Partner Alfonso A. Ossorio
The Creeks, Montauk Hwy, East Hampton, NY 11937
9 MacDougal Alley, New York, NY 10011
Ted Dragon (April 24, 1921 - October 2, 2011) lived quietly at his home on Pantigo Road, East Hampton, since the 1990s, going out only to Mass each day at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and delivering Meals-On-Wheels a few times a week. He lived a seemingly quiet life in his cottage—quite a contrast to his days at The Creeks estate.
Dragon earned his infamy in East Hampton society, and among East Hampton Police, when he was caught one rainy day in 1959 making his way out of Juan Trippe’s home, carrying a chair. This was the last in the string of thefts that plagued the village. Unable to explain exactly why he stole his neighbors’ paintings, oriental rugs, marble statues and even a four-poster bed, he simply stated: “I just loved beautiful things so much, and sometimes I was appalled at how badly the furniture was being kept.” Ironically, some of his neighbors sent him thank-you notes after their stolen property was returned in better shape than when it was taken.
Dragon shared the 57-acre estate on Georgica Pond, The Creeks, with his partner, artist Alfonso Ossorio. Dragon acted as a house manager, perfecting the art of hosting and keeping house for decades, and even watered the entire acreage himself.
“It was like masterminding a living stage set,” he told author Steven Gaines in the late 1990s. Gaines’s book, “Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons,” details Dragon’s time at The Creeks, among other important and scandalous Hamptons tales.
“They say Ossorio owned The Creeks, but it was Dragon to whom The Creeks belonged,” Gaines wrote.
For years, he and Ossorio entertained guests such as art critic Harold Rosenberg and artists Max Ernst, Grace Hartigan, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Gwathmey, Mark Rothko and Robert Dash. Other guests at The Creeks included Dr. Lewis Thomas, the former chancellor of Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital; also, the wife of General Douglas MacArthur.
Although there was a constant influx of personalities, Dragon seemed to remain distant.
“Most of the people who passed in and out of the house weren’t interested in me in the least,” he was quoted as saying in Gail Levin’s book, “Lee Krasner: A Biography.” Ossorio attracted performers, artists, writers and the like to his home, and Dragon, though a gracious host, would disappear.
“I think people would have been interested in him if he was interested in them,” Gaines said. “I think people loved him and they didn’t dismiss him. I think he was bored with people and all the dinners.”
Edward Dragon Young was born on April 24, 1921, to Raymond Louis Young and Carena Dragon Young in Northampton, Massachusetts. A ballet dancer, he performed for the Paris Opera, the New York City Ballet and on Broadway with choreographer Agnes de Mille, who at an audition told him to drop his last name.
According to Gaines, the only formal dance training Mr. Dragon had received was at his local YMCA, but he had “an innate sense of drama and leonine physicality.”
He met Ossorio in 1948 in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, where he was on a dance scholarship to Jacob’s Pillow, an avant-garde performance center. In 1951, the couple, who had been living together in Greenwich Village, decided to buy The Creeks from Christian Herter for $35,000. Dragon gave up his dancing career in order to move in with Ossorio.
“They had a very special thing going,” Gaines said. “You have to be really lucky to find that in your lifetime.”
When Dragon faced heavy penalties after his strange thievery, Ossorio stood by him and did not question him or the relationship. He even paid for all of Dragon’s ordered psychological treatment. When Dragon returned to East Hampton in 1961 after his time at a private sanitarium in Connecticut and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, circles in East Hampton society had a new nickname for The Creeks: “The Creeps.” It was then when Dragon began to dress flamboyantly, in caftans, sari-like robes, costume jewelry and multicolored wigs.
“His existence in itself was performance art,” Gaines said. “The way he dressed, the way his house looked, the way he cooked—everything about him was performance art, to amuse himself, basically.” Dragon had a “wicked sense of humor and a delicious kind of self-awareness,” he said.
Over the decades when the two men lived at The Creeks, Dragon and Ossorio collaborated, combining their talents in art and horticulture to create an estate like no other. Aside from the conglomeration of peculiar collectibles, such as a Chinese opium bed, religious art, sculptures and rarities from around the world, Ossorio’s congregations, as he called them, decorated the walls, floors and gardens. Like his artwork, Ossorio and Dragon created a congregation of hundreds of specialty plants, shrubs and trees—a “living work of art with thriving specimens of some of the most unusual and rarest conifers on earth,” according to a New York Times article in 1991.
When Dragon inherited the estate after Ossorio died from complications of a stroke in 1992, he threw a three-day yard sale attracting more than 2,000 people. According to Gaines, the sale caught the attention of Martha Stewart, Kelly Klein and Betty Friedan. When the 57 acres were sold to Ronald Perelman for $12.5 million, Dragon moved to his cottage on Pantigo Road.
“He couldn’t bear to see The Creeks after he sold it,” Gaines said—his home and the world he created with Ossorio were gone.
Ted Dragon lived and thrived in what some would say was the “golden age” of the East End. The eccentric man who cultivated an artistic and extraordinary life died at home and was privately cremated. Dragon died at his home on Sunday, October 2, 2011. He was 90.