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Eldritch landscapes: The real places behind Lovecraft’s fictions


In 2009 science journalist Joahua Foer and his friend Dylan Thuras launched Atlas Obscura, a Website intended to be “the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places.” As Foer said in an article for Boing Boing, “The Atlas is a collaborative project whose purpose is to catalog all of the ‘wondrous, curious, and esoteric places’ that get left out of traditional travel guidebooks and are ignored by the average tourist.”

Two days ago (June 7) they published an article by contributor Eric Grundhauser about the real-world locations that inspired and/or appear (often highly fictionalized) in Lovecraft’s stories. And it’s simply a beautiful presentation, both in the quality and depth of its coverage and in the gallery of images that Grundhauser has pulled together to offer a visual tour.

The list of locations includes

  • St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland (possibly related to “The Rats in the Walls”)
  • Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston (mentioned in “Pickman’s Model”)
  • Fleur-de-Lys Studio in Providence (the home of prophetic sculptor Henry Anthony Wilcox in “The Call of Cthulhu”)
  • the megalithic ruins at Nan Madol in Micronesia (the possible inspiration for the sunken city of R’lyeh)
  • the Stephen Harris House in Providence (the real-life inspiration for “The Shunned House”)
  • Bradford College in Haverhill, Massachusetts (the inspiration for Miskatonic University)
  • Mystery Hill, a.k.a. “America’s Stonehenge,” in Salem, New Hampshire (the inspiration for the stone ruins outside Dunwich)
  • the Salem Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts (the direct inspiration for the title locale in “The Dreams in the Witch House”)
  • the Samuel B. Mumford House in Providence (the home of protagonist Robert Blake in “The Haunter of the Dark,” and also Lovecraft’s own final home)
  • the iconic Danvers State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (the basis for the Arkham Sanitorium)

I give the piece my highest recommendation, and I predict the Lovecraft-minded crowd among you will find it to be truly delectable. Here’s its introduction and conclusion, which display the author’s sharpness:

Down a dark alley, at the corner of your eye something flickers, probably a trick of the waning light, or a stranger up to some banal task. But what hubris leads you to believe that you can understand what happens in and among these haunted buildings much less this ancient world?  You may have passed down this very street, past this very spot a hundred times and thought it familiar, until today when the light and the time were just right, and this simple alleyway became alien, unknown. Like glimpsing an older, stranger reality existing just beneath our own, but no less terrifyingly real.

Such was the outlook of horror fiction trailblazer Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Born in 1890, Lovecraft took inspiration from his historic New England surroundings and beyond to create tales of otherworldly standing stones, hidden cities older than time, and simple homes that exude unknowable evil. Lovecraft’s prose placed a distinct emphasis on the power and mystery of location, taking time in each of his stories to create a rich sense of place where his otherworldly gods and tentacled horrors could thrive, sending both his characters and his readers into madness.

Turn out the lights, pray to your dead gods, and join us while we dare insanity to bring you a list of the real world locations both horrible and mundane, that inspired some of Lovecraft’s most famous works. Cthulhu Fhtagn!

. . . H.P. Lovecraft’s literary legacy of cosmic horror, hidden knowledge, and the terrible unknown continues to inform the work of nearly every science fiction and horror creator to this day, and it all began in the quiet surrounds of his trusted Providence. If Lovecraft was able to take inspiration from both the amazing and quaint places listed above, what new and interesting location might inspire your next nightmare in the waking darkness?

FULL ARTICLE: “Essential Guide to Living Lovecraft: The Real World Locations behind the Horror


Image: The altar to Yog-Sothoth from The Dunwich Horror (1970), via The Midnight Room