As a longtime (though sporadically obsessive) fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Providence, Rhode Island was a place I've always wanted to check out: the city was one of which Lovecraft seemed fiercely proud, even as it became overrun with the minorities and immigrants Lovecraft so vocally detested in his writings. And as Lovecraft's blueblood lineage dwindled away to a sickly cadre of spinster aunts forced to weather an increasingly meager existence, there seemed something in Lovecraft's writings that made Providence (sometimes fictional Arkham, MA, standing in as its surrogate) seem wonderful and terrible at the same time, a place of which he seemed simultaneously enamored, nostalgic, and terrified.
A couple of years ago I made my first visit to the city for a work trip, and spent a day checking out every Lovecraft-related landmark I could find. This field trip is likely of interest only to literary nerds, but if you own a Miskatonic University t-shirt (and didn't beat me to these locales), read on.
The first stop was his birthplace: the corner of Angell and Elmgrove, where stood the once-proud Lovecraft family mansion. Unfortunately, the residence was torn down in 1961, but I think you’ll agree that what they’ve done with the space is pretty wonderful:
Unimaginable horrors, indeed.
H.P. Lovecraft’s family suffered some financial setbacks when his father went mad (allegedly from syphilis) and died in an institution, leaving young HPL in the care of his mother, two aunts, and his maternal grandfather. When gramps shuffled off this plane, L’il Lovecraft and the three women who raised him moved from the family mansion to 598 Angell Street, a house down the street which they shared with another family.
As I trespassed onto this property, taking random photos of the backyard and trying to steal loose bricks from the foundation, I was intrigued by the fact that not only was there NO marker or indication that it housed the 20th century’s most influential writer of horror fiction (sorry, Stephen King), but that there was also an apartment for rent inside the house. I imagined the residents to be an awkward mix of Brown University students and Lovecraft groupies. (But, let’s be honest, probably just Brown University students.)
After Lovecraft’s mother died, the young writer moved to New York and married, to the dismay of his two aunts. Both the move (Lovecraft was full of revulsion at the sheer amount of non-white immigrants in Brooklyn, fueling a racist streak in his writing) and the marriage (ever read his stuff? Pretty sure the fella was terrified of vagina) were disasters, and he was soon back in Providence living with his old aunts like a proper weirdo, taking up residence at 10 Barnes Street.
This was Lovecraft’s home for his most prolific period, and was mentioned in his story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Again, no marker, and again, an apartment for rent. I found myself half-wishing I could spend a summer renting a room in one of the houses in which Lovecraft lived.
I didn’t get to see many houses about which Lovecraft wrote, but here’s 65 Prospect Street, a house where he lived for a spell, and mentioned in “The Haunter In The Dark.” The house was moved from its original location at 66 College Street in 1959.
And here’s “The Shunned House”, for those in the know:
It was built in 1763, and stands at 135 Benefit Street, a few blocks from the funeral home where H.P. Lovecraft was given his earthly send-off in 1937. The only marker on the house was this:
I was getting depressed for old Howard Phillips; here was a man who so identified with his city that he once declared in a letter: “I am Providence!” A man whose work, though unappreciated in his lifetime, informed scores of authors, artists and filmmakers who came after. Yet his hometown seemed unaware of the semi-mad genius it spawned, or at any rate unwilling to give the man his due. Though I later learned there are some plaques commemorating him at the Brown University library, on this day for any evidence of Lovecraft’s existence at all, I had to head to Swan Point Cemetery…
Surrounded by names I recognized from Lovecraft’s stories (lots of “Tillinghasts”), the family plot stands proud. Yet Howard Phillips was but a tiny name added to the base.
In 1977, a group of fans chipped in and procured Lovecraft a gravestone of his own.
Dunno who Blair-Witched his headstone on that particular day. Wasn’t me.
A humbling and potentially depressing field trip, but if you get a kick out of walking in the steps and exploring the spaces where “important things” actually happened (as is the case with history buffs, true crime freaks, horror movie location nerds, etc.), you can identify with the electric feeling the day brought. And if you’re ever in Philly, look me up - I’ll take you to the basement where Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” was set…
Want to walk through HP Lovecraft’s life? This map will take you on the major stops from his birth to his final resting place.