Monday, February 16, 2009

Ozone Park - Last Respects for the Mystery Neighbor Who Painted Everything Blue by Cole Louison -

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“Everything inside was blue,” said Torrey Ryan, who lived near the unusual house whose owner died last month. “Everything was blue.”Michael Appleton for The New York Times

THE death of 76-year-old Elsie Janet Miller has inspired a time of strange reflection for many in Ozone Park, Queens, where for decades this mysterious resident of a locally famous house was something of a beloved outcast.

A former city schoolteacher, Ms. Miller bought her house in 1971, and over the years covered it with religious insignia and coats of silver, gold, red and blue paint. She walked everywhere, often trailing a blue shopping cart and (some say) a blue dog. Occasionally, she passed out biblical reading material and preached about damnation.

After about a week’s worth of mail had accumulated around her door, the letter carrier notified the police, who on Jan. 23 entered the house and found Ms. Miller’s body in her bed. She was pronounced dead of natural causes at 3:40 p.m., and her body was taken to the Queens medical examiner’s office. If it remains unclaimed by family or friends in the next two weeks and no money is found in her estate, Ms. Miller will be buried anonymously in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island in the Bronx.

On Jan. 27, a group dedicated to Ms. Miller appeared on Facebook, and within two days, more than 1,000 people had posted memories and messages about the house and its unusual occupant. Within a few days, the number had doubled to 2,000.

“She sprayed me with a hose one Halloween,” one post read. “Rest in Peace.”

“It’s a historical landmark,” read another. “Leave the house painted!” Another said, “I’m really sad,” with an icon of a frowning face. Yet another read, “May your walls in heaven be all the colors you love.”

Torrey Ryan, a 28-year-old carpenter, grew up on the block and always told friends that he would be the first one to enter the enigmatic house should anything happen to its owner. Last month, he entered the building with the police.

The inside was much like the outside. “Everything inside was blue,” Mr. Ryan said. “Everything was blue.” He discovered boxes and old magazines piled to the ceiling, garlic hanging off of lamps and stuffed into a chandelier and gold crosses painted on every ceiling.

“I’m a straight-up guy,” he said. “I’m a neighborhood guy. But in that house, the feeling was so weird. I felt like the lady was still there, watching me.”

Despite the clutter, the decorations and an unplugged refrigerator full of business papers, two caged birds — a parakeet and a dove — were found in good health.

“I had to jump over a pile to get to the birds,” Mr. Ryan said. “How she fed them, I don’t know. She must have been an acrobat.”

Perhaps State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., who has lived his entire life on nearby 86th Street, not far from the corner of 84th Street and 107th Avenue, where the blue house stood, had the final word.

“That house is two blocks from where I was born and three blocks from where I live now,” he said from his office in Albany. “She was a fixture in the community. She didn’t harm anyone. She might have spoken a little loud to herself, but a piece of Ozone Park passed away the day she passed away.”