s front cover was gone and edges of the pages were a bit black from the fire. “A lot of it is interesting,” Kiker said of the things she was seeing. “It’s a piece of history — that’s what I’m here for,” Ramsey added. Ramsey held up an attractive drinking glass that she remembered was the kind peanut butter was sold in. She also was intrigued with the crate of individually packaged “Suzy Tops” that were designed, made and sold by Suzanne Blackmer herself. They were colorful hospital shawls that could be worn in bed or out, according to the plastic bag each one came in. The shawls carried a “Suzanne Kaaren Design” tag, too. Fisher was selling them for $25 each. Suzanne Blackmer apparently was producing the shawls in the 1970s. Scarves were going for $10 each. “It’s a very good yard sale,” said Julie James, who attends sales regularly. “And he’s (Fisher) very fair.” James bought what she assumed was Suzanne Blackmer’s sewing kit. She also concentrated on things with local names. She purchased a tiny Kluttz Piano Co. screwdriver, a K.W. Arthur & Son pen and a Food Town matchbook. In addition, James picked up a box of Drucker’s Revelation Tooth Powder and a book of Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps from the old Sinclair gas stations. The Rev. James Stirewalt couldn’t pass up a 1919 Will Rogers book he found on Prohibition. The cover carried a quote from Rogers, the “cowboy philosopher,” that said, “You won’t find the country any drier than this book.” A 1961 Christmas card included an envelope addressed to Sidney Blackmer at 100 Central Park South, New York, but that was crossed out in favor of 112 S. Fulton St. A ceramic pot of Orange Blossom honey still had plenty of honey inside. A rack of Blackmer clothes, definitely dated but still elegant, would not be out of place in a backstage wardrobe. Fisher described the Blackmer yard sale — as yard sales go — “above average.” There were old Life magazines and Punch magazines from London, England. There also was a wheelbarrow full of books. “It’s fascinating, seeing all these books damaged by the fire,” Steve Cobb said. Cobb picked up a 1965 L.L. Bean catalog and was amazed — “they still sell the same things,” he said. A new resident to Salisbury, Cobb said he found the sale “a way to learn a little bit of Salisbury history.” He also has been involved in house restorations in the past and, just in his general observation of the Blackmer House, Cobb said Historic Salisbury Foundation faces a formidable challenge. The original part of the house was built by John Fulton, for whom Fulton Street is named. Salisbury native Sidney Blackmer bought the house in the late 1920s from the Mock family. Up to his death in 1973, Sidney Blackmer was a star of stage, movies and television over an acting career that touched seven decades. He won the 1950 Tony for best actor in “Come Back, Little Sheba.” His dramatic work extended from the 1914 silent serial “The Perils of Pauline” up to and beyond the 1968 movie “Rosemary’s Baby.” Suzanne Blackmer — the couple married in 1943 and often split their time between Salisbury and New York — appeared in roughly 40 films, including “The Great Ziegfeld” in 1936, “The Devil Cat” in 1940 and several “Three Stooges” films. • • • Suzanne Blackmer died in 2004, and son Jonathan inherited the vacant house. The yard sale, which is being held on the back corner of the Blackmer property, is modest in size, but every table seems to hold small treasures. There’s a box full of Walker’s Mineralized Vitamin Tablets, a 45 record of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, rusty skates and license plates, campaign buttons from John F. Kennedy and Rufus Edmisten and an old Congressman Bill Hefner sign. Ruth Jacobs bought a hand-cranking meat slicer. Kathy and Brittany Ingram found an old children’s potty seat and push mower with the rotary blades. “I’d like to know the stories some of this could tell,” Kathy Ingram said. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.