Recalling the eccentric Mrs. Lee and a massive auction


The recent article on Galion’s Henry David Lee mentioned his brief marriage to Emma Coburn. His wife was eccentric and spent years buying and hoarding things. This might be a good time to publish again the story written for this column over 30 years ago. Here is the story:

A Galion policeman noticed the open door of Emma Lee’s home and upon investigating with others, found Mrs. Lee dead. She had been missing several days but because of her frequent trips out of town her absence was not unusual.

She was thus found in her house. She had apparently suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage and fallen onto her burning cookstove. The house was jammed with articles of furniture, clothing, and china.

Emma Lee was well-known for her odd habits of shopping: she often bought small items by the gross and stored them away. She was talked about for the things which were “promiscuously purchased and carefully hoarded” in her Harding Way West home. This building has since disappeared and the present A&P store is built upon its site (the current building is occupied by Keller Auto Parts Inc. and the barber shop next to it).

Emma Lee was about 75 years of age at the time of her death. She was born Emily L. Coburn, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Coburn, who came to Galion in the 1860s. Mr. Coburn managed a small general store in the same building. She was married to H.D.Lee, but later in life lived alone and developed the “one eccentricity” of buying most everything in large lots. These were seldom even removed from their packages, and just stored about the premises.

There were no children from her marriage and the estate was handled by administrators C.J. Gugler of Galion and J.N. Vantilburg, a cousin, from out of town.

The auction created quite a stir and the anticipation of a large crowd was confirmed. The sale began on May 18, 1923, at 10 a.m., but as Chief of Police Riblet and Constable Gwinner were painting a safety zone in front of the property before 8 a.m., the crowd had already begun to form. By 9 a.m., there were over 500 present and at the start of the sale a thousand people were pushing near the auctioneer. The crowd increased later in the day.

People came from great dis tances, and early records tell of the automobiles which brought persons from as far as Dayton. Restaurants were not prepared for the immense crowd, but aside from some minor mishaps such as faintings and sus pected purse snatchings, things went along smoothly. The street car tracks were kept clear by the police, so that the interurban could pass. Other vehicular traffic was forbidden.

Curtis W. Tracht opened the sale as auctioneer, and the first articles offered were decorated china fruit dishes. Other china and glassware were then offered and this con tinued throughout the first day.

It was necessary to take tums in “crying the sale.” Mr. Tracht was relieved by ex-Sheriff Knappenberger, and he in turn by C.W. McFarland of Mt. Gilead during that first day.

It was a brisk business, but a tedious one for there were some 16,000 items eventually sold at prices ranging from a nickel upward. The auction continued for over a week, and at that, it was necessary that the administrators make the following statement:

“The great Emma L. Lee auction is to continue the entire week and possibly longer. The large amount of goods sold during the last two days has not noticeably decreased the vast stock on hand.

“There is still a very large amount of cut glass and chinaware remaining of the very highest quality. In fact they are selling this class of goods first in order to clear enough space to be able to reach and handle the other articles.

“The immense stock of dry goods, curtains, remnants, furniture, oil paintings and brand new hardware has not yet been offered for sale.

“The furniture cannot be sold for some time yet because we must sell enough other articles to clear suffi cient space to get to it; there are still thousands of rare bargains. Many of the goods are brand new, never hav ing been removed from their origi nal packages. We also have on hand many rare antiques and some valu able furs.

”Mrs. Lee’s valuable diamonds are on display at the Citizens National Bank where they may be viewed by prospective buyers any time during banking hours. Sealed bids will be received for same.”

This is the Lee house as it looked in 1958. The dwelling was soon razed to make room for an A&P at that location. is the Lee house as it looked in 1958. The dwelling was soon razed to make room for an A&P at that location. Galion Historical Society

By Bernard M. Mansfield, M.D.

Galion Historical Society

Your Historical Galion is contributed by the Galion Historical Society and features the writings of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield and other local historians. This story was first published in the Galion Inquirer on Saturday, Feb. 26, 1994. For information about the Galion Historical Society and Museum, visit

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