Nestled at the intersection of Elm Street and Dudley Ave., in an quiet suburban street in Westfield, New Jersey, is the house that inspired Charles Addams to create the looming, gothic Addams Family Mansion. There’s nothing very remarkable about this house, with its white wood paneling and quaint turn-of-the-century shutters. In fact, it’s as painfully normal. But stare a little longer, and maybe you can see it through Charles Addams eyes: the wood turns a deep black, the shutters slowly become more dilapidated, and a dark cloud casts a shadow over the house.
“This is the house,” longtime Charles Addams expert Ron MacCloskey declared to the group of journalists attending the Westfield junket for the upcoming animated The Addams Family movie. It’s one of several houses that allegedly provided the inspiration for the looming, Gothic mansion seen in The Addams Family TV shows, movies, and comics. “Charles Addams has said he has never drawn the Addams family the same twice. So every cartoon is a little bit different for what the family house looks like,” MacCloskey said.
The house /Film saw with the group of journalists, which we could not enter due to it being private property, was part of a short tour of Charles Addams’ old haunts in Westfield, New Jersey, which is holding its second annual AddamsFest this October. The town had only recently begun to embrace the legacy of this famous cartoonist who was born and raised in the small New Jersey town approximately 20 miles from New York City. But upon the unearthing of a skeletal chalk drawing in a wooden shack (affectionately named “Dudley Addams” after the street it was found), Westfield is becoming significantly creepier and kookier.
“His goal was to make people laugh,” MacCloskey described of Addams, who became well-known for his macabre, tongue-in-cheek humor as a cartoonist for The New Yorker before he ever thought of The Addams Family. Born and raised in Westfield, New Jersey, Addams had a morbid streak from a young age — reportedly doodling an impressively anatomically correct chalk drawing of a skeleton in a wooden shack on Dudley Avenue that he and other neighborhood boys would repeatedly break into. He drew “with a happy vengeance,” according to a biographer.
Charles Addams’ childhood world was small and ordinary, with the young artist going from home, to school, and occasionally to the nearby cemetery where he would “think about what it would be like to dead,” MacCloskey said. “His boyhood home is really only blocks from here so sometimes on rainy days he would walk from his house, come here and wander the cemetery.”
Apart from the cemetery — which is a small plot surrounded by a black fence and is hidden behind neatly trimmed trees — there isn’t much of the macabre in Addams’ hometown of Westfield. It’s a charming small town filled with pleasant red-brick houses and a Main Street filled with quaint shops. As we wandered the town, there were little hints of Addams and the impact he left — in street signs changed to reflect the upcoming Halloween-themed AddamsFest, in a portrait of Addams inside the bustling Addams Tavern. MacCloskey was quick to point out the pieces of Westfield that made their way into Addams’ New Yorker cartoons: a cemetery sign here, a Rialto Movie Theater marquee there. Though Westfield is not widely known as the birthplace of Charles Addams (to this day, its most infamous cases include the John List murders and the ongoing creepy saga of the Watcher House), but it became clear that the cartoonist was fond enough of his hometown to immortalize it in his beloved cartoons. A connection that becomes clear in MGM’s upcoming The Addams Family, which brings the altogether spooky family back to New Jersey.
In 1991, the house on Elm Street where Addams lived for 27 years (and surely had plenty a nightmare) was declared a town historic landmark. The home was built in 1907, and was where Addams lived with his wife while writing the famous cartoon, which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1938 and continued to make serial appearances until his death in 1988. The sinister-looking family became a pop culture phenomenon, spawning two live-action TV shows, two animated TV shows, three movies, and a Broadway musical.
But up until now, Addams’ roots in Westfield have remained an open secret, with few outside of hardcore Addams historians and fans that know of the cartoonist’s connection to this small New Jersey town. But the town is working to bring more awareness of its larger-than-life homegrown celebrity, with the annual AddamsFest held in the town from October 19-27. The Halloween festival is only in its second year, but already it’s got a slew of Addams family cosplayers dressing up as Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Grandmama Addams, their butler Lurch, the disembodied hand Thing, and Gomez’s Cousin Itt. While not many are dressing up as the esteemed Charles Addams yet, perhaps we’ll see more fans donning a suit, an old-fashioned pen, and a dreamy expression come this Halloween.
The Addams Family is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.
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