When John Cheever died, the flags in Ossining flew at half mast. He lived in Ossining from 1961 until his death in 1982 — just down Cedar Lane from the Cabin, as it happens. A vitrine dedicated to the writer occupies a wall of the Ossining Public Library, built in 2007, and many locals have a Cheever story to tell. Like the one a neighbor shared about the time John stripped naked to swim at a cocktail function and it cleared the party. Whatever his behavior, his skill and imagination had me stoked when I took a fiction writing class in college where the only text was the writer’s Collected Stories.
Cheever wasn’t the only great artist to live in Ossining — Walker Evans resided on his sister’s farm here in 1928 (where he grew hybrid gladiolas) and intermittently in the years afterward, and he produced dozens of photographs here, including this one, in the collection of the Met.
We drive by the bank standing at this fork every time we go to the library.
Evans called himself “tourmente, serre par la sante perverse d’Amerique” — “tormented, constrained by the perverse well-being of America.”
When they first met Cheever worked as a darkroom assistant to Evans. Later Evans captured a young, penniless Cheever’s boarding house room on Hudson Street. In all the photos Walker Evans took in Ossining, he never depicted Sing Sing, the looming prison for which the town was named. And he never shot the expansive Hudson.
However, Ossining is known historically as much as a fisherman’s spot as an artist’s haven. Witness this giant sturgeon caught off the Ossining waterfront, one of nature’s monstrous creatures.
I will have the pleasure of presenting at the Ossining Public Library on Saturday at 1:30 pm, with pictures, as I customarily do. Signing copies of The Orphanmaster afterward. Come one, come all.