Monday, July 21, 2014

In Lovecraft's Footsteps

I mentioned in my NECON Con Report that the Saturday day trip I took with friends was so cool that I wanted to save it for a post of its own. So here we are.
Last summer during NECON 33, James A. Moore (hereafter referred to as Jim), Dan Foley and I braved the record making heat and humidity to go into Providence Rhode Island and visit a few Lovecraft sights and sites. Unfortunately we only had my memory to go on and though we were able to see a few things, I wished I had come more prepared. This year, I showed up with OFF THE ANCIENT TRACK, a guidebook to Lovecraft's haunts by Jason C. Eckhardt. This handy little book, reprinted in 2013 and available from the Rhode Island Historical Society, contains maps and individual listings of the homes Lovecraft inhabited and the places he frequented. It's a nifty book and well worth having.
I had thought that this year would once again be a trip for Jim, Dan, and me, but horror writer and all around cool guy Brian Keene mentioned that he and his lovely significant other, Mary SanGiovanni, would like to go as well. We ended up being joined by a few other NECON campers and they know who they are.
Anyway, there was one place in particular I really wanted to see and we began there. This was 10 Barnes Street, Lovecraft's home from 1926 to 1933, and the place where he wrote most of his most famous fiction, including THE CALL OF CTHULHU, THE DUNWICH HORROR, THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.
I have to say that standing in front of that house, knowing that HPL had walked in and out of the place and wandered the same streets where I was now, gave me a bit of a chill. I've stood at the desk where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield, held Mark Twain's letters in my hands, and eaten lunch at Conan Doyle's favorite watering hole, and now walked where Lovecraft used to walk. Made my day I can tell you.
From there we proceeded to 135 Benefit street, the model for Lovecraft's titular dwelling, THE SHUNNED HOUSE. The house is still pretty creepy looking. As we stood out front, I took the opportunity to tell my fellow NECONers about the Shunned House's connection to the late Bob Booth, the beloved 'Papa Necon'. When Joseph Payne Brennan wrote his 1979 novel, ACT OF PROVIDENCE, he made Bob Booth a character in the story. Bob drove Brennan's Occult Detective Lucius Leffing to the Shunned House and stood guard at the door in the basement while Leffing and Brennan (who acted as Leffing's Watson) went deep under Providence for a Lovecraftian adventure. One of the other campers told me that the Ford Pinto Brennan described was Bob's actual car at the time of the first World Fantasy Convention (1975) where the events of the story occur.
Then we walked down the street to The Cathedral of St. John. The tiny churchyard behind the cathedral was a favorite haunt of not only HPL, but of Edgar Allan Poe. Both men went there to think and meditate. The sense of history there was palpable and almost overwhelming. I'm not ashamed to say that I was moved by the experience, not just because of Lovecraft and Poe, but because of the feeling of connection to the past of my country. Many of the graves there preceded the American Revolution.
Anyway, we headed back after that. There were a few more places I wanted to visit, but I had to save something for next year. It was a great day though, made better by the company of like minded folks.


Keith West said...

Sounds like an excellent excursion. I suspect the experience of standing in front of Lovecraft's house is something akin to standing at the door of Robert E. Howard's bedroom where he wrote most of his stories and poems.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I've yet to make it to Cross Plains, but I'd agree, Keith. For a long time fan it's a big moment.