The Wardrobe of Augustus Priest

I work at The Budgetique, a high-end used clothing shop run by our Pittsburgh church. In October we received an amazing windfall, the wardrobe of the recently deceased Augustus Priest, who Mayor Sophie Masloff once called "The Poet Lariat (sic) of Pittsburgh." Priest was the scion of a family of Pittsburgh clothiers, whose shop downtown had catered to such local elites as the Mellons and Scaifes. His inherited wealth had enabled young Augie to devote himself to his career as poet, songwriter, and performer. When Bob Dylan was awarded his Nobel Prize, many felt that Priest was more deserving.

Undoubtedly due to his family background, Priest was an impeccable dresser. His album covers, such as "Songs of Desire and Treachery" and "A. Priest’s Greatest Benedictions," often featured beautifully tailored suits. And then there was his "Notorious Green Trench-Coat," the subject of one of his songs:

The last time I saw you, a rendezvous glorious, Your sacred green trench-coat had made you notorious. Your belt like a serpent devoured its tail And you offered your Styrofoam cup like a grail …

We organized an on-line bidding session overseen by an auction house with international connections. The trench-coat alone brought in fifty thousand!

Working the register one day, I paid only slight attention when one of our customers started making small talk. "You know, I bought a pair of super-soft jeans at your auction, and now I'll be damned if I can find them." That night's six o'clock news DID get my attention. "…And now some breaking news! The Notorious Green Trench-Coat of the late Augustus Priest, on display at health care magnate Jerry Romanoff's Wolf Chapel estate, has been stolen! Police suspect an inside job, as all the doors were locked and alarmed, and all the security camera images had been strangely blurred. Live from the Romanoff mansion, this is Brittany Kimberly, Eyewitness News, reporting." More reports of missing items from the Priest auction immediately started pouring in, and the story became a media sensation.

Then things took an even stranger turn. All of Priest's clothes that had vanished had been found. They were at the Priest estate in Groundhog Hill, hanging in the massive wardrobe in Augie's bedroom. Police now suspected some crazed fan, though how he or she managed it was a mystery. Priest's agent had another explanation. "You know this just might be one of his insane practical jokes, perpetrated by his entourage of drinking buddies from the Chipmunk Run Cafe. I heard they once borrowed the corpse of a friend from the funeral home so they could party with him all night."

Publicity continued to crescendo on shows like Entertainment Edition Tonight: "And here's more on that bizarre story coming out of Pittsburgh. A plumber in Blawnox claimed that he heard Priest's shoes clomping down the stairs at four in the morning, although he was too scared to take a look. 'They were beautiful, hand-tooled deerskin boots with soft lamb's leather linings. They fit perfect (sic), but there's no way I want those spooky things back in my closet.'"

Most of the purchasers were not enthusiastic about owning haunted clothing and demanded their money back. The Priest wardrobe wanderings were proving to be a financial disaster. Besides all the refunds, the market for used garments had taken a precipitous decline, as people became aware that they might be walking around in dead people’s clothes.

Finally the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame came to our rescue. The Board agreed to purchase the entire collection, and house it in Priest's magnificent wardrobe in the "Tower of Songwriters." We received twenty percent more revenue than we had realized at the auction! The clothes have stayed put for the past two months, although the Hall reports that they are at times curiously rearranged. Perhaps it's just a publicity gimmick to get more attendees, but everyone seems content to let the legend persist.

Priest might appreciate the irony of his clothes ending up in Cleveland, considering the lyrics of "Larraine," his most famous song:

Larraine takes my pain down to Erie's frigid shore. My eyes frost over, bleary, as the gulls call "Nevermore," And she folds each scrawl of poem into an origami boat, And she flings them in the surf to see if any one will float. She tell me she’s the avatar of Cuyahoga's daughter, And she asks me to go with her as she walks upon the water…


This story is of course an homage to Leonard Cohen, and includes parodies of his songs "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Suzanne." Cohen’s father indeed owned a highly successful clothing store (in Montreal).

"Sometime in the early 1970s, a thief stole Leonard Cohen's old raincoat from Marianne Ihlen's New York apartment. God only knows what happened to it, but the thief almost certainly had no idea he was stealing an object that belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if not the Smithsonian."
         —, 11/26/14

back to issue