There was no one quite like Frances Gabe.
The New York Times honored the longtime Newberg, Ore., resident today with a somewhat belated obituary. She died in obscurity on December 26, 2016—her death originally noted with just a few lines in the Newberg Graphic. She was 101 years old.
But Gabe was once known around the world. An iconoclast and prolific inventor, Gabe became famous as the inventor of the self-cleaning house—a whopper of a patent spanning 68 separate inventions.
The floors of her house slanted ever so slightly toward corner drains, paintings were covered with plastic, and sprinklers were mounted on the ceiling—meaning the dining room table had to be coated with stone and resin.
As she told the NYT in 2002, "I asked God to give me a big job. He gave me a Lollapalooza." She also appeared on Ripley's Believe It Or Not and the Phil Donahue show—and, notably, in Chuck Palahniuk's deeply personal and off-kilter guide to Portland, Fugitives and Refugees. Erma Bombeck said her face should be carved on Mount Rushmore.
We checked in on Gabe's house in 2013, only to discover that Gabe had sold her house and moved to an assisted living facility—and that her devices, no longer functional, had been dismantled. The house's new owner was considering making the property into a winter sanctuary for bees.
But Gabe herself remains one of Oregon's most interesting figures—and as far as we know, her autobiography remains unpublished. (Excerpt: "'I'm not eliminating homemaking, mothering, wifehood, only dirt grubbing. Scrub-a-dub ladies, enjoy your janitoring.")
Here's few choice paragraphs of the excellent NYT piece on Gabe, which bears reading in full: