Jennings Osborne and the eye of the needle 

His worldly possessions went under the hammer last week. The collection of a lifetime, scattered to the winds.

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$265,000, plus 10 percent

The house where Jennings Osborne lived on Cantrell Road is hard to miss, even for an out-of-towner, encircled as it is by a high concrete wall that would look right at home ringing the compound of a Columbian drug lord. That's the kind of wall that means business; that says the person inside values his privacy and security, and will spend any amount of money to keep it.

Pulling into the gates the day before the house sold at auction, Osborne's cash-flow problems of recent years became immediately apparent. Everything in sight looked like it needed a coat of paint, with vines creeping up the inside of the wall and rust beginning to appear on the bars that line most of the windows of the house. On the front lawn, the bricks around the fountain are cracked, and the plank seats are gone from the iron-framed swing set where Breezy Osborne used to play.

We met James "Bubba" Wood in the home's nine-car garage. A long-time family friend who met Osborne through Breezy years ago, he had been helping Mitzi Osborne get the house ready for sale.

With the property auction less than 24 hours away, the huge garage was still stacked back to front with personal items, most of which were headed to storage. Parked just outside was a giant dumpster, almost full. It was the fourth they'd filled since they had started getting the house ready for sale six weeks earlier.

Wood led us through the garage and into the house. Even after several years of not getting the upkeep it deserved, the place was still something: officially 11,559 square feet, though some will tell you that is a lowball figure for the taxman.

Above the garage, with a bay window overlooking Cantrell and French doors overlooking the pool and tennis courts out back, was Osborne's office suite. It's really a home inside of a home, with a full bath, bedroom, office, and a huge tanning bed that looks like a hibernation pod from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Most of the time when he was home, day or night, Osborne was there, Wood said. It's where he kept most of his collections, from the precious to the mundane.

"Jennings didn't sleep very much," Wood said, "so most of his time was spent working. Even at 3 or 4 in the morning, he always wanted the fax machine and the computer wherever he was, to communicate."

While we're talking, Thomas Blackmon, one of the owners of Blackmon Auctions, which handled the sales of both the property and personal items, entered the room and remarked that he didn't know the tanning bed was in there until that moment — that it had been wholly buried with other objects.

The things that were still in the office speak to the kind of man Osborne was, and what he valued. There were, for example, literally thousands of loose photographs in boxes, most of them just candid snapshots of regular Arkansans who came to his barbecues or fireworks displays over the years. Wood said that Osborne had a photographer on staff who did nothing but shoot pictures any time Osborne had a function. All those photos were developed and brought here to be filed away.

In the garage of the house next door (Osborne bought out his neighbors, lock stock and barrel, both in one hour, while Mitzi was gone to Mass, during the height of the legal actions over his Christmas light displays in the early 1990s) there was a sizeable stack of huge scrapbooks, and each of those scrapbooks was filled with newspaper clippings. Any time Osborne's name was mentioned in the newspaper, ever, an employee carefully clipped the notice and glued it down. Thousands on thousands of entries. Osborne, Wood said, never threw anything away.


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