?There’s a long tradition of authors embracing and claiming a piece of the American landscape that their fiction can feed off of and become synonymous with. While Stephen King will forever own Maine, there is one sickly, horrifically-imaginative individual from Providence, Rhode Island, who will remain the King of New England until the stars are right and the Great Old Ones return. This man is H.P. Lovecraft: the man who launched 1,000 horror/sci-fi writers and metal songs.
From 1922 to 1936 Lovecraft published dozens of short stories and novellas centered around the dark woods, Puritan farmhouses, and academic establishments of New England. While the author himself created several of the cursed locations that he would revisit again and again in his “Lovecraft Country” (centered in Essex County, MA), the majority of the cities and towns featured in his tales and correspondence are very real… and very boring.
So strap on your Miskatonic University fanny pack, Topless Roboteers, as we tour the sights (and smells) of Lovecraft’s New England.
6) Wilbraham, MA
?In 1928, something bizarre occurred in Dunwich, MA that soon became known as the “Dunwich Horror.” The event was “hushed by those who had the town’s and the world’s welfare at heart.” To put it simply, an enthusiastic half-god boy named Wilbur Whateley was keeping the Outer God Yog-Sothoth in his family’s farmhouse. When he died stealing a Latin copy of the infamous grimoire, the Necronomicon, from Miskatonic University, the thing went berserk. Shit happens.
It’s unclear which town the fictional one of Dunwich is essentially based on, but in letters Lovecraft wrote that Dunwich is “a vague echo of the decadent Massachusetts countryside around Springfield — say Wilbraham…” Lovecraft visited Wilbraham in 1928 and must have been drawn in by the town’s… I dunno. I’ve lived in Massachusetts for six years and I’ve never heard of the place. It’s now hosts the headquarters of the Friendly’s restaurant chain. Their onion straws are pretty good.
5) Townsend, VT
?After the tragic Vermont floods of November 3, 1927, sightings of “very bizarre and disturbing objects” seen floating in rivers began to be reported. Witnesses claimed that the beings were “pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membraneous wings.” Gross. Miskatonic University folklorist and English professor Albert N. Wilmarth begins correspondence with Vermont local Herny Wentworth Akeley. The race of extraterrestrial beings begin to intercept Akeley’s correspondence so Wilmarth travels to Vermont to investigate. The correspondence is reprinted in “The Whisperer in Darkness.”
In the story, Akeley lives near a town called Townsend, located in south-eastern Vermont. The town hosts a whopping 1,150 residents and sports picture-perfect scenery. In short, it’s boring. However, we can’t knock Townsend too hard since that’s where they filmed the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm. Oh man, that’s a funny one.
4) Gloucester, MA
?In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, protagonist Robert Olmstead is celebrating his “coming of age” with a tour of New England. While traveling from Newburyport to Arkham (a fictional town used often by Lovecraft), Olmstead decides to take a cheaper bus that stops off at a fishy town called Innsmouth. He’s advised not to stay there by a train station employee who tells him that people have been “whispering” things about Innsmouth for the last 100 years. This only sparks his youthful curiosity and upon arrival he quickly notices that something is odd about the residents of Innsmouth: they walk funny and look like fish. Oh, that “Innsmouth look.”
Lovecraft called Innsmouth a “twisted version of Newburyport” and placed it near Ipswich. However, many believe that Innsmouth must be based on Gloucester, a major fishing hub on Cape Ann. Besides the similarities in the fish trade and geographical clues, Olmstead stays at the Gilman House hotel, most possibly based on Gloucester’s historic Sargent-Murray-Gilman-Hough House. There’s no human sacrifice or fish people though, but they do have an annual ritual that involves men running across a greased-up telephone pole.
3) Marblehead, MA
?In Lovecraft’s “The Festival,” an unnamed protagonist visits the home of a relative in the ocean-side town of Kingsport, MA. In this archaic town he finds a Latin version of the Nercronomicon and bears witness to a summoning of a “horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp,” which the town’s cloaked and “pulpy” residents ride away on. Like most God-fearing men who experience a Cthulhu mythos-related happening, the man goes insane.
Lovecraft created Kingsport for his 1921 short “The Terrible Old Man,” but after visiting the town of Marblehead during Christmastime in 1922, Lovecraft would shape Kingsport as the real-life Marblehead in several of his stories — most notably in “The Festival.” Lovecraft fell in love with Marblehead and once noted that a sunset in the town was “…the most powerful single emotional climax experienced during my nearly forty years of existence.” Nowadays Marblehead is still a gorgeous town and fun to visit if you’re 200 years old. Every street corner is like a postcard. There’s a terrific beach, Devereaux, where a female friend of mine was assaulted and nearly abducted. You can play street hockey to your heart’s content since a car drives by every four hours. Rent must be cheap seeing as how the median income there is $70,470. Here’s hoping the Great Old Ones emerge from their slumber under the Atlantic and duke it out with the Elder Gods on Deveraux; washing that whole fucking town into the sea.
2) Salem, MA
?By the time Lovecraft picked up a pen, Salem was already inherently creepy. The site of the 1692 Witch Trials, in which 20 people were found guilty and executed for a bullshit rap, Salem is mentioned in a few Lovecraft stories including “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “Pickman’s Model.” The Pickman’s are said to have come from Salem stock and in the old Charter Street Burial Ground there is an actual grave marker for a Caleb Pickman, who was killed by lightning in 1737. Several of the town’s historic homes, such as the Derby House, are mentioned in Lovecraft. Neighboring town Danvers is home to the now defunct Danvers State Hospital, which many believe is the influence for Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanatorium.
Salem, a.k.a. the “Witch City,” is now a hub for wiccans and warlocks from across the globe. And boy do the local businesses love exploiting their town’s murderous past. Downtown is drowning in “witch shops” selling tarot cards and touristy t-shirts. While the town thinks it’s honoring the men and women killed during the trials, in reality they’re roping in tourists and bleeding them dry. Witches are in industry in Salem, nothing more. It’s also home to Salem State College so during the school year expect to run into drunk “bros” starting fist fights outside every over-priced bar downtown has to offer. During tourist season, traffic is unreal. At least there’s a nice view of the ocean.
1) Providence, RI
?Where do we even begin? Lovecraft was born in Providence, spent his entire life there (minus a two-year stint in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, NY), and painfully died there in 1937. Several of his best-known stories, including “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” spotlight Providence locales. It’s impossible to accurately surmise how much of an impact Providence had on Lovecraft, but his headstone in the city’s Swan Point Cemetery sums up the author’s own influence on the city rather modestly: “I AM PROVIDENCE”
But unless you’re an art student at Providence’s prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, the city may be a bore for you. Criminals seem to like the city, reflected in it high rate of violent crime. Their roads are a mess, the cost of living is way higher than in most parts of the U.S., and for a city with an impressive downtown skyline, there is next to zero nightlife. For nerdy outsiders, we’d rather read about Lovecraft’s Providence than actually travel there.