On Monday night, when people were meant to be gathered in the garden at the Harborside Inn in Edgartown for the Possible Dreams Auction, it poured rain and flashed lightning across the Island, vindicating the event's organizers and their decision to enact the auction's first rain date in its 29 year history.
Tuesday, the skies held and the bidding got underway, but the crowd was smaller than expected as many people were unable to make the new date. Despite the low attendance, the auction raised $444,000 for Martha's Vineyard Community Services. The online auction, which runs through August 20, offers similar Vineyard-inspired, once-in-a-lifetime dreams.
"We did remarkably well given the circumstances," said Jim Shane, auction committee chairman. "Many people had to go back to work on Tuesday after leaving Monday open for the event, but even with the postponement we're pleased with the outcome."
While many donors and celebrity supporters were not in attendance, those who were took their hats off to the late Art Buchwald and honored him with their generosity of spirit.
It was the first Possible Dreams Auction in a quarter-century without Art at the podium and his presence was missed. Mr. Buchwald worked tirelessly over the years to raise money for Community Services, which provides Islanders with family therapy, child care, addiction counseling, nursing for the homebound and crisis support, often at no cost to the person in need.
"His spirit is here," said son Joel Buchwald, before the bidding began. "I'm sure he's rooting for this to be the most successful auction yet."
He described how the auction was the primary purpose of his father's summer, saying it was his way of giving back to the Island. After years of raising money for the organization, Mr. Buchwald relied on Community Services and its visiting nurse program during the last few years of his life.
More than 150 volunteers, circulating the crowd and taking drink orders, were outfitted in colorful T-shirts and straw hats like those that Mr. Buchwald would wear and eventually sell for thousands of dollars at the end of the night.
Livingston Taylor, one of the night's guest auctioneers, also wore a straw hat in memory of Mr. Buchwald.
"You guys waiting for me?" asked Mr. Taylor, as he grabbed his guitar with its rainbow shoulder strap. "I'm clearly on Vineyard time."
Outfitted in a blue seersucker suit, bow tie and purple suspenders, he looked the perfect country gentleman. He was joined on stage by his sister Kate.
"I'm asking you all to stand and take your hat off to Art while Livingston Taylor and Kate sing," said Mr. Shane, as the crowd quickly stood up and the Taylors began to sing Dream a Little Dream of Me.
"Art will always be in our dreams," said Mr. Shane. "Dream on." With that, longtime auctioneers Rick Lee and Susan Klein took to the stage and the bidding began.
Ms. Klein began at a fast and exciting clip, collecting bids for the first dream of the night, a kayak ride, described as a Squibnocket sleigh ride, plus a window cleaning by a crew from Men At Work.
When the second dream, orchestra seats at the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera in New York city, sold for $5,000, Rick Lee made an observation that held true for most of the evening. "If it wasn't for the rain, I think we'd have a lot more competition," he said.
Volunteers with orange felt flags on long, wooden poles moved about, pointing to eager bidders.
As the evening moved on, Ms. Klein said to the crowd, "Everybody's sitting on their hands. There must be something really big coming up, like golf clubs."
She was referring to the set of clubs President Clinton used while vacationing on the Vineyard, donated to the auction by Bill Rollnick and Nancy Ellison.
"Only a golfer would take this much time to show you a putter," said Ms. Klein while Mr. Rollnick showed off the clubs. He said whoever bought them would also receive a personal letter of congratulations from the former president.
After a quick bidding war, the clubs sold for $19,000, the highest individual bid for the night. However, his putter alone raised $22,000 last year.
Actor Ted Danson, a flash of silver hair and white teeth, jumped up on stage, ready to auction off an impromptu dream, which he created moments before the auction began.
Reading the slip of paper handed to him by Mr. Danson, Mr. Lee announced, "One night with Mary Steenburgen."
"Turn it over," yelled Mr. Danson. On the back, the dream read, "And Mr. Danson."
The dream included dinner with both of them at their Chilmark home in September. When the bidding remained low, Mr. Danson said, "Maybe we could throw that night with Mary back in."
In the end, Mr. Danson doubled his dream, allowing the two highest bidders to win for $9,000 each, doubling the money for Community Services.
Throughout the evening, Island painter Meg Mercier could be seen painting at her easel on one of the balconies of the Captain Ripley House. She looked out at the crowd and the harbor beyond, working quickly to produce a painting, which sold for $12,000 at the end of the auction.
Olga Hirshhorn, Vineyard Haven resident and longtime dream donor and buyer, worked the microphone, putting in personal pitches for her favorite dreams. To her Boule and Brunch dream she added a weekend at her house in Florida, including a tour of the Naples art museum where her private collection is currently on loan. It sold for $7,500.
Extra enticements were added throughout the night to encourage people to bid higher. A dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Chinois restaurant was added to the Hannah Montana dream, which was the second highest money raiser, selling for $17,000. Dinner at Spagos was generously added to the American Music Awards dream, which brought in $10,000.
The bidding slowed down for a moment to pay tribute to Island author Phil Craig, who died in May. He donated a dream every year since 1996.
"Phil loved this auction," said Jim Pringle, raising a glass to him. "He and Shirley couldn't do enough for us. Simply, I want to say thank you, Phil, from all of us on this Island whose lives you so deeply touched."
Another high point came when Livingston Taylor sang How Much Is That Doggy in the Window before selling the Clifford the Big Red Dog dream. While he serenaded the audience, someone in a red Clifford suit stood behind him, dancing and waving at the crowd. Norman Bridwell, Clifford's creator and a 28-year auction veteran, stood up and told the crowd that in honor of Mr. Buchwald, he'd include his hat, along with a one-of-a-kind drawing of a geriatric Clifford dog. The dream sold for $3,500.
Mr. Taylor also put his hat on the auction block, saying, "I promise that balding is not contagious."
He sold the hat, along with four premium tickets to his show at the Tabernacle.
"What about backstage passes?" asked Mr. Lee. This made Mr. Taylor laugh.
"There is no backstage," he said. "Just say, Yo Liv!"
By the end of the night, over 50 dreams were sold.
The Arthur dream, which sold twice last year for $36,000, for a total of $72,000, sold for $5,500 on Tuesday.
The Spanish Grand Prix dream was doubled, selling twice for $13,500, raising $27,000 for Community Services.
Susan McConnell, who won the raffle, chose $10,000 over a trip to San Francisco and donated the money back to Community Services. For her generosity, SAP, the company who had made the raffle possible, gave her the trip as well.
After Ms. Mercier's painting sold for $12,000, the evening came to an abrupt end.
"Thank you for coming and supporting community services," said Mr. Lee to the departing crowd.
An unexpected positive aspect of the evening was the increased involvement of Islanders.
Because dreams sold for less than they have in the past, it gave local folks a chance to bid, said Mr. Shane.
One of those lucky people was Kayla Goldman, a 10-year old student at the Tisbury School, who will attend the 2008 Scripts National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. She appeared to be the most excited person in the garden, shrieking with delight when the gavel came down at $2,500 and her mom was declared the highest bidder on the dream.
"It's so cool," she said. She made the school bee last year and watched the national contest after her grandfather taped it for her. She said she can't wait to learn new words and go to Washington.
Mr. Shane said in past years this dream would go for $10,000, making it nearly impossible for a local family to afford it.
After the auction, Joel Buchwald said the auction was experiencing growing pains, but that it has legs of its own.
"It's a wonderful cause," he said "It will be back next year bigger and better and with bright sun."