Drove over to Yarmouth Port to visit the one-time home of writer and illustrator Edward Gorey and if I was clever enough the following notes would be presented alphabetically and in rhymed couplets as an homage to one of Gorey’s most famous books, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, kind of like this:
A is for ashes divided in thirds.
B is for books that he drew and sometimes wrote the words.
C is for cats who played with his ink.
D is for Dracula that made him rich clink clink clink
E is for Elephant House which he bought on a whim.
F is fur coats in which he looked quite trim.
No Edward Gorey, am I?
Better skip it.
Here are some notes on the visit, unrhymed and unalphabetized:
The skull on the table in the kitchen, wearing polarized sunglasses, is not Gorey’s.
People often ask, thinking that the keepers of the museum his house has become are as macabre as they assume Gorey himself was, their judgment of him as the kind of person who would want his skull displayed for the amusement of tourists based on his long career of producing pen and ink drawings that looked like they must have sprung from the mind of the kind of person who would want his skull displayed for the amusement of tourists.
Gorey died in 2000 at 75.
He keeled over on the couch in the living room of this house.
He was cremated and his ashes were divided.
One third were sent to be buried in Ohio in a family plot.
One third were set out to sea right here on the Cape.
And the last third were held in reserve, at his request, to be mingled with the ashes of his cats when the last of them died.
The last of the cats, Jane, died this spring.
Arrangements are being made.
Gorey drew his first cartoon when he was one and a half years old.
At the age of 6, he decided it was time to read a book by himself.
The book he chose to read was Dracula.
He was working on his own version of Dracula when he died.
In between, Dracula made his fortune.
He designed the sets and costumes for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula starring Frank Langella.
He won a Tony for his costume designs.
He was miffed that he didn’t win one for his set designs.
He was a devotee of the New York City Ballet and worshipped George Balanchine.
He used to attend rehearsals.
When Balanchine died Gorey declared that there was no reason to live in New York City anymore.
He bought the house in Yarmouth Port in 1987 with the money he made off Dracula.
Supposedly, he decided to buy the house when he was on the Cape visiting relatives and he passed by it one day and saw that the paint on the door was peeling.
That door needs to be repainted, he said and he was going to be the one that repainted it.
The house got nicknamed Elephant House because a friend thought the weathered siding looked like elephant hide.
Gorey put his studio in a small room upstairs.
His drawing table faced a window that was blocked by a large magnolia tree.
He chose that window so he wouldn’t be distracted by the view when he worked.
He worked kneeling down.
The door to the studio was always left open so his cats could come and go as they pleased.
The cats often came and went across his drawing table.
No one knows how many drawings in progress the cats ruined.
At one time, Gorey owned 21 full length fur coats.
One by one the coats were given away or sold off.
There are two left.
One is coyote fur.
It’s dyed yellow.
Perhaps to assuage his conscience over having worn their relatives at one time or another, Gorey allowed a family of raccoons to live in his attic.
He also allowed vines around the house to grow in through the windows of some rooms.
Got the impression he was not big on maintenance.
Also that his attitude towards housekeeping was philosophical bordering on the theoretical.
He may have bought the house mainly for storage and his living there was an afterthought.
He filled the place up with his many collections, which included rocks, junk he reflexively bought at yard sales, stuffed animals, and books.
Lots of books.
As many as 25,000 books.
He didn’t believe in shelves either.
But he had a system.
If anyone asked to borrow a book, he knew immediately whether or not he had it and exactly where among the many stacks to find it.
He loved stuffed animals.
Liked to get them as gifts.
Liked to make them himself.
Sewed the bodies as he watched television.
Favorite shows included Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Petticoat Junction.
The stuffed animals were stuffed with rice.
He’d go out to the kitchen during commercials to stuff them.
Then he got hooked on commercials.
He could no longer force himself to leave the room during commercial breaks.
Didn’t know how he was going to continue making stuffed animals.
Someone gave him a box of Uncle Ben’s Rice with a pour spout.
He kept the box by him as he watched TV and sewed.
Many stuffed animals followed.
Visitors to the house these days often include people who tell the docents they aren’t familiar with Gorey’s work and ask what they should know him from.
Our docent told us that she tells them that they probably do know Gorey’s work if not his name.
She’ll then show them a copy of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Cats illustrated by…
Oh, they’ll say, impressed now, because they all know the musical.
Gorey actually made his living and his reputation as an illustrator of other writers’ works.
Of course most visitors know Gorey for the work he did for Edward Gorey, particularly The Gashlycrumb Tinies.
There are Gashleycrumb Tinies around the house.
Like George here, smothered under a rug.
And Yorick, whose head was bashed in.
Since the mid-1980s, though, Gorey has been equally as well known for the opening credit sequence for PBS’ Mystery!
When PBS commissioned him to do the drawings that would be turned into the cartoon, they asked him for a storyboard for a one-minute cartoon.
He turned in a storyboard that would have run 45 minutes if it had been filmed.
Derek Lamb, the animator, drove up to Yarmouthport to have a talk with him.
Together they managed to pare things down to this:
Gorey-er: An interview with Gorey at the Mystery! website.