Paradise Valley is a glacial hollow set on the Wellfleet-Truro line. During the late 19th century it was a thriving community of a dozen or more houses, but when Wellfleet’s Herring River dike was built around 1908, the valley was cut off from navigable waters. The community gradually atrophied and was eventually abandoned by the 1920s.
Many of the old houses were dismantled and relocated, but several of them remained vacant and uninhabited. It was in one of these abandoned houses that the oddest and most colorful inhabitant of Paradise Valley lived during the Depression years of the 1930s. His real name was George Richardson, but he was known locally as Mr. Oofty-Goofty. When I first heard his story from my friend Peter Watts (who lives in one of the houses moved from Paradise Valley), I took it as an apocryphal folk-tale created by the communal imagination. But later I met several older residents who actually remembered him. As with any good local story, the facts are flexible and varied, but this is the version I was able to piece together:
George Richardson, or Mr. Oofty-Goofty, was a Harvard graduate living in Cambridge. He had a fractious relationship with his wife, and finally, when he could stand it no more, he left her. In an attempt to avoid paying alimony, he hid out in one of the abandoned houses in Paradise Valley. According to the late Jack Hall, Mr. Oofty-Goofty wore a large chesterfield, or double-breasted overcoat, that was “green with age.” It had large pockets in the lining and in these pockets he carried spools of thread, needles, and other household notions. According to Jack, he would go from door to door peddling his wares, like some domestic version of the purveyor of dirty French postcards—“Psst—hey missus, want to buy some hot thimbles?”
Anyway, the story is that George’s brother-in-law, who had lived with them in Cambridge, eventually couldn’t stand his sister either, so he joined George in the house in Paradise Valley. The situation was quirky enough, but what really cemented the two men in the communal memory of the town was their legendary laziness.
Larry Peters once told me that his father was walking through the valley one day and the two men invited him in for a dinner of chicken soup. According to Larry, “He said it was fine until he got to the bottom of his bowl and found it full of sand. He realized then that they had never cleaned the bird, just plucked her and threw her into the pot!”
The late Ned Lombard once recounted how eventually their outhouse got filled up, but George and his brother-in-law were too lazy to dig it out or move the outhouse to a new location. Instead, they propped a ladder against the outhouse, cut a hole in the top of the roof and mounted a seatless chair on top of it, holding it in place with guy wires. That must have been some breezy in winter.
But what eventually sealed their fate was their slothful treatment of their wood stove. As Larry Peters’ brother Joe once told me, “Them boys were some lazy. They never chopped any firewood. Their idea of running the stove was to take a six-foot-long log and feed it into the open stove door. Now you tell me why that house burned down!”