Turn-of-the-century bed stuffed with lots of history


ANNANDALE, Minn. -- This is a story about a traveling Greek millionaire, a Chicago doctor and a very expensive and unusual bed.

Oh yeah, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is also involved (well, sort of).

Perhaps it would be best to begin with the bed, which these days can be found at M.T. Cupboard, an estate sales firm near Annandale, a town about 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

The firm is trying to sell the king-size, 700-pound bed, which is not your everyday estate sale item.

In fact, it's believed to be one of only two beds of its kind in the world.

Made of solid nickel, it was fabricated by Italian craftsmen around the turn of the century and features a decorated headboard with a pair of medallions showing a woman's face.

But if you're thinking of buying the bed, you'll need a pillowcase full of cash, because the minimum bid is $100,000, mattress and box spring not included.

Naturally, you're wondering why anyone would make a bed out of nickel, a metal more associated with cheap coins than fine boudoir furnishings.

And you're probably wondering as well how the thing ended up in Annandale.

Well, therein, as they say, lies a story.

According to Mark Axford, who with his wife, Tammy, owns M.T. Cupboard Estates, the tale of the nickel bed goes something like this:

Back in the 1880s or maybe the 1890s or maybe the early 1900s (the chronology, alas, is a bit vague), Homer Socrates Onassis, progenitor of the famous Greek shipping family, was traveling through the United States for purposes unknown when he fell ill in Chicago.

The problem, it seems, was a large and dangerously infected cyst somewhere in the vicinity of one of his ears.

As it so happened, the leading ear, nose and throat specialist of the time in Chicago was a certain Dr. James Davey.

Dr. Davey operated on Mr. Onassis, removed the cyst and thereby saved the tycoon's life.

1% Not surprisingly, Mr. Onassis was

pleased by this surgical success, and as a token of his gratitude he sent the doctor one of two nickel beds that were custom-made in Italy.

Mr. Onassis kept the other bed for himself.

What dictated the unusual choice of bed-frame material? Simple economy, it appears.

Mr. Onassis owned several nickel mines and so had a ready source of the metal.

As everyone knows, of course, the most famous member of the Onassis family was not old Homer, but his flamboyant son, Aristotle, enshrined in tabloid lore as Ari and best known as the second husband of Jacqueline Kennedy (thus the Jackie connection, which, admittedly, is a stretch).

Back in the days when Jackie and Ari were a hot item, the nickel bed might have had considerable prestige value because of its link, however distant, to such famous personalities.

Unfortunately, the Onassis name no longer "has the clout it did when Jackie was married to Aristotle," Mr. Axford said.

Mr. Axford said the Onassis family still has its nickel bed, while the one for sale was passed down by Dr. Davey to his son (of the same name), a retired optometrist who lives in Bemidji, Minn.

In hopes of finding a buyer, Mr. Axford has written to the Onassis family in Greece, thinking they might be interested in reuniting their bed with its twin.

So far, no bids have been made on the ornate bed, which is being offered on consignment.

Mr. Axford, however, is optimistic that someone with a taste for the exotic and a healthy wallet will come forward.

"We think it might interest rock stars, athletes, people like that," he says -- the kind of people, in other words, who would think nothing of shelling out a hundred grand for a little nickel.

Roger Simon is on vacation. His column will resume Sept. 9.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad