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Selling History: Camp David Restaurant Auctions Memorabilia

A landmark restaurant near Camp David popular with presidents has auctioned off 85 years' worth of memorabilia and artifacts.

THURMONT, Md. — Ten minutes down the road from Camp David, the Cozy Restaurant has been the go-to watering hole for passing motorists and presidents alike for 85 years. On Monday, it was not the White House motorcade but a horde of local residents who stopped to say goodbye — and maybe take with them a piece of history.

The Cozy shut its doors in June, and this week, everything has to go. Piece by piece, the landmark was auctioned off: salt shakers, light fixtures, Christmas ornaments and, most notably, the artifacts inside the restaurant's Camp David Museum — including a bear skin rug from a beast slayed by President Herbert Hoover and a jukebox reportedly once played by Winston Churchill.

Founded in 1929 by Wilbur Freeze, the Cozy Inn — and the adjoining restaurant, opened a year later — attracted rough housers and stunt artists whose talents ranged from live burials to sky dives without parachutes. The arrival of the presidential retreat down the road a decade later helped business grew and hushed the shenanigans, and by the 1940s, the Cozy was the official rest area for FDR's Secret Service detail.

"It's a bit of history going away, and it's kind of sad to see," said longtime resident Clive Rowley, 73, who came with friends to possibly bid on the 1925 wooden railroad caboose wedged inside the restaurant. "I would like to see it stay around, but I guess that's not going to be the case."

For his part, owner Jerry Freeze did not share in the nostalgia. "I'm not really very upset about it, really. You think I would be after all these years. I've been here my whole life." Sitting behind the same counter where his father Wilbur once managed reservations, Freeze, 79, said the next generation of Freezes is not interested in taking on the restaurant given hard financial times. Public records reportedly showed the restaurant owed nearly $180,000 in federal and state taxes, according to NBC Washington.

For tourists too late to witness the history inside the dining rooms, the hotel portion of the Cozy establishment remains open for now. Walking past rooms named after their famous patrons, Freeze rattled off famous guests he's seen through the years: Churchill, Eisenhower, Nixon, Cronkite.

"Now would be another time to make a transition," sighed Freeze. "I'm just getting up there in years a little bit. I'd never thought I'd run out of energy, but I have."