House of Fame
A couple of weeks back, I saw an article on CNN by some guy whose family had purchased Madonna’s childhood home in Rochester Hills, Michigan, in hopes of making some big bucks by selling the house on eBay. The bidding on eBay went crazy – with the house being faux-bid up to nearly a billion. But then 9/11 happened, and it didn’t seem like quite so much fun to be crazy-bidding on Madonna’s house. The bids were all withdrawn, and the family ended up unloading the place through an auction house.
It’s hard to imagine that Madonna fans would be the type who’d want to actually live in Rochester Hills, Michigan, but you never know.
The family did turn a profit of $50K and got their 15 minutes of fame on the Today Show, in People, etc.
Fast forward and the house was sold, then on the market, then burnt by arsonists. It is now a rotted, boarded up shambles. But I’m quite sure that locals still point it out to visitors as Madonna’s house, and folks in the ‘hood get some bragging rights about it.
What is there about a house where someone famous once lived?
When we were kids, my father loved to take the family out for “a spin”. It was something we did pretty much every weekend, whatever the season, and on occasional week nights during the summer. The destination was wherever my father wanted to take us, and, in the summer, the spin usually included stopping for ice cream at the Cherry Bowl, Verna’s, or the Dairy Queen.
Sometimes the spin took us by the home of Elden Auker, which my father never failed to point out to us.
Elden Auker, you might well be saying. Not the Elden Auker.
My father was a great enthusiast, and a great baseball fan, but as celebrities went, even by Worcester standards, Elden Auker was mighty thin gruel. He had, however, been a major league pitcher for a number of years, and went on to become president of Bay State Abrasives. Maybe my father had met him somewhere along the line; he had probably seen him pitch. Auker had played briefly for the Red Sox.
For whatever reason, it gave my father great pleasure to point out Elden Auker’s house.
We also drove plenty of times past the houses of Celtic (and Holy Cross) basketball greats Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn, but I do not remember my father ever pointing them out. Especially when compared to Elden Auker, Cousy and Heinsohn were world famous. But my father was not much of a basketball fan – it was the one “major” sport he never played – so he may not have cared that Heinsohn lived for a while in the big white house on the corner of May Street, and that Cousy lived (and last I knew still does) on Salisbury Street, next to grounds of my high school. (One of his daughters was a couple of years behind me.)
I’m not driving around Worcester all that often, but when I go by the Tommy Heinsohn or the Bob Cousy house, I always make a mental note of it. (I can picture Elden Auker’s house in my mind, but I’m not sure where it was. Shrewsbury, maybe?)
The same goes for the home of rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, which was in our neighborhood, just across the street from where my friend Rosemary lived. The house was something of an anomaly. In an area of relatively modest single and two family homes, and plenty of three deckers, the Goddard house was a graceful old white house with black shutters of mid-19th century vintage. The Little Women could have lived across the street. Instead, my friend Rosemary lived across the street in a big old brown three decker owned by her aunt and uncle.
I have no recall of Dr. Goddard, who died before I was born, but I remember seeing Mrs. Goddard around. She always looked quite genteel and WASP-y, puttering about in her garden. That genteel WASP-y-ness, of course, meant outsider in the distinctly non-genteel, ethnic Catholic neighborhood around her.
Our claim to fame with having the Goddards live a few blocks away was heightened by the fact that my father and his sibs had been the Goddards’ paper boys/girl.
I wonder who’s living there now? Wonder if they paid a premium for the house? If fathers still take families for spins, do those fathers point out the Goddard house to children who would be far happier and more intrigued if it had been the home of Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift. Lady Gaga, or Madonna, even.
Alas, Robert Goddard is no Madonna. But he’s no Elden Auker, either.