Solid Gold

A 30-year-old law clerk purchases Miami's precious history for a song

"I can't live without this one," declared Andy Nierenberg when placing a bid earlier this month on the ntBay Internet auction site. The item Nierenberg so coveted was a photo album memorializing the tenure of Ted Eefting, former City of Miami public works director. Along with dozens of other civic mementos, the album recently was discarded during spring cleaning of Miami City Hall's basement. New Times rescued several of the items and sold them to the highest bidders on www.miaminewtimes.com. With his very existence on the line, Nierenberg offered only ten bucks for Eefting's farewell gift. Unfortunately it wasn't enough. When the auction closed on April 14, the photos, along with the bulk of city hall memorabilia and the weight of Nierenberg's eternal soul, went to a 30-year-old law clerk named Brad Wagshul.

"I'm moving into a new house in two weeks," Wagshul announced when informed of his triumph. "My wife approved the idea of building some type of shrine to [former Miami Mayor] Xavier Suarez, perhaps the Xavier Suarez memorial office. She thought it would be good for both of us."

Over the course of the nine-day auction, Wagshul picked up blueprints for a baseball stadium ($11), a discarded city file ($3), a collection of reports on the Miami City Employee's Retirement System ($3), an "honorary Conch" certificate recognizing Suarez as a citizen of the Florida Keys ($3), and a plaque commemorating Suarez's participation in a boxing match with former Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud ($26).

Wagshul with just a small part of the Suarez collection
Steve Satterwhite
Wagshul with just a small part of the Suarez collection
Wagshul with just a small part of the Suarez collection
Steve Satterwhite
Wagshul with just a small part of the Suarez collection

A committed historian, Wagshul tried in vain to add still more to his collection. "I might even consider trading my SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) shirt for this one," he wrote when proffering $6 for a soiled City of Miami maintenance department work shirt. (The shirt actually sold for $20.) He also failed to win a photograph of Suarez shaking hands with Ronald Reagan. Most of the items Wagshul collected were overlooked by other bidders. Said Wagshul, upon submitting the high offer for the retirement-system reports: "Maybe it's history, maybe it's crap; for $3 who cares?"

There was no denying the historical value of other items that were for sale. An oar that may or may not have sailed with the Titanic went for a cool $100. "I have been looking for an oar [with a strange history] forever," claimed the winning bidder, who also took home a proclamation recognizing Gloria Estefan Day in Miami for $71. (Under the auction's terms, we agreed not to publicize bidders' names unless they agreed.) Maria from Miami bid on the work shirt, a hardhat personalized for former city Commissioner J.L. Plummer, and a handful of Dinner Key folders. "I gotta get one of these, especially the Plummer hat!" she wrote in an e-mail. And now she owns it.

No relic generated more spirited bidding than a wooden submarine once awarded to Suarez by the crew of the PCU Miami attack-class nuclear sub. Nierenberg, who offered $10, said he "gotta have it." And again he was left in the dust as a bidding war broke out between a Tavernier woman and a female vice president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, who objected to the weathered block of wood's sale. "This item ... belongs at the Historical Museum, along with the other items re the [PCU] Miami that were donated to preserve our history," said the veep when submitting her initial offer of $25. "I am bidding on it for this purpose only." She eventually recovered it for $51.

During the auction bids came in from Hamburg, Germany; Washington, D.C.; Vail, Colorado; and elsewhere. All proceeds were donated to the nonprofit Urban Environment League of Greater Miami to aid the city's parks and recreation department. The UEL's mission is to encourage enlightened city planning and to preserve and enhance parks and open space. Winning bids were tax-deductible, which factored into Wagshul's enthusiasm.

"I saw the historical value of all the items," he reports, his speech rushed with the thrill of victory. "I really don't know if that is the case. I thought [they] looked like good conversation pieces. A few of them, I guess the city retirement records from the war and the archives, I thought maybe somebody would have interest, and I thought I'd donate the records to whoever wants them. I don't know if that will bear out, though. Maybe they'll just end up back in the trash."

ra.powell@miaminewtimes.com

 
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