Big Edie’s House of Romance and Ghosts

Little Edie & Big Edie
Illustrations by Zoë Frederick

Big Edie (1895–1977) & Little Edie (1917–2002)

“Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale were a memorable mother-daughter pair. Immortalized in the documentary “Grey Gardens,” the duo lived in a 28-room derelict mansion in East Hampton, N.Y., for more than 50 years. The house’s condition—infested with vermin and fleas, with no running water and mounds of garbage—attracted attention from both the National Inquirer and New York Magazine in the early 1970s. But the pair saw real beauty in their abode: Grey Gardens was “oozing with romance, ghosts, and other things,” Little Edie says in the documentary. Big and Little Edie were also the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Upon hearing of the home’s condition, Onassis and her sister, Lee Radziwill, helped fund the rehabilitation of the estate.

“Two women can’t live together for twenty years without some jealousy. Not that my voice is better than Mother’s, but she can’t dance.” —Little Edie
“Two women can’t live together for twenty years without some jealousy. Not that my voice is better than Mother’s, but she can’t dance.”
—Little Edie

This feature originally appeared in the Mothers & Grandmothers issue. For more inspiring stories about women, check out The Journey of a Female Sommelier: From Paris to New York and our Women In History section.