2020 took many things from us. And many people. But Dr. Evermor is a hard one for me.
He had an interesting niche and perfect timing. And he’s got a great story…
Born Thomas Every, he was a scrap guy. A demolition man. People paid him to scrap stuff. He would deconstruct things and that was his business. Come with a crane and a crew and some trucks… take a building down, haul it away to the dump. But he didn’t trash all of it…
The choicest pieces he put in a meadow behind his friends business: Deleny’s Surplus. The stuff just sat there for a few decades. Some old trucks, tons of steel and the scraped remains of the industrial revolution. Thomas Every scrapped power plants, beer vats, Victorian elevators, steam systems and railroad cars. And kept the beautiful parts and pieces from a time where form and function were both held to the same high standards of beauty.
Then he started working for a guy named Alex Jordan. He was a billionaire in the 70’s. Who knows how much cocaine was involved. Alex was building a house. On a rock. Thomas helped him. For a few years. Alex stiffed him. Thomas lost everything. His house. His business. His wife left him and took the kids. Who knows. It was bad. He ended up living in a shipping container behind Deleny’s. In Wisconsin. In the winter. Alex’s House on the Rock became a huge hit, a tourist destination for thousands and thousands of people. Thomas became bitter and angry. And decided to kill himself.
And he went about it in the most fascinating way…
He became an avatar: Dr. Evermor. And he built a copper egg rocket to blast himself to the heavens. He built a viewing stand for the king and the queen to watch the event. He needed power to blast off, so he pointed 16 Tesla Coils at the egg, powered by Juice Bugs… there was a whole spiel, I can’t remember all the patter… it’s been a while…
This “set” of his suicide took him like 8 years to build. He finished in the early 90’s. I found him in 1996 on tour with the circus. In a very odd way… you see, Doc has the Guinness Book for “world’s largest metal sculpture.” Someone brought a copy of the Guinness Book on the circus tour. While hanging around somewhere, I picked it up and was looking through it, wondering if Guinness Book just charges people to be in it (they do!). And I saw that entry: “Baraboo, Wisconsin: World’s Largest Metal Sculpture.” I figured it was a grain silo or some shit.
We found ourselves at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, ancestral home of the Ringling Brothers (actually the Rungling Brothers, but who cares). We got in free, so we did the tour. It was horrible. Cringy, full of themselves commercial for their circus. We couldn’t leave fast enough. But when we did, we were turned around: tornado. Cops said we had to drive back east, find shelter. We drove down Route 12 and something caught my eye on the side of the road. And it all clicked. He put a few sculptures on the side of the road, with no sign or explanation. I pulled over. “Where is the book!?” I read the passage again. Sure enough, Route 12, Saux City just outside of Baraboo. Drove up and down. Finally just pulled over and started walking into the woods. When it revealed itself to me, I straight-up-no-bullshit-100%-absolutely fell to my knees.
He was sitting there. Leaning on his cane. Drinking lemonade. He asked me, without any greeting or whatever: “What did you do today?”
He was impossible. Hard to work with. Spoke in riddles. Cranky. But he had more talent than could be managed. He was just a visionary. His skill in welding/fabrication was unparalleled. The bird band is made of lawn mower parts and shears for wood planes… His relationship to time was scary. He cared nothing for his health, any practical maintenance, current events, politics or your feelings. He was crazy. I loved him.
I’m going to spare you all the rest. His sculpture park became more celebrated than the House on the Rock, of course. His wife sort of came back to him, his children love him, he won awards and grants and took on students (hello!) and had all the bragging rights. It ended well. A life well lived.
He died April 2020. He was 81 years old.
He called me a few weeks before he died. I was driving my RV with the family going to or from a camping trip. He was yelling: “Chickenjohn, why don’t you do it? Answer me that?” I tell him it’s good to hear his voice, and I tell him that I miss him. “You’re just fuckin around with, just do it or don’t do it. I can smell that jerk-off indecision stuff from here. Ya hear me?” You could hear him. Anyone in the RV could hear him, he’s a yeller. “Yes sir.” I meekly reply. “I gotta go now so you take care. Power on.” And that was it.
2020 took so many people dear to us. I could do a list but it feels bad to demote someone to a single position on a list instead of having their own woo woo. It’s like 12 people. People who were numbers in my phone. People who held positions that filled needs. People who were the experts of that field in my world. People in my shows. So many at once, it’s just brutal. Cancer, alcoholism, Covid, old age, suicide… combined with the shutdown, the science deniers and the election, it’s just too much.
The grief I feel every day can make my legs feel like lead. It’s just so sad, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning… but like Doc says, you have to Power On. There can be no spring without winter. I’m looking forward to a post-Trump, post-Covid, post-decimated small business time. Weather that’s spring or summer or fall or whenever. If a man can take discarded scrap and turn it into a magical nirvana of wonder and whimsy and become a top folk art destination even though it was designed to be an execution stage, then there is still some mystical energy left in this world yet. The trick is to find something or someone that gives you power and dip your ladle into that well, and offer yourself munificent dispensations of its manna…
Reflect, heal, be wisened and never forget… chicken