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Penn Jillette’s yard sale draws scores of bargain hunters seeking trinkets, treasures amid household goods

Penn Jillette’s only request about the yard sale at his colorful southwest valley home Saturday morning was that people flee with the things they bought before he had a chance to miss them.

“Trace Adkins did it the smart way, his place burned to the ground,” said Jillette, half of the Penn & Teller magic-comedy duo. “He said he lost absolutely everything he owned and he kind of, sort of missed one guitar. … You know, we get so tied up by stuff, it’s good to let it go.”

People began milling about the Jillette’s courtyard before 8 a.m. Saturday, gathering armfuls of the family’s household items, including a set of tarnished brass fire-tending tools, a mismatched set of ceramic mugs and a 1-foot-tall singing statue of Dean Martin.

“What I’m hoping is that some people pick up and run away with stuff I’m actually too attached to, to give away,” Jillette said when he showed up to the sale about 10 a.m. “I’m hoping it’s stuff I haven’t thought about. The stuff I’ve thought about I’ll run and save.”

The Dean Martin statue was purchased by a man whose dad has a collection of Rat Pack memorabilia in his basement in Indiana.

“I had to get this for him,” said 36-year-old Nick Gomez, admiring the waxy smile of a young Martin.

One of the most talked-about items at the yard sale that drew about 200 bargain hunters was Jillette’s upright bass, which sold for $300 in the first half-hour of the sale. Emily Jillette said the instrument was the first bass her husband learned to play on.

It wasn’t until the magician-comedian arrived later in the morning that the record was set straight: He had purchased the bass to be used in a juggling act that never made it into his show.

Sandy Karpel, the 71-year-old mother of a band teacher at Clark High School, bought the instrument for the school’s orchestra and asked Jillette to sign it. Clark’s orchestra teacher, Chuck Cushinery, posed with the bass in a photo posted to Facebook later the same morning.

Though most of the sale’s visitors were locals, one man traveled nearly 1,500 miles to pick through the magician’s belongings.

ASPARAGUS

Justin Wavro, 28, described himself as a big Penn & Teller fan and said he flew to Las Vegas from Houston for the sale. He left with a $20 toolbox with a fading bumper sticker that read “WE SAVED ASPARAGUS,” a reference to the magic-comedy trio, the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, started by Jillette, Teller and a friend in the ‘70s.

A family friend said the magician had been emotional before the sale, but Jillette said he’s OK with letting go of his possessions and “the Slammer.”

He named the roughly 8,000-square-foot home “the Slammer” not because of its prison theme, but after USAMRIID — the United States Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases. While visiting USAMRIID in the early ‘90s, Jillette learned about a containment unit called “the slammer,” where people who have been exposed to deadly and incurable airborne pathogens are held in isolation.

“I said, ‘That’s where I want to live,’” Jillette said.

The multicolored home, which had a two-story fire pole that was sold before Saturday’s event, suited him when he was a bachelor, according to the family’s house manager.

“When I had no children, living out in the middle of nowhere, you could play rock ‘n’ roll at stunning volume and have friends over and everybody who got divorced, both sexes, would move in here for six weeks,” he said. “It was kind of like George Clooney’s place but in the desert.”

The family’s migration north was made with the kids in mind.

“When you have children, and they’re 10, 11 years old, what they don’t want is to be cut off,” he said of his family’s decision to move to The Ridges in northwest Las Vegas about a year and a half ago. “The only reason for selling the Slammer is to get my children closer to their friends.”

THE GROUNDS

Jillette said he decided to knock the house down because “having two houses is a pain in the ass” and “the house is so strange that no one would buy it.”

Several shoppers said they’ll return in October, before the demolition, to try to buy some of the more permanent fixtures in the house, such as sinks, faucets, bathtubs and doors. Those items will be sold as Jillette wraps up his latest film project, “The Grounds.”

Crews will begin shooting the “horror and intrigue” film at the end of September, and the final product will include footage from the house’s collapse.

A Las Vegas woman who had hoped to find patio furniture at the sale ended up with a purple, ruffled lamp and a plunger she described as “magicky” for $3 each. The rubber part of the plunger was housed in a metal box that opened with the pull of the plunger’s handle.

“He had to have made it,” Mary Cronin, 40, said of the plunger’s box.

“Or used it,” another shopper chimed in with a laugh.

Contact Kimber Laux at klaux@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283. Find @lauxkimber on Twitter.

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