The Lee Hartung Legend by Debra Powless

Lee Hartung in front of his Glenview Museum

Everybody knows that car collectors are eccentric to say the least and ‘barn find’ is just what accelerates the adrenalin rush among car collectors.  After fifteen years of hearing about how this collector had a huge piece of property with a barn packed floor to ceiling with police badges, clocks, toys, bicycles, motorcycles and cars.  This might be common in less populated states but you sure don’t expect to find it in the suburbs of Chicago.  So after many stories Joe takes me on a drive one day and tells me that we are going to go visit this eccentric car collector’s ‘barn find’.  Sadly, the gentleman, Lee Hartung, had passed away in May of this year.  His long time mate Margie, also known as ‘Bonnie’, had graciously welcomed us into the estate to view the vast collections that included everything a person could think to collect.  She was curious about Joe’s thoughts on the items and they had a nice chat and we took hundreds of photos.

There is a story on the H.A.M.B. blog about how Lee had been shot by an off duty police officer who was trying to steal one of the police badges…nothing to confirm or deny this story has been found…still interesting reading.

Marjorie had indicated that Lee had bought the property in 1949.  Obviously the community of Glenview was a much less populated place when Lee bought the property.  However now it is quite a hub of activity since it is so convenient to the city.  When we pulled into the long driveway, we were met with a very crude gate with warnings about trespassing.  Joe having been a long time friend of the Lee assured me that there was not going to be anybody running us off by shooting at us with a 12-gauge shotgun.  We were welcomed into the compound by the very lovely Margie who is as personable as anyone you could meet, which I found a little ironic after hearing the stories about how Lee would welcome you one day and run you off the next depending on his mood that particular day.  We were told that a very famous car guy came to visit once and had failed to pay the ‘museum fee/donation’ and that didn’t set too well with Lee.  Understandably he had taxes and utility bills to pay to keep up the collection and it was quite a vast collection that drew people from all over the country.  I guess the famous car collector thought Lee should be honored by his presence but Lee’s thinking was that everybody should make a donation.

So after many decades of accumulating toys, household items, badges, bicycles, motorcycles and cars and much more and displaying the items by nailing them to the wall, floor to ceiling, and then backing cars into spaces and loading more collectibles on top of the vehicles leaving only narrow passages through out the maze of collectibles, the long time collector passed away.  Marjorie is now faced with the overwhelming task of what to do with all the stuff.  A huge concern was how to even try to put a value on the various collectibles.  Maybe one old license plate wouldn’t be worth much but what is the value for thousands of antique license plates?  Not to mention the question of how to put a value on a coffin, yes, he even had a coffin in the display.   (We later found out that it was a human skeleton and it was taken away by the medical examiner…evidently having a human skeleton is not allowed).  The estate was hoping that there was one collector out there who would want to buy the entire lifetime collection that Lee had amassed.  Unfortunately that did not seem likely, collectors seem to make up their own rules for every piece that they put in their personal collections.

So now that time has passed and the impact of the enormity of the job of sorting through and creating an inventory of the various collectibles, Auctions America has been enlisted to hold a public auction to cover several days November 3 – 5, 2011.  Amazingly enough progress is being made and the warehouse/museum is now being strategically cleared out.  The four acres of land that were once covered with trees and other ‘collectibles’ has been cleared and antique and collectible cars and motorcycles are being lined up like soldiers so that the collectors can take a gander and decide what gems they have to acquire for their own collections.  Appropriately there is a big tent set up where cars and motorcycles and other collectibles are being protected from inclement weather and a circus like atmosphere is developing.  Who will have an opportunity to visit the big tent and have a shot at bidding on what is sure to be branded as the “Lee Hartung Barn Find of the Decade”.  In Lee’s collection is the very first Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance 1950 Best of Show Winner the 1950 Edwards R-26 Special Sport Roadster that was owned by Sterling Edwards.  So it is clear that there are some very valuable collectibles in the collection although it was somewhat of a challenge to see under the decades of dust that has accumulated.

Everybody, big and small, come to the big top to see history being made and own a piece of collecting from the notorious collector who will be talked about for decades to come.

About BortzCars

Car & Motorcycle Collector, Historian
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5 Responses to The Lee Hartung Legend by Debra Powless

  1. Brian Turner says:

    Hi, My name is Brian and I’d like to speak with you about your blog, please email me at your earliest convenience.

  2. Isfan Doank says:

    i wanna be like Lee Hartung…..

  3. seymour says:

    how did lee make his money to buy these toys?

    • BortzCars says:

      Hi Seymour, I do not know but I have heard that he bought and sold cars from the people who were at the Glenview military base when it was active. When people would come to the base they would go see Lee to buy a car and then go see Lee to sell a car. Keep in mind that Lee was in this same spot since the 1950s – I don’t remember the exact year. Debbie

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