This piece was originally published September 28th, 2010.
It was decided that after being a fan of the works of Edward Gorey for more than thirty years, it was high time that The Mystery Box Field Expedition Team would finally visit his home, which is affectionately called Elephant House.
I couldn’t have been more excited for this chance to see first-hand what was now turned into a museum and thankfully, a living, breathing and ongoing exhibit of both his multitude of creations. Here you can experience Gorey creations such as The Gashlycrumb Tinies (they are also scattered through the house like a scavenger hunt), The Doubtful Guest, his animated sequences for the PBS series Mystery! plus, the everyday objects that he collected and lived among. The objects that almost invariably turned into inspirations for all his works.
Edward Gorey considered himself a writer first and an illustrator second, however it is nearly impossible for any fan to separate his stories from his drawings. His inimitable pen and ink style put him in the same “instantly recognizable” category alongside art history luminaries such as Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollack Salvador Daliand Andy Warhol.
Located at 8 Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port on Massachusett’s Cape Cod, the house’s nickname came from the house’s original weathered shingles that looked like an elephant’s skin.
After growing up and living in New York City, Gorey had already made a name for himself, both through his infamous work and daily eccentricity. He attended (wearing fur coats and always loads of jewelry, not something often seen by a man of the time in NYC) nightly performances of the New York City Ballet under the great George Balanchine. Gorey decided to leave the city when Balanchine, his sole reason for staying, passed away. Having often visited relatives in Cape Cod, he purchased and settled in the run down summer home of two sisters.
In 1977, a Broadway production of Dracula, starring Frank Langella, used Gorey set designs and costumes. This production was a lucrative hit and provided Gorey not only with a Tony Award for best costumes (not set designs, which always infuriated him) but a means to purchase the house in 1987 after a drive by its paint peeling doorway left him with an urge to buy the property so that he could paint it.
Not only a place to draw, paint and create, Elephant House would become Gorey’s collection of everything that he loved.
Here was a haven for his beloved pet cats that would work their way into his drawings, a place for the 25,000 books he owned, objects he found interest in or received as gifts, and the many rice filled stuffed creatures that he would make while relaxing and watching his favorite tv shows, Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman The Animated Series, The X-Files and Petticoat Junction.
Entering Gorey House is as excitedly overwhelming as it would be to try and hunt down everything that Gorey produced during his lifetime.
There is a small gift shop where you can purchase his books and unique collectibles, display upon display of etchings, prints, illustrations, sketchbooks and rare editions (I particularly loved the foreign versions of his books) and a lovably hefty house kitty who now resides there during the house’s open visitor season.
Glass enclosed shelves now contain mini exhibits of some of the objects that Gorey collected over time. Walking in without knowing Gorey’s work, a person might ask, why all the vintage hand cheese graters, tiny cute faced stuffed animals, or a seemingly random plethora of doorknobs, small knickknacks and found curios? Their loss, as I immediately recognized characters, designs and that overall wonderful Gorey aesthetic that permeated his world on paper.
Upstairs is closed off (housing offices and storage) and some of the rooms have now been arranged so that each exhibit (they change annually) could be shown under glass cases and along the walls.
For this year, the exhibit has been Gorey’s work as an illustrator for the many other authors he illustrated, with various book jackets, sketches, rare outtake designs and imaginatively Goreyesque takes on well known literary classics.
At Elephant House, you can not only enjoy the serene exterior setting of where the house is located (the giant and rare Southern Magnolia Tree which Gorey looked upon from his 2nd floor studio window is, but Edward Gorey’s interior world—that of a playfully childlike take on life and its often perilous journey to an unknown ending. Styles that bring to mind the roaring ’20s, as well as the Victorian and Edwardian eras are all mixed together with a healthy dose of good natured black humor, Halloween macabre, and a very witty misanthropy.
Far from your average staid museum or home to some great (and often yawn inducing) famous author or composer, Edward Gorey’s house not only provides a look into his storage/living space, along with super rare items, but a peek into the nook of his brain. A place where Edward Gorey happily found a co-existence for many amusingly offbeat elements in such a deliriously calm setting that is good old fashioned Cape Cod.
More information on memberships, hours and directions can be found at The Edward Gorey House.
Edward Gorey was also a strong advocate for animals and contributed to and worked with many animal charities, among them the Animal Rescue League of Boston.