Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Edward Gorey House

We made a long-awaited pilgrimage to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port today. I've loved his drawings and stories since I discovered them as a teenager. In my 20s and 30s, when I had a better, slinkier wardrobe, I was periodically told I dressed and behaved like one of his characters. (In those days, I was prone to falling to the floor in a gracefully posed "dead faint" when my boss and I had to deal with some unpleasant problem. She got used to it after the first few times, and we'd continue our discussion as I lay on her tattered oriental. How I loved working for her.)

If you don't know who Edward Gorey is, I hardly know how to begin to tell you. It's too depressing to imagine that you've made it this far without knowing about this brilliant artist and writer, who was truly and completely one-of-a-kind. I feel like flinging myself from a Gothic parapet in sympathy with your misfortune. But it can be remedied: leave this silly blog and start with Wikipedia (and be sure you click on all the links). And then read his illustrated books, and visit his house. You won't be the same after all that, I guarantee.

Gorey's house is just off Route 6A in Yarmouth Port.
It's in a state of exquisite decay, full of his art and possessions...

... and an obese cat named Ombledroom, who was adopted recently. 
Here he is at work, sleeping on a doll version of a dead little boy named George.
"G is for George smothered under a rug." — The Gashlycrumb Tinies 

Gorey loved cats and usually had at least five.

Mr. Gorey was always a hero of mine, and I have very few heroes. I had the good luck to have talked with him on the phone a couple of times in the late '90s, to invite him to do a puppet show of one of his plays at the MFA. Some friends in his theater group came up with the idea, and I got the job of trying to persuade him to agree. (All that fainting and walking around in drippy black skirts paid off.) We scheduled programs far in advance, and he told me with alarm that he'd be much too nervous to perform at the museum, and that the performance dates I was offering him were all so far away (maybe six or eight months) that he fully expected he'd be dead by then. He wasn't feeling well, he said. (He died in 2000.) I used all my powers of gentle persuasion and flattery, but he was adamant, and the last thing I wanted was to annoy or upset him. A few months later, he came to the museum and signed books for the shop. I worshiped from a distance; I was suddenly too shy to approach him. He did look frail.

Mr. Gorey often wore fur coats and tennis shoes 
before he decided that wearing fur was unethical.

"Ogdred Weary" is an anagram he often used as a pseudonym.

Today, I told the tour guide how thrilled I'd been to have Mr. Gorey's phone number in my rolodex — and he told me it had always been listed in the Cape's White Pages. Oh, well.

Scenes from the house:

Display on a windowsill with creepy baby in a pot.

The Doubtful Guest considers the flue.

Still life with bespectacled skull.

"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs." — The Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Doubtful Guest lurking outside and growing ivy.

It was a memorable afternoon. I lingered, petting Ombledroom and chatting with the tour guide. Edward Gorey had 25,000 books! We saw photos of them, stacked on floors and tables as well as filling sagging shelves. We saw his jewelry collection, one of his many fur coats, and a scarf just like the one the Doubtful Guest always wears, which he wore. And, somehow, I managed to prevent myself from buying one of everything in the shop. I satisfied myself with a new book of his posters and a few other little things. (I can always shop online.)

Last winter, the Boston Athenaeum had an exhibition of a large number of Gorey's pen-and-ink drawings; the collection belongs to the Brandywine River Museum, not the Gorey House. The show was marvelous; I went twice. I'd expected the drawings to be larger, but they are about the same small size as they are in his books. He was meticulous with his pen, if rather casual in his housekeeping. As it should be, I think.

Here's a nice coincidence: yesterday's Atlantic has a review of a new book of Gorey's letters to a friend. Even the envelopes were covered with amazing illustrations. Must add that to my Amazon Wish List.


  1. PBS...Mystery...and while I've never read any of his books, the house is so wonderful, the cat and the porch sign...thanks for sharing your day!

  2. What a wonderful post! We're planning a trip to Cape Cod soon and the Edmund Gorey house is high on my lists of things to visit while I'm there, I'm also a huge fan of his work. Thanks for the delightful virtual visit!

  3. I love Edward Gorey's work and I am so happy I stumbled upon this wonderful post. I live in Australia so I don't know if I'll ever get to the Edward Gorey House, but it's certainly on my travel wish list. I'm also besotted with cats and Ombledroom is adorable! (He looks like he has a 1920s centre-parted hairdo.)


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