“E” is for Ed­ward — Gorey, and his ec­cen­tric Cape Cod home.

Artist’s Mass. abode now is a fun mu­seum

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY AN­DREA SACHS an­drea.sachs@wash­post.com

There lies George, his life­less legs pok­ing out from be­neath a rug. An un­for­tu­nate death, to be sure, but it could have been worse. An en­tire case hold­ing thou­sands of theater ticket stubs could have fallen on him, flat­ten­ing the poor boy like an anvil.

Ed­ward Gorey might have been macabre, but he wasn’t cruel.

The Ed­ward Gorey House, in Yar­mouth Port, Mass., is stuffed with ref­er­ences to the author’s il­lus­trated books (for George et al., see “The Gash­ly­crumb Tinies”) as well as ar­ti­facts that of­fer a cob­webbed win­dow into his world.

“We don’t use the ‘H’ word,” said do­cent Emily Wood. “We say that he was an en­thu­si­as­tic col­lec­tor.”

The Chicago-born writer and artist spent his last 14 years re­sid­ing in a 200-year-old sea cap­tain’s house on Cape Cod. When he died in 2000, he was sur­vived by a pair of cousins in nearby Barn­sta­ble, more than 100 works of lit­er­a­ture and a home suf­fo­cated by stuff.

The mu­seum, which opened in 2002, changes its ex­hibits an­nu­ally. Past shows have in­cluded “From Ae­sop to Updike, Ed­ward Gorey’s Book Cover Art,” “F is for Fan­tods” and “Ed­ward Gorey’s En­ve­lope Art.” The current “Ed­ward Gorey’s Cab­i­net of Cu­riosi­ties” runs through Dec. 31. (The mu­seum closes Jan. 1 till April 15 to as­sem­ble the next show.)

This year’s theme cen­ters on Wun­derkam­mers, the 15th-cen­tury tra­di­tion of gal­leries, a pre­de­ces­sor to our modern-day mu­se­ums. Emily said that the staff didn’t know if Gorey had amassed goods for in­tel­lec­tual rea­sons or be­cause of pack-rat urges. Or maybe he was just feel­ing ex­pan­sive: Af­ter squish­ing into a tiny Man­hat­tan apart­ment for years, Gorey fi­nally had the space for his 25,000 books, rocks, glass ves­sels, tarot cards and kitchen tools, among other be­long­ings.

Emily led me through the en­tire first floor, start­ing in the Front Room and end­ing in the Ball Room, a repos­i­tory of round ob­jects. We passed the main en­trance, which Gorey never used. A fer­vent an­i­mal lover, he avoided the door be­cause he didn’t want to up­set a bird’s nest in the screen. At­tic ren­o­va­tions took an ex­cep­tion­ally long time be­cause he sched­uled the con­struc­tion around the com­ings and go­ings of a fam­ily of res­i­dent rac­coons.

“He gave more per­son­al­ity and char­ac­ter to animals and inan­i­mate ob­jects,” said Gre­gory His­chak, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor. “He drew peo­ple in a very naive man­ner.”

The cre­ator of the in­tro to PBS’s “Mystery!” also killed them off.

The mu­seum in­vites vis­i­tors to em­bark on a scav­enger hunt in­spired by “The Gash­l­ey­crumb Tinies,” an al­pha­bet les­son il­lus­trated by the grim deaths of wee ones. Find all of the deadly de­vices — tacks, peach, leech, awl, en­nui — and win a (non­fa­tal) book­mark.

“All 26 un­for­tu­nate and some­what dim chil­dren are around the house,” said Emily, low­er­ing her voice to a con­spir­a­to­rial whis­per to add, “Su­san is be­hind me.” (She died of fits.)

Gorey’s artis­tic skills, as well as his skewed sense of hu­mor, sur­faced at a young age. He drew his first work of art, “Sausage Train,” when he was 18 months old. (The sketch re­sem­bles snow peas with train­ing wheels.) He cre­ated his first book, “Sketches in Two Vol­umes with Sup­ple­ment,” at the age of 12. He drew a de­tec­tive dog and nat­tily dressed cats that seem to presage his an­i­mal rights ac­tivism and sar­to­rial style.

“He wore that ev­ery­where,” Emily said of an an­kle-length rac­coon coat on dis­play. “He’d wear it to the bal­let with tennis shoes and jeans.”

I men­tioned that the fur coats seemed to con­tra­dict his pro-crit­ter stance.

“He wore them un­til PETA came along,” she joked.

Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, he named his Cape Cod abode the Ele­phant House. Emily of­fered sev­eral pos­si­ble rea­sons for the moniker: the gray roof shin­gles, which re­sem­bled the an­i­mal’s hide; a piece of pachy­derm-head­shaped drift­wood he had dis­cov­ered; or sim­ply his fond­ness for the lum­ber­ing mam­mal.

Sev­eral pho­tos fea­ture Gorey with his brood of cats, another fa­vorite crea­ture. Af­ter his death, friends divvied up his ashes. They floated some out to sea on a raft dec­o­rated with mag­no­lias and gave his mother in Chicago a pinch. The rest joined his cats’ re­mains in the back yard. Note to squea­mish guests: The urn on dis­play, which is wrapped in a Har­vard scarf, is empty.

Gorey’s yen for ac­cu­mu­lat­ing ob­jects is on tow­er­ing dis­play. He stock­piled potato mash­ers, cheese graters, frog fig­urines, door knobs, Beanie Ba­bies and tas­sels, which played a men­ac­ing role in his 1976 pic­ture book, “Les Passe­menter­ies Hor­ri­bles.” In a case filled with board games and toys, a photo shows a bearded Gorey beam­ing af­ter he com­pleted a 500-piece puz­zle of three bears that are the same shade of brown.

Just as he found laugh­ter in death, he dis­cov­ered beauty in bad art. The mu­seum hangs some of his finds from flea mar­kets and yard sales, such as a paint­ing of a calendar-cute cat. He also pur­chased high-end art by French im­pres­sion­ists and mod­ernists. The Wadsworth Atheneum Mu­seum of Art in Hart­ford, Conn., will share 75 of these works in its ex­hibit, “Gorey’s Worlds,” which runs from Feb. 10 through May 6, 2018.

“He wanted to give these artists hope,” Emily said of his equalop­por­tu­nity ap­proach.

Gorey ac­cu­mu­lated a sub­stan­tial sum of money as the set and cos­tume de­signer for the 1977 Broad­way re­vival of “Drac­ula,” which earned him a Tony Award for cos­tume de­sign. He used his earn­ings to buy the Cape Cod house. Dur­ing the move from New York, he re­mem­bered to pack the arm of his mummy, which the mu­seum en­cased in a Cin­derella slip­per-like box. How­ever, he for­got its head on a closet shelf. A sign in­forms concerned vis­i­tors that the New York Po­lice Depart­ment “may or may not have the lost head in lockup.”

In the kitchen, I learned about Gorey’s din­ing habits. He ate at Jack’s Out­back al­most daily. His friend, Rick Jones, who is the mu­seum’s di­rec­tor and a pre­vi­ous co-owner of Jack’s, crafted a col­lage out of guest checks from the neigh­bor­hood restau­rant. Ac­cord­ing to “A Month in the Life of Ed­ward Gorey at Jack’s Out­back,” June 1998 was a very good month for poached eggs in a bowl and English muffins with cream cheese.

The kitchen was also teem­ing with Tinies.

“Did you find the leech yet?” Emily asked a young boy grip­ping the check­list in one hand, a pen­cil in the other. “That’s not the only one in the cor­ner. I don’t know who took a bite out of that peach, and don’t touch that hatchet. It’s sharp. Don’t for­get this poor crea­ture, ei­ther. She looks kind of sad.”

Of course she’s blue: Clara suc­cumbed to wast­ing away.

In the gift shop, I ran into Rick and asked him if Gorey ever in­cor­po­rated Cape Cod res­i­dents or lo­cales into his sto­ries. He said Gorey’s Barn­sta­ble rel­a­tives ap­peared in “The Deranged Cousins.”

“They all kill each other in the end,” he said.

If George weren’t un­der the rug, he surely would have cast a know­ing glance our way.

AN­DREA SACHS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

AN­DREA SACHS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

AN­DREA SACHS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Gorey’s home for the last 14 years of his life now is a mu­seum ded­i­cated to his unique style. His sink fea­tures un­for­tu­ante char­ac­ter Una, from “The Gash­ly­crumb Tinies.” (She slipped down a drain.) Many of the glass-pro­tected items were flea-mar­ket finds. Gorey’s trade­mark rac­coon coat is on dis­play next to a self-por­trait.

AN­DREA SACHS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

VINCE DEWITT/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ABOVE: Il­lus­tra­tor Ed­ward Gorey left be­hind a large legacy of work — as well as a huge amount of, well, stuff.

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