7 June 2011

Edward Gorey's Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Unless a person is aware of the work of the artist and writer Edward Gorey (1925-2000), they would of course have no idea what to expect from a visit to the Edward Gorey House (or 'Elephant House') at tiny Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod. Just another museum? Well, hardly.

The facade of the house reveals no abnormalities at all. But the parking lot's at the side, facing the garden.

In the garden is a magnolia tree, and a notice reveals the history of it:

'The Edward Gorey House
Southern Magnolia Tree

'As told to us by Docent and local friend of
Edward's, Sally White

'A tree rarely seen in this part of the country, this southern magnolia was brought back from Mount Vernon in a small pot by the sisters who resided in the house, Louise and Olive Simpkins, during one of their "motoring" trips from 1928 (or perhaps 1929.) Olive, who was tall, slender and shy, always did the driving on the sister's [sic] journeys: Louise, who was short,
heavyset and the life of the party did not drive.

'The tree has managed to flourish in harsh New England weather,  most likely because it is partially shielded from the elements in this nook of what is now the Edward Gorey House, receiving shelter from the winds and an abundance of sunshine.

'Louise and Olive had another sister, Ethel, who built a replica of this house nearby. After her sisters passed away, Ethel would sell the magnificent flowers that the tree produces at the Yarmouth Port library for $1.00. When a local woman complained of the price of a flower, Ethel firmly reminded her the proceeds were for the benefit of the library.

'When Ethel died, September 15th 1978, she requested that her funeral not include any store-bought flowers, either real or artificial, but instead be decorated "with whatever was growing in the yard at the time." This tree produced a single bloom the day Ethel was buried (a rare occurrence so late in the season) and her friends had to climb out the third storey window to retrieve it for her service, where it was arranged with ivy from the yard.'

But things get odder. I couldn't make sense of the rockery to find any snake, but this other poster begins to ease us into the world of Edward Gorey:


'Both the interior and the exterior of 8 Strawberry
Lane was [sic] decorated by Edward Gorey with rocks
of all shapes and sizes, most of them in no
particular order or arrangement of any
meaning to anyone except for Edward himself.

'In his lifetime, this particular part of the yard was
very much overgrown, intentionally so by
Edward who had a penchant for allowing
everything he shared his home with to go about its
business. He included his lawn in that philosophy
of simply letting things be.

'This rock formation was not therefore as visible as
visible today as it is with its manicured lawn. When asked
what he was doing during the installation of these rocks
in their serpentine pattern, Edward responded
that he was building a serpent for others
to discover just as you have.'

In keeping with a place in which the former owner loved cats, the Gorey House cat just sort of wandered in and moved in. This huge monster is obviously spoiled rotten, and was called Ombledroom in a naming competition, although the paper in the museum that informs the visitor of this also mentions 'Omble' for short, or 'Mr E.', or 'Mystery', but I never got round to reading that in the house, only on the photo I took. Hey, yeah, this is another place you can take photos! Let's see some.

Gorey also made a number of puppets (often for his puppet plays), but there's so much here, so:

'Do not ask "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.'

Which reminds me that Gorey illustrated an edition of T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
 And he not only also illustrated Bram Stoker's Dracula, but made the set and costume design for the stage adaptation that ran for over 1000 performances on Broadway.

'It came 17 years ago - and to this day
it has shown no intention of going away.'

The Doubtful Guest was published in 1957. Gorey's principal literary influences are perhaps Ronald Firbank, Evelyn Waugh, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Agatha Christie, although The Doubtful Guest's mutation, Figbash, has been compared with Max Erst's Loplop, and Gorey himself owned to Chinese, Japanese and Symbolist art influences.

Gorey possessed more than twenty fur coats, but later regretted it, and allowed several racoons to live in his attic in a kind of jesture of conciliation.

When he was older, Gorey spent all his time in Cape Cod and put on productions locally. Above is a poster for 'Epistolary Play', which was an 'entertainment read by two actors' in nearby Cotoit Center for the Arts for Fridays and Saturdays for a month in the summer of 1997.

 Gorey's kitchen.

Productions Gorey put on often involved glove puppets, of which a number are on display here.

The caption above states that Gorey's big bear was purchased at FAO Schwarz in New York City,  and adds that it had to be kept at Gorey's cousin's in order to prevent the cats from mutilating it.

 A few examples of the kind of things that Gorey used to have around him.

 Interesting, if inexplicable - as of course it should be.

 'Eek' is billed as 'A staged reading of works by Edward Gorey' performed by the Cape Rep Theatre in East Brewster, which was presumably posthumously.

Rick Jones lent the house the Edward Gorey urn, which is believed to have been a finial from a horse-drawn hearse, and the base of which is by Gorey's close friend Herbert Senn. The urn contains none of Gorey's ashes: about half were buried with his family in Ohio, and the other half 'transported out to sea on a wreath of magnolia branches taken from the famed Gorey House tree.' A few ashes remaining were, according to Gorey's wishes,  thrown in the yard of his house.

I couldn't resist buying this short book by 'Ogred Weary', which of course is one of several pseudonyms he used, along with Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, etc. It probably doesn't need to be said that this book can in no way be described as 'pornographic': everything is suggested, and all is in the mind of the reader.

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