Killing children is generally frowned upon, but Edward Gorey did it all the time. He squashed them with trains, fed them to bears, poisoned them with lye, forced them to swallow tacks, watched them waste away, and burned them in fires; on his watch, they died of everything from fits to flying into bits. In perhaps the most popular of Gorey’s eight abecedarian books, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” twenty-six children, beginning with Amy “who fell down the stairs” and ending with Zillah “who drank too much gin,” meet their demise one page at a time in pitch-perfect rhyme. That macabre sequence has been lovingly staged with dolls and paper cutouts as a scavenger hunt in the Edward Gorey House on Cape Cod, the museum that occupies the Yarmouth Port property where he spent the last fourteen years of his life.
Through the end of this year, the “Elephant House,” as Gorey called 8 Strawberry Lane, is also hosting a special exhibit on the artist’s young subjects. “Hapless Children: Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood” features art and prose from throughout Gorey’s prolific career: original pen-and-ink drawings from his more than a hundred novellas, volumes of poetry, plays, puppet shows, and nonsense collections, together with illustrations and covers for this magazine and for works by the likes of Muriel Spark, Bram Stoker, T. S. Eliot, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Samuel Beckett.