IF YOU GO:
• What: Auction of Jack E. Brown’s house and
• When: 10 a.m. Saturday.
• Where: 198 Sabakewell Lane (13957 Dayton Pike/U.S. Highway 27)
• How: Bring credit card, guaranteed check or cash. Cash earns a 3 percent discount.
• Inspection: Today from 1 to 4 p.m.
•Contact: Flipper McDaniel, 770-877-3737
Source: Flipper McDaniel & Associates
It was a Thursday, a cold day, a work day, and the engineer responsible for a train full of industrial supplies on its way through Sale Creek leaned on the horn of his massive locomotive.
In seven seconds, the line of automobiles stretching across the railroad crossing in front of him would be pulverized.
For auctioneer Flipper McDaniel, the loss of a few potential customers wouldn't come close to making a dent in his bottom line on this particular sale. Those unguarded drivers -- who risked life and limb to cross the railroad tracks from U.S. Highway 27 onto the property formerly owned by apparent Ponzi schemer Jack E. Brown -- were only a few of the nearly 1,000 visitors expected to show up Saturday for the sale of nearly all the Brown family's worldly possessions.
And there are plenty of possessions to go around.
In an instant, the drivers darted out of the train's way, scooting through a gap in the white fence that rings the Brown family compound, past a wrought iron gate adorned by golden horses. The Browns' actual horses are already gone, sold to make room for the big auction tent.
McDaniel hopes to make enough money from the auction to pay off all the Brown family's creditors, including a handful of banks as well as dozens of widows and retirees who thought Brown was investing their life savings in the stock market.
In reality, Brown -- allegedly aided by his son, Jason, and wife, Janet -- was secretly paying off investors using money from other investors, while building a luxurious lifestyle on a hill overlooking U.S. 27, according to bankruptcy trustee Jerry Farinash.
"I thought [Jack Brown] was the world's best day-trader," said Ed Grandfield, a retiree who lost the $250,000 that he gave to Brown.
The Browns bought so much stuff with their victims' savings they hadn't even unpacked it all.
A bubble-wrapped four-post bed with a hand-carved headboard sat in the corner of the imitation Boston Garden gymnasium a few days ago, while auctioneers worked to organize box after box of NASCAR and Florida State University memorabilia. Outside, the wind tore at six pairs of bronze horse heads that were still wrapped in the original plastic.
"It's like Wall Street meets redneck," said April Eidson, who fought the crowds with her husband as she shopped for a new four-wheeler.
None of the victims, whom the bankruptcy court says are unsecured creditors of Brown, are likely to see anything from this auction. The numbers just don't add up. Brown's estate still owes about $12 million, but his assets are valued at less than $2 million. Brown took out loans for everything he bought, in spite of the bags of cash brought to him by customers who thought he would make investments on their behalf.
Even if the bidding heats up, the banks that lent Brown money secured their loans with his cars and houses as collateral, and will be paid back first.
Still, it will be a big auction, and anything can happen. There's something here for almost everyone.
Before Thursday's scheduled preview began, 100 potential buyers, curiosity-seekers and auction regulars were already milling around the property, pawing through possessions, shaking their heads at some of the family's design choices.
The compound is anchored by two homes perched on twin hills overlooking a sweeping yard with a pond in the middle. A stable and a garage were built to hold the family's horses, motorcycles and antique cars. A gymnasium designed to mimic the Boston Garden basketball court includes a $50,000 golf simulator, arcade games and a pinball machine.
Always the salesman, McDaniel flipped a switch to bring Galaga, Big Buck Hunter and SEGA's After Burner to life. Satisfied that the arcade cabinets work, he turned them back off. But the crowd's mind was on other things.
Inside the two-story gym, potential bidders gathered around a glass case full of jewelry -- diamond rings, gold watches and pink pearls. A custom-engraved, over-and-under shotgun attracted the attention of a handful of retirees, who swabbed the chamber with their thumbs to see how recently it had been cleaned. It had been a while.
The Brown family fitted the funhouse with an entertainment center, pool table, bar, dining table, the works. There's a big kitchen, numerous basketballs and a closed-circuit TV system to allow the adults in the big house to keep an eye on the festivities.
In their home, gold and silver chandeliers drip with crystal, and gold and silver trim adorns the top and middle of the interior walls. There's a six-person movie theater with a disco ball just off the kitchen. The rain shower in the Browns' bedroom is big enough to hold two or three adults.
The family loved to entertain. Dozens of lounge chairs are staged around the pool, which featured a stacked-stone water slide as its centerpiece. In the middle, a bronze Jesus statue kneels in prayer, his eyes cast toward heaven. It represents the moment in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus beseeched his father to spare him from the death and suffering to come.
Brown, who suffered a series of ailments before he died in September, found no such mercy. Under federal investigation, he passed away with the knowledge that his family had lost everything, that all the possessions he spent his life acquiring would go to others.
The 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe that Brown had lovingly restored will end up with someone like Tom Killingsworth, who gingerly stuck his head under the hood to determine the car's birthright.
"You hardly ever see one in this good of condition," he said. "That's original."
The tractors, too, will go to another home, along with a handful of four-wheelers, the motorcycles, and a few go-karts for the kids. A golf cart painted like the General Lee of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame attracted a number of admirers.
"I think I'm going to go for the General Lee," said Chas Clements.
No charges were ever filed against Brown, and federal investigators won't say whether they intend to file charges against his wife and son.
"Jason loved his father; he did what his father told him to do," said Jerry Summers, Jason Brown's attorney. "Unfortunately, his father made some bad mistakes, which unfortunately is on Jason now. But the majority of people will tell you that Jason Brown is a good young man."
While the Browns spent a lot of time and millions of dollars in others' money on the lavish lifestyle on display this week, almost none of what they bought will stand the test of time. Even though it's only been a few months, the bronze veneer on a horse statue that once stood atop a fountain is beginning to wear away, revealing the plaster beneath -- the same stuff Disney uses at its theme parks.
The basketball court, marked in the middle with a giant green 'B,' is beginning to buckle. The commercial hood above the cooktop is just for show, and doesn't contain a fan. The gold and silver trim in the house is just paint. The white picket fence is plastic.
Whatever's left that has any value will be gone within two weeks. Another family will own the Browns' home. The Cadillac Escalade, the Chevy Avalanche and the General Lee will drive off into the sunset. Who knows, someone could even repaint some of that gold-colored molding.
"It's a little bit gaudy," said Ellen Edwards. "It's definitely good for entertaining, but it isn't to my taste."
She had to shout over the din of a passing train. Every property has its drawbacks.
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6315.
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...