Edward Gorey’s “Elephant House”, Cape Cod, 2005
My only acquaintance with the whimsical works of Edward Gorey were the animations that he produced in 1980 for the PBS series “Mystery”. Who can forget the swooning Victorian lady in the cemetery or the dark figures playing croquet in a rainstorm?
I had these images in mind when my sister and I made a visit last year to “Elephant House”, his place of residence for many years in Yarmouthport, Cape Cod. Since his death in 2000 the home has been converted to a museum celebrating his life’s work.
The rambling house is over 200 yrs. old and seems to derive it’s name from the strange siding. It is wood that is weathered and wrinkled with age, like the skin of an elephant. Gorey was eccentric enough to want to keep it like that and wouldn’t think of having it scraped and repainted.
We were pleased to find that the curators of the museum were his nephews. They conducted tours and happily answered any questions about this fascinating and often macabre individual who had been their uncle.
Edward Gorey was a complex person. He was an illustrator who also wrote...or you could say that he was a writer with an artistic bent. His combination of words and pictures has classified him as a humorist but he was much more than that. He loved the ballet and his cats…and could never get enough of either. Allusions to both show up in his works constantly.
He was an eclectic, and eccentric, creative artist. Many of his works are geared to children but most editors shunned them as being unsuitable because of their dark humor. His “Alphabet Book”, for example, depicts the perils of childhood: (“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs” and “Q is for Quentin who sank in a mire”.) Edward Gorey produced more than 70 books in his lifetime and he never ran out of ideas. He constantly “pushed the envelope”, testing and teasing his readers.
He lived alone but was not a loner. He was often seen on the streets of Yarmouthport in his ankle-length fur coat and he ate both breakfast and lunch in a local café every day. It was said that he happily autographed napkins and any other item that his public presented to him.
After our tour the nephews told us to wander at our leisure and we did. Every nook and cranny was filled with remembrances of Edward Gorey... books, paintings, puppets, stuffed animals and even gravestones out in a garden with the chiseled letters R.I.P. It was a museum unlike any I’ve been to before or since and it was great fun. It truly lived up to it’s name...GOREY.