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The Elephant House: A Visit to the Edward Gorey House

Joanna By Joanna Published on July 25, 2016

The Edward Gorey House is a fitting memorial to one of Cape Cod's weirdest and most wonderful residents. John Updike described him as "a cheerfully morbid bachelor who refused to put away childish things . . . an acquisitor of appealing oddments."

Gorey moved to Cape Cod in 1986. His home in Yarmouth Port, also known as the Elephant House, was made into a rather peculiar shrine after his death in 2000. The eighteenth century house at 8 Strawberry Lane originally belonged to a sea captain. 

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The Doubtful Guest

A topiary of Gorey's Doubtful Guest welcomes visitors into the garden before entering the house. One of Gorey's most popular characters, the Doubtful Guest is a strange penguin-like creature which takes residence in a vaguely Edwardian manor to the reserved horror of its aristocratic inhabitants.  This Doubtful Guest certainly shows no intention of going away. Beneath the topiary's feet is a large arrangement of stones which Gorey had carefully placed over the course of several years in the shape of a serpent. 

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The Sausage Train – Edward Gorey's very first masterpiece
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The Gorey house contains some of Edward Gorey's earliest artworks including The Sausage Train, which he drew at the tender age of 18 months. 

Gorey had worn fur coats for much of his life; many of his self-portraits feature him in a characteristic raccoon coat. In 1980, he had a serious change of heart and put all of his fur coats into storage for the rest of his life. At one point, he coexisted peacefully with a family of raccoons who took up residence in the attic at 8 Strawberry Lane. The Gorey Museum displays one of these coats, but auctioned the rest to benefit the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust which now funds numerous animal welfare organizations. 

Some of Gorey's most famous work is about cats including his illustrations for T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and Category. At the Elephant House, Gorey often kept six cats because he felt that "seven cats is too many cats." A portion of Gorey's ashes was held in an urn in the house until the death of his two cats so that they could remain together in the yard at the house.

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The curators have placed a scavenger hunt throughout the house based on one of Gorey's perennially popular books, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, "an alphabetical phantasmagoria in which a succession of infants meet dreadful ends." 

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G is for George smothered under a rug
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J is for James who took lye by mistake

His works and curious household items on display are rotated frequently and lovingly curated. The Edward Gorey House is certainly worth a visit (or several!)

Joanna has twice won certificates of honour (and a free beer) for demonstrating “extraordinary courage against the unsurmountable Phaal”, a ludicrously spicy curry.