Jumpstart to Fame: Ellery in The New Yorker
Ellery's reputation suddenly spread far beyond southeastern Connecticut in January, 1947, when Joseph Mitchell published a lively profile in two successive issues of The New Yorker. Readers learned a great deal about dragging (the trawling technique using wide nets pulled along the ocean floor,) the Stonington fishing fleet, Ellery’s own dragger Eleanor, and the shipment of their hauls, day in and day out, to New York.
More to the point, however, readers gained vivid impressions of the profilee: “companiable but reserved…and about as self-sufficient as a man can be. He has no wife, no politics, and no religion.” Much of Mitchell's story was told in Ellery’s own words, and as his life story makes plain, Ellery was never short of them.
The second New Yorker installment focused on the “gentle, bony, sad-eyed Yankee bachelor of forty-seven” who had taken up painting in 1930 while living aboard the Eleanor, and describes Ellery’s unique working relationship with Daniel Merriman, Herbert Warfel, and other scientists from Yale’s Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory.
Below: Ellery's maritime world, as drawn by him, served as endpapers for his second book, Come Aboard the Draggers
The New Yorker profile reached new readers when it was included in The Bottom of the Harbor, a collection of Mitchell's writings published in 1959. A handsome Limited Editions Club version came out in 1991, a Modern Library edition in 1994. In 2008, the centenary of Mitchell's birth, it was reissued as "the essential book of a legendary writer." Through Mitchell, Ellery's story has also been told in French (Le Fond du Port) and German (Zwischen den Flussen), and as an eBook.
Coincidentally, Ellery and Joseph Mitchell both died at age 87, Mitchell in 1996, ten years after the fisherman he made famous in one of his "stories about ordinary people," as The New York Times put it.
"Mr. Mitchell was also the poet of the waterfront...of the Fulton Fish Market, of the clammers on Long Island and the oystermen on Staten Island; people who caught, sold and ate seafood and talked about it incessantly.
"He himself remains...a melancholy man...seeking the company of solitary men who are gregarious only in the company of other isolates, sniffing out the odors of the Fulton Fish Market and its old hotels."