To the Other Shore
The story of Ellery Thompson will never really end, given the presence of his two books on library shelves and, in the case of Draggerman's Haul, at bookshops and online booksellers. Joseph Mitchell's New Yorker profile will be around indefinitely in his anthology, The Bottom of the Harbor. Other details, and perhaps a few surprises, will be available to researchers at the Mystic River Historical Society, Mystic Seaport, and the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library in New London's Custom House Maritime Museum.
The Historical Society is near Ellery's Mystic birthplace and just two blocks from a former boarding house at Elm and Library Streets where Ellery's mother lived near the end of her life and where Ellery stayed for a year -- in the attic -- when he first "came ashore." The Society is now preserving most of the Thompson-Krepcio archive for posterity so Ellery's legacy has, in a sense, come full circle.
And another circle is closed in New London, Ellery's home for many years, where more evidence of his legacy is preserved at the Custom House Maritime Museum and its library. Ellery was familiar with the Custom House when it was an important government building on the waterfront. Fishing boats were registered there, the Weather Service alerted mariners with signal flags on a rooftop poie, the Customs Collector received duties on incoming cargo, and during Prohibition was called upon to adjuticate smuggling cases while stashing confiscated booze in the basement. Ellery himself was summoned one day to answer questions about his involvement with rum runner Bill McCoy and the schooner Arethusa.
The Custom House Maritime Museum display of Thompson paintings, books, and artifacts was described earlier in this exhibit. Museum Director Susan Tamulevich and Ellery's friends, Marion Krepcio and Stephen Jones have, each in their own way, kept the story of Ellery Thompson alive for present and future generations.
A brief account of Ellery's last rites occurs at the beginning of a 90-page Afterword by Stephen Jones in the expanded edition of Draggerman's Haul published by Flat Hammock Press in 2007. He describes the raw, windy April day in 1986 when a small group of friends gathered at Elm Grove Cemetery on the Mystic River for the interment. Pallbearers included Jones and Bernard Gordon. The grave was next to that of his brother Morris, lost overboard in a storm in 1930 -- a family tragedy recounted in Draggerman's Haul.
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In its sublime brevity Ellery's gravestone epitaph stands in striking contrast to his very talkative, word-filled life. Incised in the granite surface with his name, the span of his years, and a likeness of the Eleanor, are seven carefully chosen words reminding him that the curtain must inevitably be drawn down:
IMAGINE THE EXCITEMENT ON THE OTHER SHORE
He had been reliving the past for decades in his writings and paintings, and to a long parade of listeners. Now he was ready to discover what lay in the other direction.
--Brian Rogers, Online Exhibitions Curator, March, 2020