Chicago is selling all the memorabilia it can get its hands on, from an original Playboy bunny outfit to old manhole covers and parking meters, in an eBay auction this week aimed at funding the arts in a budget crisis.
The city claims to be the first to use a charity online auction to help solve its financial problems, in what it is calling the Great Chicago Fire Sale, a reference to a disastrous blaze that destroyed much of the city in 1871. The organizers believe the idea will catch on, as did the city's novel scheme five years ago to scatter life-size model cows, painted by local artists, around the streets. Some of the original cows, borrowed or imitated in cities around the country, are also up for sale.
"I think selling the city on eBay could be a big deal," Lois Weisberg, Chicago's cultural affairs commissioner, told the New York Times. "I'm sure that if this catches on, other cities will want to do it, just as they did with the cows." Struggling, like many U.S. cities, with a vast deficit, Chicago has cut its arts budget by almost a quarter over the past two years to $9 million. Weisberg, who thought up the cow caper, decided on the eBay sale to make up the shortfall.
The city went to its celebrities, sports teams, restaurants and hotels asking for donations. The top item on the auction Web site, is an original green satin Playboy bunny outfit dating from 1960, when the first Playboy Club was opened in downtown Chicago. It comes complete with bunny ears, fluffy tail, white collar and cuffs. A similar outfit apparently sold for $14,000 at a recent auction.
Also available for bids beginning Thursday will be a Chicago Cubs baseball shirt signed by one of the team's players, various meals for two or weekends for two in the city's restaurants and hotels, architectural tours and champagne-fueled shopping expeditions.
The city has clearly been rummaging around in its own basement and has come up with genuine City of Chicago manhole covers (selling price to be determined) and five decommissioned parking meters, for the Windy City aficionado who has everything and wants to re-create the Chicago streets at home.