The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 24, 2007


Gorey's house, locally known as Elephant House, offers a relaxing porch for visitors to enjoy. Behind the house, to the right, towers the southern magnolia tree. (Photo by Penny Zezima)

The Scenic Route Yarmouthport, Mass.

One of the loveliest roads in New England is Route 6A on Cape Cod, and late summer is a prime time to meander down this scenic way. Each cottage garden is a riot of color, with rudbeckia and bee balm vying with hydrangeas and purple coneflowers for top honors. Houses run the gamut from quaint to magnificent; shops and restaurants are plentiful, and it is all just two hours away — what more could a daytripper ask for?

The Parnassus Book Shop

If you decide to explore this old Cape highway, you might want to explore two of my family's favorite places to visit, just a short block away from each other on Route 6A in Yarmouthport. Since my husband never met an old book he didn't want to peruse, the Parnassus Book Shop is a mecca of sorts to him. My children used to say that the Parnassus is where all old books go to die, and looking at the aging building, stacked to the ceiling with dusty tomes, I can understand this appellation.

When you enter the shop, you can feel a bit staggered by what seems like a random compilation of books; stay in there long enough and you begin to believe that the very books are the only things holding up the structure. For years the overflow of books not only spilled out into a bookcase that covers the entire outside wall of the store, but also into a vintage station wagon, forever parked in the front. The Parnassus can be, in a word, overwhelming.

Look closer, though, and treasures can be found: British editions of Harry Potter books, that one hardcover Lloyd Alexander book that completes your set, wonderful old cookbooks and out-of-print Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries. Old prints and maps sit in a dusty bin, just waiting to be discovered. Often the best part, though, is the denizens of the Parnassus Book Shop — erudite people who bring order to the mayhem if you only ask.

My favorite is a small man with a voice that can only be likened to an elderly Southern Katharine Hepburn, who regaled us with stories of his Boston Brahmin "Mama" who swore she'd never go to heaven if there were any Republicans there. When he found out we were from Carlisle, he said he had been there many times and, in a low voice, continued, "I used to visit Valleyhead Hospital quite regularly." And then he winked and added, "Such a lovely town."

One of Edward Gorey's signature illustrations, his black and white cat, greets visiors at the door. (Photo by Penny Zezima)

The Edward Gorey House

With books in tow, we then proceed to our next stop — the Edward Gorey House, just a block away from the book shop. This is the home of the famed illustrator and writer who probably is best known to some as the creator of the animated introduction to PBS's Mystery series. Gorey, who died in April 2000, left behind a fascinating house which has been turned into a museum. Here you can learn about the eccentric artist who created the scenery for the Tony-Award-winning play Dracula, illustrated many children's books and created such creatures of Gothic dark humor as The Doubtful Guest and The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

An early topiary effort depicts The Doubtful Guest, complete with sneakers and scarf. (Photo by Penny Zezima)
I first became a fan of Edward Gorey's arcane illustrations when I was given a book of ghost stories called Hauntings. The spare drawings were often more chilling than the stories themselves, and I was hooked. Years later, with children of my own, I found that Gorey was illustrating John Bellairs's mysteries for young readers. We began reading them, my children got hooked and have been fans ever since. For that reason, we never seem to tire of the museum. Every summer the curators offer a special appreciation to Gorey's art. Last summer, an exhibit showed how the Mystery animation came into being. This year, they mounted a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Doubtful Guest. For those who are unfamiliar with this dubious character, he is the cranky guest who never leaves, embodied by an aardvark/penguin-type creature who wears a flowing scarf and high-top sneakers. He is beloved by Gorey fans because of his endearing strangeness.

Outside the Gorey home sits a massive southern magnolia tree, very unusual for the Cape Cod climate, that was nurtured by Gorey and the spinster sisters who previously owned the house. At this time of year, it bursts into bloom with a heady fragrance. Visitors to the museum relax on the porch, enjoy the topiaries that dot the grounds, and often picnic on the green across the street. Visiting the Edward Gorey House is like a visit to your eccentric uncle, always welcoming and endlessly fascinating.

If you go . . .

The Parnassus Book Shop is located at 220 Route 6A (The Old King's Highway) in Yarmouthport. To check their hours, call them at 1-508-362-6420 or check their web site

The Edward Gorey House sits at 8 Strawberry Lane in Yarmouthport. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. They can be reached at 1-508-362-3909, or at their delightful web site,

While visiting the Yarmouthport area, there are plenty of places to head if you start feeling peckish. The Old Yarmouth Inn, at 223 Route 6A, offers a lovely dining experience for lunch and dinner. You may even catch sight of their ghost. Call them at 1-508-362-9962. If you're in the mood for more casual fare, the Scargo Cafe (1-508-385-8200), at 799 Route 6A in Dennis, has an eclectic menu that will surely hit the spot. If it is a lovely day, stop in Barnstable at the Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern at 3176 Main Street. A fieldstone patio offers dining that allows you to overlook Main Street while you enjoy a scrumptious lunch. Check out their hours at 1-508-362-2355.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito