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H.P. Lovecraft as psychogeographer, New York City 1924-26.

Following pages: details of the New York City subway map, 1929.
1
2
3
They could not be upon any map of today

H.P. Lovecraft. He (1925).

What do maps and records and guide-books really tell [of the city,
for] these ancient places are dreaming gorgeously and overflowing
with wonder and terror and escapes from the commonplace, and yet
theres not a living soul to understand or profit by them.

H.P. Lovecraft. Pickmans Model (1926).

And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe,
the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by
the Grays Inn Road [in urban London] will never find those secrets
elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled cities of Tibet

Arthur Machen. The London Adventure (1924).

IMAGE CREDITS. Front: Creative Commons photo by Zach Dischner, with


substantial Photoshop alteration by the author. Other images are in the public
domain due to their age, or are used here under a fair use principle for the purpose
of scholarly criticism and historical record. The author does not claim copyright over
images so used.

David Haden, 2011.

4
WALKING WITH
CTHULHU:
H.P. Lovecraft as psychogeographer,
New York City 1924-26.

by David Haden.

2011

5
CONTENTS

Timeline of Key Dates.


Introduction: A Walk in New York.

SURFACE: Walking the Streets of the City.

1. H.P. Lovecraft and the psychogeographers.

2. H.P. Lovecrafts night walks in New York: psychogeographic techniques.

3. The nature of the New York streets.

4. A note on H.P. Lovecraft and immigrants.

5. Lovecrafts New York coffee houses and ice-cream parlours.

UNDERGROUND: On the Monstrous, Occult, and Hidden.

6. H.P. Lovecraft and the subway.

7. It emerged from the subways!

8. On mystical and occult New York.

9. On H.P. Lovecraft and Franz Boas.

10. New York as Rlyeh, sunken city of Cthulhu.

Nyarlathotep annotated.

Bibliography.

6
TIMELINE OF KEY DATES

1920. Writes Nyarlathotep: set in a dream-landscape city at night.

1922. Apr 6th-12th: First ever visit to New York City.

1924. Mar 1924: Moves to New York. Lives at 259 Parkside Avenue, Brooklyn.

1924. Association with Houdini, completes Imprisoned with the Pharaohs.

1924. Spring: Works briefly for The Reading Lamp, New York.

1924. About Aug: Financial calamity strikes Lovecraft and his new wife.

1924. Dec: His wife departs from New York to a new job in the Midwest.

1924. 31st Dec: Moves to dismal hovel at 169 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights.

1924. Pulp magazine market starts to become more formulaic and action-oriented.

1925. July. Reads Machens The London Adventure.

1925. 1st-2ndAug: Writes The Horror at Red Hook. Set in NYC.

1925. 12th-13th Aug: Writes out plot for The Call of Cthulhu.

1925. Aug: Writes He. Set in NYC.

1926. Mar: Writes Cool Air. Set in NYC.

1926. Apr: Final all-night walk. Leaves New York and returns to Providence.

1926. Sept: Two week stay in New York.

1928. Spring: Brief stay in New York.

1932-1933. Spends two Christmas weeks in New York with friends.

7
New York at dusk, showing trolley car (tram), motor car, Woolworths Bldg.

Picture: GEC. Public Domain.

8
INTRODUCTION: A WALK IN NEW YORK

r. H.P. Lovecraft stepped down onto the platform of New Yorks


M Pennsylvania Station on the 6 th
day of April in 1922. He strolled out
along the long platform, carrying his valise. Strolling was what he enjoyed
best at that point in his life his experience of urban walking and
sauntering was generally that of joy, even exhilaration. He had raised this
activity to a practiced and cultivated art, and it was also one of his few real
joys in what can be regarded as a rather impoverished outward life.
Sometimes it even verged on being a mania. He had learned how to walk
observantly in his home town of Providence in New England, a place of
ocean breezes and pleasant walking. By 1900 the town was neatly paved with
bituminous macadam. This surface wore rather well 1 , but at that time there
was probably not a great deal to wear it down most of the traffic must
have consisted of buses and commercial vehicles. The town was also a place
from which bicycles were effectively banned by custom, except for those
ridden by pre-adolescent boys. 2 Lovecraft thus lived in that paradisiacal age
of the pedestrian, which lay somewhere between the decline of the horse in
large cities and the pestilence of mass car ownership. 3 He also walked in
some of the nearby Atlantic-facing towns and cities. Yet it was not in these,
or in his genteel home town of Providence that Lovecraft most fully
developed his proto-psychogeographic practices of walking, investigating,
observing, and mentally recording for future literary and epistolary use. It
was in that famous ground zero of the impact of the truly modern world,

1 George W. Tillison, Street Pavements and Paving Materials: a manual of city pavements, 1900.
The city of Providence, R.I., has a large amount of streets paved with macadam which
have given satisfaction.
2 Only boys rode bicycles, since it was not the done thing in the town for adults to

ride them. See: S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence, p.887.


3 See: Peter D. Norton. Fighting traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city. MIT
Press, 2008. James F. Morton, one of the Lovecraft circle, was killed by a car in 1941.
9
New York City between 1922 4 and 1927. During this period the city
joyfully broke down the barriers between high and low culture, between
technology and art, creating new and potent cultural forms from the resulting
mix such as science fiction, jazz, new forms of musical theatre, cinema 5 ,
radio, comic books 6 , mass advertising, mass publishing. All the elements of
a new culture, on which America would then found a new and often gaudy
empire of the mind. It thus seems to me to be a very useful task to examine
Lovecrafts experiences and walking practices in New York, as that great city
spun away from its past and careered toward a vigorous new type of
modernity.
Yet the city was much more than a glittering modern city for Lovecraft. It
was that in the early months of his stay, but it soon came to be seen as a
darker, older, and far more protean city 7 at least on his many walks in the
dead of night. As he threaded his way through a maze of tenuous and
delicate mental impressions, in the night shadows and dawn glimmerings of
New York City he found a new dream-city that could function

4 He had first visited New York in 1922, and not only as the usual tourist type. His
first gothic exploration in New York seems to have been in 1922, when he... I wrote it
a year ago in New York, when I had been exploring an old Dutch cemetery in Flatbush,
where the ancient gravestones are in the Dutch language. This led to the story The
Hound, written in 1922. Lovecraft quote from - Miscellaneous Writings, Arkham House,
1995.
5 The industry was not yet fully in Hollywood. The industry had grown up in the
1900s in New York, and even in the more advanced silent features era of the 1920s
there was still much film-making activity in New York. Only animation seems to have
been largely a West Coast phenomena. There seems to be some indication that McNeil
of the Lovecraft Circle was involved in the industry in the 1910s.
6 Comics Monthly, from 1922, being essentially first. Published by the Embee
Distribution Company of New York City.
7 His glorious first impression of it thus, in the company of Samuel Loveman in 1922

was later transmuted into fiction in He. New York would later become for him the
Pest Zone, as Lovecrafts attitudes changed... from Dunsanian fantasy of spires at
sunset to the pest zone, home of monstrous aliens, harbinger of the onrushing decline
of the West. Lovecraft was not alone in such judgments. When Freud and Jung visited
New York some fifteen years earlier [1913], they noted similar [extremes] Faye
Ringel, in New England's Gothic literature: history and folklore of the supernatural from the
seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.
10
simultaneously as an inspirational fever-dream, as a text, as an antiquarian
reliquary, and as a sort of psychic comforter to aid him in his battle against
the mundane and horrifyingly noisy reality of its daylight hours. Nor was he
without guides to the self-aware practice of walking, as I will explain in the
later essays in this book.
Lovecraft and his circle spent several years, on and off, exploring the city
by night, and from these experiences he shaped and sold the thrill of
unspeakable fears and nightmares. 8 His walking was not in the rural
tromping style, or that of the rambling clubs then newly in vogue. 9 Rather
it was walking of fits and starts, of zig-zags and jumps, of adventuresome
following of intuition, of stopping to see, hear, and consider, to fondle the
past and also any passing kitty-kat that might come with range.
He under took his extensive series of walks just as the rest of New York
was starting a new industrial revolution in the manufacture and sale of
aspirational dreams and in the commercial redirection of the human desire
for pleasure. Lovecraft might thus be seen as the dark other of the new
American dream machine. He and his friends delved into the slums, the
ancient wharfs and graveyards, the neglected back courtyards, the crumbling
churches and graveyards, the eerie wharfs, the winding alleys, plumbing the
depths of the rapidly-widening civilisation chasm opening between the hoary
past and the brash new modernity. 10 Out of this chasm he dredged the

8 Lovecraft was always acutely sensitive to places and landscapes with any real sense of

history in them. Even on his first deep tour of the city in 1925, as night falls he started
to notice... odd musty warehouses, queer old corners, presumably storing them away
as potential literary settings. Letters from New York, p.53. He does not often write much
in his letters of the night trips, seeming to prefer to leave it to the later fiction to express
the details. Perhaps he thought his aunts would not be interested in the fine details
served up again and again.
9 See George Kirks letters for his accounts of the tedium of a New York rambling

club, and the boring personalities to be found therein. To be found in Mara Kirk Hart
and S.T. Joshi (eds.) Lovecrafts New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927.
Hippocampus Press, 2006.
10 The other major New York outsider artist of the time, Joseph Cornell, undertook a
similar strategy of recovering the past. But Cornell found it among the carefully
selected detritus of popular culture in junk stores, second-hand bookshops, and thrift
stores. Cornells famous shadow box work was first shown in 1932 - had he seen these
11
elements of what would, in time, establish his own weirdly dark and now
seemingly eternal empire of the fantastic. 11 For instance, he found walking
useful for working up a mood suitable for creation, and the plot for the
famous The Call of Cthulhu was written directly after a marathon all-night
walking session in the city. 12
Lovecrafts expeditions into the night of New York City were near-
contemporaneous with the more well-known night walks of the Surrealists in
Paris. 13 In a city just a few years away from the brink of a new car-borne
hostility to the pedestrian, his walking, Lovecrafts cross-cutting of histories,
his seeking out of little known routes, his stopping to look up at the buildings
instead of into shop windows, his stepping back into the street for a better
view all these acts can be seen as implicit varieties of subversion of the
normal commercial experience of the modern city. His actual techniques 14 ,
and those of his companions interestingly anticipated some of those used in
the walks of the Situationists in the 1950s and early 1960s. 15 His
antiquarianism and attention to the old vernacular of the streets, and to the
layered and confused pasts of the city edge-lands, has many parallels with the
London turn in the modern psychogeography of the 1990s and 2000s. He

works Lovecraft might have rather liked the themes of astronomy, the cosmic, and
childhood nostalgia/play in the works but it is very unlikely Lovecraft ever knew of
Cornell.
11 I say eternal because his works are not cherished as dusty museum-pieces, like
those of many literary people of the time, but are still actively re-interpreted, re-shaped,
and expanded upon. Any mythos that lasts a century, as Lovecrafts has almost done
(the anniversary of its inception will be in 2017, since Dagon dates from 1917), while
still staying alive and changing and inspiring, seems to me to stand a good chance of
keeping going for several more centuries yet.
12 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.
p.172.
13 His vivid dream-narrative walk in a New York-like city at night in Nyarlathotep
(1920) clearly predates the 1924-5 walks in Paris that inspired Aragons Paris Peasant
(1926). The matter of influence is discussed in a later essay in this book.
14 Summarised in a later essay in this book.
15 Outlined in a later chapter in this book. The key work is: Ken Knabb. Situationist

International Anthology. Bureau of Public Secrets, 2010. Specifically Guy Debords


Theory of the Drive (1958) given in Knabb.
12
was not simply being a tourist or some fogeyish daytime architectural train-
spotter. Like the classic Paris flaneur, Lovecraft perceived modernity well
enough he marveled at its flow of seductive images when done well,
enjoyed its childishly garish ice-cream parlours, ate at the coffee shops and
the automats (all night self-service cafes), went on the amusements at Coney
Island, and visited its vast new cinemas and theatres. To illuminate this,
Christopher Morley usefully gives a vivid glimpse of the New York street-
scape in 1935 with modernity crowding in, seemingly from the edges
Walking on crowded city streets at night, watching the lighted
windows, delicatessen shops, peanut carts, bakeries, fish stalls, free
lunch counters piled with crackers and saloon cheese, and minor
poets struggling home with the Saturday night marketing [] the
great symbols of our hodgepodge democracy: ice cream soda,
electrical sky-signs 16
But in turning his back on the modern and on the legendary American
compulsory cheerfulness, he became for a moment something that now
seems a crucial addendum to New Yorks literary history a conscious anti-
collector collecting impressions of overlooked places rather than objects,
righting wrongs being done upon the city by modernity through a kind of
psychic collection and excavation of dark places, seeking out the obverse of
modernity and making it into highly subjective fictional detours that
nevertheless rested very much on his experiences in real places
hidden in cryptical recesses which no street, lane, or passageway
connects with the Manhattan of today! 17
In short order 18 he succeeded in powerfully re-imagining the city as
haunted by its suppressed other, the hoary and hidden past. He did not so

16 Christopher Morley, essay on The Art Of Walking (1935).


17 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.61.
18 Lovecraft often required about a year or two to fully absorb his memories of a

place and weave it into his fiction. Or else he wrote it almost immediately the mood
came upon him. Often Lovecraft could only write about a place when away from it.
13
much re-enchant places as the Romantics had tried to do, and the neo-
Romantics in Britain were then still trying to do as to re-nightmare
them. In a later chapter I will argue that he succeeded in doing this, not for
any one place in the city, but for the whole of New York City.
Like many psychogeographers 19 , Lovecraft also had a clear ideology and
philosophical vision. This was certainly not the ideology of the far left,
which seems common to most psychogeographers. But there are striking
similarities nevertheless. 20 Like those on the political left, he also railed and
chafed against the crassness and alienage of the modern commercial city, and
sought to combat it in visionary words. Like the literary pacifist anarchists
he engaged in a form of radical idleness a reluctance toward paid regular
work that was an effective refusal of it.
He also engaged in the typical bohemian modus operandi of anti-
consumption, happiest with the idea of the city as garden and as museum, as
basically free and pleasurable the free pleasures of the parks, pet shops 21 ,
the public libraries and museums, the art galleries, street cats, even the joy of
lingering in a caf over a cheap coffee in the small hours so as to be able to
read the free morning-edition papers, and talking with like-minded friends
on long night walks. Such free pleasures are, of course, one of the rights and
prerogatives of the talented artist. If society refuses to pay now for what it
will value only after ones death, then one is perfectly entitled to sponge upon
it mercilessly. Lovecraft did just that, becoming a lifelong expert at getting a
free ride and then walking away leaving everyone smiling.

19From a wide-ranging short introduction to psychogeography and its history, see


Merlin Coverleys Psychogeography (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010.
20 More understandable if one views fascism as arising as a heretical sect within

socialism, and one is aware of the ways that socialism was itself implicated with eugenics
and anti-semitism between the wars.
21 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.121.
14
Lovecrafts passion for a certain type of meanderingly investigatory and
often performative 22 walking was not without some personal limitations.
His extreme sensitivity to the cold meant that walking was, with a few
notable exceptions 23 , a passion only enthusiastically undertaken in pleasant
weather. This must have given his walking more glamour than if he had
been someone who had been habitually called upon to trudge about among
the harsh weather of a New England winter. Lovecraft was also prone to
fainting 24 , or so he thought himself to be based on occurrences when he was
younger. This probably meant the pavement was always something of a
worry for him, and seems to have been linked in his mind to cold weather.
He was a moderately big man by the standards of the time, and would no
doubt have fallen heavily if he had fainted. At the back of his mind he may
always have had the then-common and chilling saying of American childrens
25
street culture of the time: Step on a crack, break your back! He could
ill afford hospital bills. In time it was this young childrens street culture
which would be a platform for the first powerful new studies of the
overlooked in the city streets. Childrens street chalkings in 1930s and 40s
New York, for instance, have inspired one of the 20th centurys greatest
photography books, Helen Levvitts In The Street: chalk drawings and
messages, New York City 19381948 (1987). 26

22 Lovecrafts enthusiasm for walking was especially potent and even manic when with

friends, showing them around a place he had already explored and researched. He
frequently amazed and exhausted his companions, with an urgent verbal and arm-
waving conveyance of lost narratives, until they begged for the caf, the train station,
or the subway entrance.
23 Such as the January 1925 view of New York under a total eclipse of the Sun, and

what must have been a chilly January walk in Greenwood Cemetery. Possibly there was
some benefit from the heat-island effect in built-up parts of the city.
24 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. This may have been partly

due to the type if nourishment he was getting, or the lack of it.


25 This fear may account for some of his phobias about things like the seemingly-
endless subway entrance steps leading down into the gloom.
26 Levvitts book is a high water mark of a huge treasure house of 20th century street
photography, a photography which is especially rich as a record of young childrens own
street culture before that culture was obliterated or pushed onto pavements and into
back yards by the proliferation of the motor car. This cultural tradition, passed on in a
15
Children playing in New York, circa 1930s, cars starting to dominate the streets.

Picture: Elliott Erwitt. The New York Public Library.

Other elements of city streets still exist to be noticed and used in creative
work. For instance the Victorian and Edwardian grates and manhole covers
that first seem to have been written about eloquently by the British poet and
antiquarian John Betjeman, and which were (much later) photographed by
various documentary photographers and photobook makers in both America
and Britain. What lies beneath the manhole covers, such as the massive
Victorian sewer architecture, has also been more appreciated and properly
photographed in recent decades. The white picket fences and hardy weeds
adjacent to urban walks have been pictured by some of Americas finest
photographers, such as Ansel Adams and John Szarkowski. The shadows on
the streets of New York were wonderfully captured in a series of etchings by
Martin Lewis, now held by the Smithsonian. Much of historic interest is
probably still there in the urban streets to be documented such as

fragile and inventive manner from child to child, was the most ephemeral and valuable
treasure of the pre-car streets. It is almost lost to us now except frozen in still
photography and recorded in the 1960s and 70s rescue ethnography of researchers like
Iona Opie.
16
endangered street sounds. But the young childrens culture, and increasingly
the cats, now seem all but gone from the streets.
Lovecraft was rarely alone when walking. He often had the intelligent
company of eager and bookish youths and young men, some of whom he
considered to be and indeed whom he called his children, on his night
walks
He liked to take long peripatetic walks, like Aristotle, with his
conversants, as if to guarantee their presence only for him. 27
Even when alone he was communing with the shades of the past 28, and
also with a seemingly endless stream of passing cats. 29 No street cat, if
willing to be coaxed, could escape being fondled and caressed, and conversed
with in ancient tongues. Here is just one example from the letters
I worked slowly southward by the light of a waning misty moon
[] amongst the curious houses, imagination-kindling streets, &
30
innumerable kitty-cats
Lovecraft had a simple and potent secret for attracting the cats that he
adored all of his life... I always have a supply of catnip on hand. 31
Doubtless he had some catnip packed and ready for use in New York, as he
stepped along the platform of the Pennsylvania Station that fateful day when
he first arrived in New York City in April 1922.

27 Timo Airaksinen. The Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft: the route to horror. Lang, 1999. p.5.
28 See Lovecrafts New York story He for one of the most potent visualisations of
this idea in fictional form.
29 One has to presume cats were far more numerous and venturesome before the
advent of the cat-massacring mass car-culture and drug-addled yobs. Indeed Loveman
commented that... One of the quaintest features of all colonial New York is the
number of cats seen at large S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New
York. Night Shade, 2005. p.74.
30 Long all-night solo walk of early August 1925. S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters:

Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.170.


31 In a letter by Lovecraft, given on p.54 of Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the

Dark, Wildside Press, 2005.


17
Pennsylvania Station, NYC, 1910 publicity shot.

Picture: Public Domain

Pennsylvania Station, NYC. By Bernice Abbott, printed 1935.

Picture: Public Domain.

18
Tailors & drapers shop, New York City, circa 1910s. Lovecraft spent many weeks in
1925 scouring the city for new $25 suits, after burglaries. Picture: Public Domain.

19
20
SURFACE:
WALKING THE STREETS OF THE CITY

21
1 : H.P. LOVECRAFT AND THE PSYCHOGEOGRAPHERS

think Lovecrafts New York night walks deserve more attention from
I scholars than the very fleeting and uncomprehending glances that they
have so far had from Lovecraftians. There are obvious similarities to the
more celebrated manifestations and practitioners of psychogeography. This
essay surveys the psychogeographic tradition, with special attention given to
drawing parallels with Lovecrafts experiences in New York and showing his
linkages with some of the same roots as psychogeography has.

Lovecrafts New York City night walks seem to have consciously arisen from
his knowledge of the activities and practices of earlier writers. 1 One might
firstly point to Daniel Defoes Journal of the Plague Year (1722), which has
been described by psychogeographers in terms that would very much fit
Lovecrafts approach
This blend of fiction and biography, of local history and personal
reminiscence, is bound together to form an imaginative reworking of
the city in which the familiar layout of the city is shown to be
transformed beyond recognition [by the ravages of the plague] 2
Lovecraft was an expert on 18th century literature, and there was an edition
of Journal of the Plague Year in his library at his death. 3 Then there is the

1 Anne D. Wallace names the mode of literature arising from such knowing walking as
the peripatetic in her book Walking, literature, and English culture: the origins and uses of
peripatetic in the nineteenth century. Clarendon Press, 1993. In its 18th century origins this is
as understood as a cultivating labour capable of renovating both the individual and
his society by recollecting and expressing past value.
2 Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography (2nd ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. pp.36-37.
3 S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (2nd Rev. Ed.). Hippocampus Press, 2002.
22
work of John Thelwall 4 , and the night rambles of Coleridge, and De
Quincey 5
For De Quincey the city becomes a riddle, a puzzle still perplexing
writers and walkers to this day, and he establishes a vision of city
replayed by later devotees of the urban gothic such as Robert Louis
Stevenson and Arthur Machen. These authors continue the
tradition of writer as walker, established, at least in urban form, by
De Quincey and present the city as a dreamscape in which nothing is
as it seems and which can only be navigated by those possessing
secret knowledge. 6
Some of these rambles led me to great distances; for an opium-eater
is too happy to observe the motion of time. And sometimes, in my
attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my
eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west
passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and head-lands I
had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such
knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatical entries, and such
sphinxs riddles of streets without thoroughfares, as must, I conceive,
baffle the audacity of porters, and confound the intellects of
hackney-coachmen, I could almost have believed at times, that I
must be the first discoverer of some of these terra incognita, and
doubted whether they had yet been laid down in the modern charts
of London.
De Quincey, Confessions of an English opium-eater (1821).

4 John Thelwall, The Peripatetic (1793). Rebecca Solnit in her Wanderlust: A History of
Walking (2006), sees him as a progenitor, setting... something of a pattern: autodidacts
who took the trinity of radical politics, love of nature, and pedestrianism to extremes.
5 Lovecraft was a self-taught expert on 18th century literature and architecture, and
knew of night-time expeditions by De Quincey and others. In this respect it is
interesting that Christopher Morleys essay The Art of Walking (1935) states in his
historical survey that I have always fancied that walking as a fine art was not much
practised before the eighteenth century.
6 Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. p.17.
23
Lovecraft also knew of the depiction of the London streets at night in
Robert Louis Stevensons famous horror novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and
Mr Hyde (1887), and probably was able to recall the biographical details of
the London night-walks of poets such as William Blake and Francis
Thompson. 7 There was also a touch of the 1890s performative dandyism of
Oscar Wilde mingled with Lovecrafts New York experience 8 although I
cannot see any particularly strong link from Lovecraft to systematic night-
walking in the works or life of Wilde. 9
Edgar Allen Poe also took night walks, which surfaced in his London story
The Man of The Crowd (1840), and in his The Murders in the Rue
Morgue (1841), among others. Lovecraft may have been influenced by
Charles Hemstreets Literary New York: its landmarks and associations 10 which
he read in late November 1924. It is a good short survey, with much to say
about Poe and his circle in New York, and with lines on night walking such
as
In those nightly walks through the quiet streets of the sleeping
town, the poet Steendam found inspiration for his verses

7 Kalem Club member George Kirk recommended him in his letters, as one of the few

poets of the 19th century worth reading. Although now forgotten except by ardent
Catholic historians, Thompson was once counted among this canon of London night-
walkers. As evidence I can give this quote from 1907
Blake, who was perhaps half-Insane, needed neither alcohol nor drug to open
his eyes to the [night-walking] world of strange shapes and terrors; but all the
others Coleridge, De Quincey, Poe, James Thomson, and Francis
Thompson - The Nation, 1907.
Lovecraft knew of Dowson, since he mentions them in his letters - S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The
Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.162.
8 On the latter, see his fastidious attention to dress and the Sunday tradition of the
Kalem Club to promenade in best suits and dandy canes down Clinton Street. For
Rheinhart Kleiners full account of this, see: S.T. Joshi. Lovecrafts New York Circle.
Hippocampus Press, 2006. p.225.
9 Although some might see links with clandestine male-male encounters in the

darkened streets. See Lovecrafts story He (1925), and Matt Cooks London and the
Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914. On New York City see George Chaunceys Gay New
York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940.
10 Charles Hemstreet. Literary New York: its landmarks and associations. Putnams, 1903.
24
McDonald Clarke often wandered out into the City Hall Park over
the way, and sat there through many a long summer night
dreaming over his Elixir of Moonshine
walk away along the street remembering that in Poes time it was a
delightful country road. Stroll towards the Harlem River as he
wandered many a moonlight night, his brain busy with the deep
problems of The Universe. [] Walk over the path there, high
above the water, and visit the lonely spot where the suggestion came
to Poe for that requiem of despair, the mystic Ulalume.
And also with the suggesting of nocturnal time travel
At night, when it [Frankfort Street] is silent and deserted, it
suggests the time, far back in the year 1678
Lovecraft had probably also read Thoreaus famous essay Walking, since
it was very widely anthologised.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who
understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a
genius, so to speak, for sauntering
Perhaps he had even read Robert Cortes Holliday, said to be the
American Belloc, in his book Walking Stick Papers (1918). Here he would
have found musings on the use of the cane for walking 11 , and also a
strikingly homosocial edict on the nature of walking
No one, though (this is the first article to be observed), should ever
go a journey with any other than him with whom one walks arm in
arm, in the evening, the twilight, and, talking (let us suppose) of
mens given names, agrees that if either should have a son he shall be
named after the other. Walking in the gathering dusk, two and two,
since the world began, there have always been young men who have
thus to one another plighted their troth [i.e. married] . If one is not
still one of these, then, in the sense here used, journeys are over for

11 Lovecraft seemed very fond of his walking canes.


25
him. What is left to him of life he may enjoy, but not journeys.
Walking Stick Papers
Then there is Arthur Machen, who offered a similarly exact guide to
walking, and who has been hailed as a proto-psychogeographer. Lovecraft
discovered his works in 1923. Machen was an author of both fiction and
non-fiction who
seeks out the strange and otherworldly within our midst a single
street, event or object capable of transforming the most mundane
surroundings into something strange or sinister, revealing that point
of access, called the Northwest Passage by De Quincey, which
provides an unexpected shortcut to the magical realm behind our
own. 12
The second and third volumes of Machens autobiography: Things Near
and Far (1923); and The London Adventure ; of the art of wandering (1924) 13 ,
must have been a key and very timely influence on Lovecraft. 14 The London
Adventure is at once an itinerant story, a topography, an instructional manual
for walking, a text of performative writing, and an autobiography. 15
Machens fiction was discovered by Lovecraft in the Spring of 1923, and he
swiftly became a devotee. In these two later Machen autobiographies, of
which Lovecraft purchased his own copies at Scribners in October 1924 16 ,
he found not only the supernatural but also much that spoke to his love of
walking and old architecture
London was undisturbed in those days. Holywell Street and Wych
Street were all in their glory in 1885, a glory compounded of

12 Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. p.18.


13 Sadly, this book is firmly out-of-print until 2018 when it becomes public domain.
14 He read them just before his key burst of highly productive night-walking in August

1925.
15 Lovecraft read The London Adventure in July 1925, and thus would it have influenced

He, among others. See: S.T. Joshi. Lovecrafts Library: a catalogue. Hippocampus
Press, 2002. p.99. Lovecrafts library also contained Things Near and Far (1923).
16 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.
26
sixteenth-century gables, bawdy books and matters congruous
therewith, parchment Elzevirs, dark courts and archways, hidden
taverns, and ancient slumminess. Things Near and Far.
Machen also makes an implicitly political critique of the very blunt tools
then available to the urban planner, social reformer, and early urban
ethnographer, in terms of the mapping of more than the simplest elements in
the social geography of cities
You may point out a street, correctly enough, as the abode of
washerwomen; but, in that second floor, a man may be studying
chaldee roots, and in the garret over the way a forgotten artist is
dying by inches. A Fragment of Life.
Machen point to ways of cultivating the wonder to be found among
ordinary or neglected places which may nevertheless evoke rare sensory
impressions
And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe,
the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by
the Grays Inn Road will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in
the heart of Africa, not in the fabled cities of Tibet Things Near
and Far.
It is possible, just dimly possible, that the real pattern and scheme of
life is not in the least apparent on the outward surface of things,
which is the world of common sense and rationalism and reasoned
deductions; but rather lurks, half-hidden, only apparent in certain
rare lights, and then only to the prepared eye; a secret pattern, an
ornament which seems to have but little relation or none at all to the
obvious scheme of the universe. The London Adventure .
Machen also suggested the making of random adventures by wandering
the city without maps
I began now to appreciate the fact that if you set out, without a
map, from your house at 36 Great Russell Street and walk for half an

27
hour eastward or northward you are in fact in an unknown region, a
new world Things Near and Far.
This approach to walking seems to have first emerged in the 1890s, in
Machens novella A Fragment of Life (begun in 1899)
I didnt buy a map; that would have spoilt it, somehow; to see
everything plotted out, and named, and measured. What I wanted
was to feel that I was going where nobody had been before A
Fragment of Life.
Machen also suggested early, in his Novel of the Iron Maid (1890), a linkage
between fantasy and random walking, in terms of conjuring up the feelings of
fantasy that can come upon those walking in deserted streets at night
Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked
by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint,
sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any
means, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted
as those of Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take, so I
set out wearily, looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in
perspective: and as I walked street after street branched off to right
and left, some far reaching, to distances that seemed endless,
communicating with other systems of thoroughfare, and some mere
protoplasmic streets, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and
rubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have
spoken of systems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that walking
alone through these silent places I felt fantasy growing on me, and
some glamour of the infinite. Novel of the Iron Maid (1890).
One of Machens inspirations might be found in the late 18th century work
by John Thelwall, The Peripatetic (1793) which has a similarly radical
structure to The London Adventure , and a similar revolutionary view of the
nature and potentials of walking in London as a political/creative practice.

28
Thelwall seems to me be one of the key roots of the whole tradition, since he
influenced Coleridge in terms of his night walks. 17
Machen tried to develop his ideas to such a systematic extent that in The
London Adventure he repeatedly calls this approach to walking his London
science and like terms. Thus he gave his activities a systematic cast, an
approach he presumably then communicated to Lovecraft through a reading
of the autobiography in 1925.18 The knowledge Lovecraft had from Machen
seems very significant in making a claim for his having made a shift from
simple antiquarian tourist to proto-psychogeographer by summer 1925, and
in a manner that can stand comparison with the approaches of the early
surrealists and the early Situationist International. He also had contact with
Paris bohemia in 1925, since he was receiving regular lengthy letters from
Alfred Galpin. 19 As he read Machen and others, Lovecraft must have
repeatedly glimpsed that it is possible to make of walking a systematic and
experimental practice.

ut what of the surrealists, who were operating in Paris at the same time
B as Lovecraft was in New York? Lovecraft may have known of the new
surrealist tendency in art and literature from the English-language cultural
magazines, which must have reported on what was then happening in Paris.
Then there was also Lovecrafts good friend Alfred Galpin who was in Paris

17 Nicholas Roe. Coleridge and John Thelwall: the Road to Nether Stowey in: The
Coleridge Connection, 2nd edition, 2007. In England there is an older non-literary
tradition, in which walking is essentially a small-p political practice. This lies in the fact
that while the close-packed island is almost entirely built up and demarcated by
boundaries in the urban areas, there are nevertheless countless small paths, ways
through, shortcuts, and desire paths that unofficially permeate it almost everywhere. If
the English cultural tradition is the invention of tradition, then on the ground this
takes the form of the ad-hoc invention of unofficial shortcuts known only to locals.
18 This theme had also been developed in fiction in The Hill of Dreams (1907) based on
Machens time in London. From which trivial and common things were acutely
significant. Lovecraft also read Machens book on aesthetics, Hieroglyphics, in summer
1925.
19 Galpin was in Paris in 1925, see the next section of this essay for details. S.T. Joshi.

(Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.162.
29
in 1925, seemingly for a year, as an impoverished bearded bohemian music
student. Although Galpin had reportedly given up literature at that time,
he sent very lengthy reports on Paris to Lovecraft. 20 Possibly among these
were some accounts of the latest trends in art in the city. Perhaps this is
what we see surfacing in the line from The Call of Cthulhu (1926)
a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous
Dream Landscape in the Paris spring salon of 1926 21
However, Lovecraft appears to have been more interested in Galpins
accounts of walking among the medieval streets of the city, which he
mentions in his own letters. 22 Yet there was another Paris connection.
Galpins French wife came to New York and stayed with the Lovecraft Circle
in 1925. She was extremely intelligent and literary and had just come from
Paris. She was admitted as a rare guest to one of the Kalem Club group
meetings on August 22nd-23rd 1925, where
The presence of one direct from Paris gave a Gallick tone to the
conversation 23
It seems unimaginable that the circle would not have asked about the latest
literary trends in Paris, although Aragons Paris Peasant would not be
published until 1926. The very next night Lovecraft went on an immense
all-night exploration with Kirk, covering 90 blocks. 24

20 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.163. Sadly, Galpin destroyed Lovecrafts letters to him, only 27 now surviving.
21 This also bears a slight resemblance to one of Lovecrafts early lost stories called
The Picture... [in] one of the juvenile tales I destroyed [...] I had a man in a Paris
garret paint a mysterious canvas embodying the quintessential essence of all horror.
This idea was then later used as a basis for Pickmans Model.
22 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.163.
23 Ibid. p.178. During Mortons youth... he also spent considerable time in France

which enabled him to use the French language fluently. From Memorial of James F.
Morton, American Mineralogist.
24 Ibid. p.182.
30
After his death Lovecraft was certainly seen to have had strong surrealist
tendencies, even if he did not know them as such while he was alive. 25 As
early as 1943 the surrealist journal VVV featured a groundbreaking and
positive study of Lovecraft and his work by Robert Allerton Parker. 26 This
was in the early years of a short revival of fantastic literature, which began
after Lovecrafts death with William Sloanes To Walk the Night (1937).
Then in the mid 1970s Frank Rosemont, in his influential Arsenal surrealist
book-cum-magazine, wrote that
the Lovecraft Circle grasped the essence of the surrealist view,
verified by all great examples of the past, that it is impossible to
create anything of significance by expressing only the manifest
content of an age [] The intuitive insistence on the awesome,
truly limitless possibilities opened, in the epoch of the workers
councils 27 , gives his and his comrades works an implicitly
revolutionary character forever unattainable by explicitly socialist
novels.
Sadly, no-one in modern American surrealism appears to have significantly
followed the lead of Parker and Rosemont in seeing Lovecraft as a fellow
traveler with surrealism. Possibly this has something to do with the
revelations about Lovecrafts politics in the 1970s and 80s. Had he been a
card-carrying leftist, he would no doubt have continued to be feted by such
groups to this day. As it was, while these American surrealists were able to
draw early and indicative parallels between Lovecrafts fiction and surrealism,
they would not have the biographical materials that would have enabled them

25 Certainly the early French translations of Lovecraft were welcomed with open arms

by the French surrealists in the 1950s, although some appear to have rather tediously
claimed that the work... reflects an authentic occult knowledge (Grard Legrand).
26 Robert Allerton Parker. Such Pulp as Dreams Are Made On (with illustrations by

Hans Bok). VVV, 2-3, March 1943, pp.64-65. Reprinted in A Weird Writer in Our
Midst: Early Criticism of H. P. Lovecraft. Hippocampus Press, 2010.
27 He is referring to Paris 1968 and its aftermath, the workers councils of Portugal in

the 1970s, etc.


31
to catch sight of the thematic and chronological parallels between Lovecraft
and some of the seminal early Surrealist texts on walking in the city. 28 I
refer, of course, to the famous surrealist texts such as the nocturnal walks
recorded in Louis Aragons Paris Peasant (1926) 29 , one of the central and
earliest seminal works of literary surrealism, walks that were
contemporaneous with the night walks of Lovecraft and his circle in New
York.
Some Lovecraftians might at first suspect that Aragon, perhaps only read
about by Lovecraft in a book review, forms a possible alternative inspiration
for Lovecrafts night walks and an alternative to those 18th century works and
later authors I have here outlined in the previous pages. But there seems to
have been no direct influence of either man upon the other. Aragons 1926
book came out too late to influence Lovecraft in New York, and Aragons
work was strongly inspired by Vitezslav Nezvals long poem The Wondrous
Magician (1922), which makes of the Eastern European cultural capital of
Prague a shadowy and fantastical realm. 30 There also seems to me to be an
obvious influence from the ancient Jewish Golem story 31 and the Eastern

28 Nor have any of the writers on psychogeography, which arises partly from

surrealism, caught sight of Lovecraft. The same can be said as the academic work
undertaken on the traditions of the writer as walker as artist and walking art.
29 Aragons book was followed by others that examined the night and the city. Breton
followed with Nadja (1928) and Soupault with Les Dernieres Nuits de Paris (1928), among
others. Lovecraft may have seen some of these reviewed in English after he had
returned to Providence. Somewhat later Brassai produced a book of night photographs
of Paris called LAmour Fou (1937).
30 This can be found in English in Alfred Frenchs The Poets of Prague: Czech poetry between

the wars. Oxford University Press, 1969. If seems to have first appeared in 1922 in The
Revolutionary Anthology of Devetsil. The title may come from Shelleys translation of scenes
from The Wondrous Magician, and the theme certainly comes from the classic Jewish story
of the Golem. It seems Lovecraft never saw either The Wondrous Magician or Paris
Peasant (translation published 1971 in English).
31 Lovecraft did mention The Golem by Gustave Meyrink in his Supernatural Horror in
Literature (1927), which he wrote while in New York, but he was only able to read it in
the mid 1930s. Therefore it cannot have been an influence on him in the 1920s.
Interestingly, one can see in the golem one of the roots of the concept of the New York
superhero, especially as comics in the city were largely a Jewish industry. See: Danny
Fingeroths Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero, and many
other recent academic history books on the Jewish roots of the comic book.
32
European gothic traditions. Yet there was also that rather elliptic
Northwest Passage by which De Quincey was conveyed into the tradition of
Baudelaires flneur 32 by Edgar Allen Poes London story The Man of The
Crowd (1840), and thus influenced Aragon. Lovecraft knew Poe intimately,
so there is a sort on tenuous linkage there. There is also the interesting
possibility of an Arthur Machen influence on Aragons Paris Peasant but
if there were any explicit links between Aragon and the London science of
night walking which Machen had so explicitly set out in print in 1923 and
1924, then these have long since been swept under the carpet of history.
Despite this apparent lack of influence from/to Lovecraft, Aragon seems
to have independently shared Lovecrafts antiquarian interests. The first
section of Paris Peasant is an examination of the final days of an old Parisian
arcade before being demolished, which Aragon characterised as faceless
monsters full of modern myths
Although the life that originally quickened them has drained away,
they deserve, nevertheless, to be regarded as the secret repositories of
several modern myths: it is only today, when the pickaxe menaces
them, that they have at last become the true sanctuaries of a cult of
the ephemeral, the ghostly landscape of damnable pleasures and
professions. Places that were incomprehensible yesterday and that
tomorrow will never know. Paris Peasant.
Then there are the times Aragons prose in Paris Peasant, at least in its
1971 English translation by Simon Watson-Taylor, seems almost
Lovecraftian in its themes we are shown images arising from metaphors of
marine and coastal life, sphinxes that haunt the city in the form of manikins,
barriers against infinity, we peer into disquieting atmospheres of places
The whole fauna of human fantasies, their marine vegetation, drifts
and luxuriates in the dimly lit zones of human activity, as though
plaiting thick tresses of darkness. Here, too, appear the lighthouses

32 The ecstasies and horrors of De Quincey and the paradis artificiels of Baudelaire
this line is the opening of Lovecrafts The Crawling Chaos (1921).
33
of the mind, with their outward resemblance to less pure symbols.
[] The disquieting atmospheres of places contains similar locks
which cannot be bolted fast against infinity. Wherever the living
pursue particularly ambiguous activities, the inanimate may
sometimes assume the reflection of their most secret motives: and
thus our cities are peopled with unrecognized sphinxes which will
never stop the passing dreamer and ask him mortal questions unless
he first projects his meditations, his absence of mind, towards them.
Paris Peasant.
The similarly between the approaches and symbolic imaginaries of
Lovecraft and Aragon at the same moment in history is then surely just one
of an uncanny and chance coincidence and synchronicity. I have to assume
that there was just something about the culture in certain large cities at that
moment in history, between the disappearance of the horse and before the
deadly onslaught of the motor car, in that sudden emergence of the vast
chasm between the old world and modernity, that opened the streets of large
cities to the primed imaginations of nocturnal wanderers and dreamers.
The final half of Paris Peasant is a dizzying meditation on nature in the
city, leading to a metaphysical ending that points out the ways that language
serves to distort the ways we can glimpse reality. Aragon attempts a
description of what one might call a new reason of the imaginary. This is
implicitly linked to the supernatural, via Aragons definition in Paris Peasant
of the supernatural as
Le merveilleux, cest la contradiction qui apparait dans le rel.
and in English this is given as, in various translations
The fantastic, it is a contradiction apprehended in the real.
The fantastic is the contradiction that appears in the real.
The marvelous is the eruption of contradiction within the real.

34
Crucially, Andre Breton 33 once imagined in the 1920s that the best framing
device for a small found-object that served as an eruption of the marvelous
in the everyday streetscape might be a...
vitrine-bibliothque containing Gothic novels cette literature
ultra-romanesque, archi-sophistiquee a small edifice dedicated to
fear. 34
Breton was perhaps thinking here of gothic horror literature as a proven
mode of effective world-changing action, from Horace Walpoles initial The
Castle of Otranto (1764) through to Ruskin and William Morris into the
benign arts & crafts variant of 19th century British socialism. If so then he
was wrong about this chain of influence 35 but Lovecraft may have also
had the same attitude at the back of his mind, albeit unconsciously and
without Bretons erroneous linkage with socialism.
It may perhaps seem strange to some young readers to imagine that writing
a horror book would fundamentally and irrevocably change the fabric of lived
and built reality for the next generation. Yet that is what happened with the
gothic revival, which arose most potently and widely in the popular form of

33 Interestingly, in his later pronouncements, for instance in the Prolegomena to a Third

Surrealist Manifesto or Not (1942), one might even think he had been reading Lovecraft on
cosmicism. But that would be well after Lovecrafts death...
Man is perhaps not the centre, the cynosure of the universe. One can go so
far as to believe that there exist above him, on the animal scale, beings whose
behaviour is as strange to him as his may be to the mayfly or the whale. [...] A
new myth? Must these beings be convinced that they result from a mirage or
must they be given a chance to show themselves?
34 Haim N. Finkelstein, Lobjet insolite in Bretons writings, in his own Surrealism

and the Crisis of the Object , UMI Research Press, 1980. p19. In the 1920s, gothic criticism
as a field had not yet emerged in English, there was only Edith Birkheads basic survey
book The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (1921).
35 To have assumed such a chain of influence would have been for Breton to mistake
the history in question but what matters here is that he may have believed it to be so.
Serendipity (finding something useful that youre not looking for) and misunderstanding
seem to have been small but important elements in the motor that has driven chains of
cultural production in the West during the 20th century.
35
sensational gothic horror novels from Walpole onwards 36, giving great
popular impetus to a new and widespread associated neo-gothic architectural
style that would swiftly become the de facto official state style of the world-
bestriding British Empire. This new style then gave us buildings ranging
from the Crystal Palace and the British Houses of Parliament and countless
other gothic revival official and ecclesiastical buildings, and moved strongly
into the industrial architecture of the machine age.

The neo-gothic style gatehouse (1861-63), the entrance to the gigantic Greenwood
Cemetery in Brooklyn, NYC. This is where Lovecraft went on an early night-walk
one evening in what must have been a cold January, and it is also named by Lovecraft
as the resting place of Robert Suydam in The Horror at Red Hook.

36 See Lovecrafts essay Supernatural Horror in Literature for a full summary of such
novels, starting with the novel The Castle of Otranto by the queer writer Horace Walpole.
These works played with the opportunities opened up by the decline in belief in the
folkloric supernatural in the face of Enlightenment reason. Lovecraft similarly
constructs a believing and convincing artifice, behind the apparent seriousness of
which there is - more often than not - concealed the impish grin of the trickster.
36
An equally important part of the neo-gothic project was a similarly
ambitious set of moral precepts and ideas, which in time fed strongly into
and regenerated Lovecrafts own beloved monarchist and conservative
tradition. Lovecraft thus lived with, and was in many ways actually a product
of, a potent living example of how the most sensational form of horror
literature could in fairly short order come to fundamentally change the very
fabric of the constructed urban world and human ideas about how to live in
and apprehend that world. 37

So it seems to me that Lovecrafts project, if such it can be called, had


somewhat similar impulses and ideas to that of Aragon 38 and the early
surrealists: the attempt to find a new way to act upon the world through
literature that would be as potent as the original gothic novel had so
obviously been; his attempt to reconcile secular reason with the yearning for
the supernatural and alien; the seeking of the unfamiliar in the familiar fabric
of the everyday urban world; the focus on uncovering the antique
contradictions in modernity and finding a northwest passage between the
ancient and the modern; the emphasis on spatial atmospheres as links to the
sense of the uncanny; the strong belief in the incompleteness of mans grasp
upon the real world; in the insistence on trying to speak the unspeakable
through a fresh and dynamic language that could break with the tired style of
the Victorian past; the attempt to develop new types of creative works that
arise from bad and vulgar commercial taste but which would transcend
those tastes.
The German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin later became fascinated by
the Paris arcades described by Aragon. 39 His famous Arcades Project

37 At the moment when Lovecraft was formulating The Call of Cthulhu, Hitler was
publishing his own horror book, Mein Kampf - which would indeed change the world.
The first volume of Mein Kampf appeared in July 1925.
38 Although it should be pointed out that at that time Aragons project was unfixed and

developing, as was Lovecrafts.


39 Michael Calderbank. Surreal Dreamscapes: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades.

Essay available for free online at surrealismcentre.ac.uk


37
(1927-1940), as variously reconstructed and interpreted, has had a significant
effect on the creative-intellectual life of the 20th century. Benjamin could
almost be describing Lovecraft in New York in the following passage on the
nature of walking and discovering in the urban night
An intoxication comes over the one who walks aimlessly through
the streets for a long time. With every step the walking itself gains
greater power; the temptations of shops, bistros and smiling women
grow less and less, while more and more irresistible becomes the
magnetism of the next street corner, a distant mass of greenery, or
the name of a street. Then comes hunger. He wants to know
nothing of the hundred ways of satisfying it. Like an ascetic animal,
he prowls through unknown neighborhoods until, in deepest
exhaustion, he collapses in his cold, displeasing room. 40
Lovecraft writes of this fever in his letters
If these ancient spots were fascinating in the busy hours of twilight,
fancy their utter and poignant charm in the sinister hours before
dawn, when only cats, criminals, astronomers, and poetic
antiquarians roam the waking world! truly we had cast the
modern and visible world aside [] the fever of the explorer was
41
upon us

40 From a translation of the notes and materials for the Arcades Project, Walter

Benjamin. Given in Joachim Schlor. Nights in the big city: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930.
Reaktion, 1998.
41 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.65-66.
38
he ideas of the Surrealists found their way, more or less clearly, to the
T members of the Situationist International who also engaged in some
highly influential night walks 42 they called drives, in the later 1950s. One
assumes that the linkages between the 1920s night walks of the Paris
surrealists and those of the Paris Situationists are clear cut, via both direct
and indirect routes into several key 1950s European groups 43 that would lead
to the early Situationist International. The influence was no doubt wider and
took multiple routes. One such alternative route might be seen in the work
of the French philosopher Francois Dagognet who used the word neo-
geographie in the title of his Une Epistemologie delspace concret: Neo-
geographie. DeJean, translating part of what seems to be Dagognets still as-
yet-untranslated book 44 , seems to define a neo-geographic practice as being
psychological in nature...
a relational field [of] irradiations, numerous fragile paths,
proximities and distances, an ensemble that can be said to constitute
a personality 45
This is typical French intellectual language, but: field of irradiations and
fragile paths 46 that combine in what is presumably a very personal
psychological ensemble linked to the experience of a place.... some readers
may see here a similarity to the Lettrist /early Situationist practice of derive
as part of psychogeographic walking and writing. It seems likely that
Dagognets idea of neo-geography operated within the wake of Henri
Lefebvres influential book La production de lespace (1974) although even
there we might find a looping passage back to the early Surrealists, since

42 Guy Debord. Theory of the Derive (1958).


43 Sadie Plant. The Most Radical Gesture (1992). Routledge.
44 Dagognet, Francois (1977). Une epistemologie de lespace concret: neo-geographie (Problemes
et controverses). Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin.
45 Ibid. p.91 - translation of p.174 of Dagognet.
46 Hakim Bey uses a similar terminology about the sense-of-place in his essay Against

Interpretation.
39
Lefebvre had actually been a surrealist in the 1920s. 47 Lefebvres Critique de
la vie quotidienne (started 1945, published in three volumes 1947-81) is said
to have inspired COBRA 48 , and Lefebvre personally knew some French
members of the Situationist International between 19571961, and he was
aware of their experiments with derive and unitary urbanism. While
Lefebvre later claimed: My thinking about the city had completely different
sources 49 to those of the SI, it now seems obvious that there was an
intermingling of ideas.
Whatever the truth of the exact origins or routes, those early Surrealist
ideas reached the Situationist International and formed the core of their own
early ideas on walking. 50 Although influence is highly unlikely, some of
their formulations of the drive have elements in common with that of
Lovecraft and his circle. The SI also wrote in terms Lovecraft would have
instantly understood
All cities are geological; you cannot take three steps without
encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We
move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us
toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding
perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but
this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical
locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings Formulary for a
New Urbanism (1957).
He would also have sympathised with the SI ideas that
The various attempts to integrate modern science into new myths
remain inadequate. Everyone wavers between the emotionally
still-alive past and the already dead future. The man of the cities

47 Gaston Bachelard. La Potique de lEspace, 1958.


48 One of the groups that fed into the early SI.
49 Ross, Kristin (interviewer and translator). Henri Lefebvre on the Situationist

International. October, 79, Winter 1997. Interview from 1983.


50 The SI were also aware of De Quincey, thus bringing the circle back full-circle.
40
thinks he has escaped from cosmic reality, but there is no
corresponding expansion of his dream life. The reason is clear:
dreams spring from reality and are realised in it. Formulary for a
New Urbanism (1957).
The theory and practice of the drive is central to the development of
psychogeography. 51 The drive is predicated on the act of walking in the
city, and is usually semi-random but according to the SI
If chance plays an important role in drives this is because the
methodology of psychogeographical observation is still in its infancy.
a drive rarely occurs in its pure form Chance is a less
important factor in this activity than one might think: from a drive
point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant
currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into
or exit from certain zones. Theory of the Derive (1958)
The SIs version of the drive is not based upon a surrealist-style surrender
to the unconscious (as in the old practice of automatic writing, etc), which
the SI and the surrealists alike quickly considered a failed technique. Unlike
Machens vision of walking, the SI drive may include the study of maps
although largely as the framework from which to build new and possibly
transient ones
The exploration of a fixed spatial field entails establishing bases and
calculating directions of penetration. It is here that the study of
maps comes in ordinary ones as well as ecological and
psychogeographical ones along with their correction and
improvement. With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs and
experimental drives, one can draw up hitherto lacking maps of
influences, maps whose inevitable imprecision at this early stage is no
worse than that of the first navigational charts. Theory of the
Derive (1958)

51 For a full modern account see any number of books on psychogeography, the most
accessible of which is Merlin Coverleys Psychogeography.
41
Yet, like the surrealists, there was obviously an SI interest in the potential
of the relics of an occult past, if only for their liminal atmospheres and hair-
raising potential. For instance, among other activities, the SI Paris group is
described in Theory of the Derive (1958) as wandering in subterranean
catacombs forbidden to the public another aspect of their ideas that
would have been familiar to both Lovecraft and Machen. In Debords essay
The Adventure (1960) he states that The situationists are in the
catacombs of visible culture. The literary gothic and science fiction are
clearly the twin metaphorical poles of the drive. One of the founding
members of the Situationist International, Asger Jorn, once wrote
psychogeography is the science fiction of urbanism 52

The practice of the drive might then best be summarised as: the seeking out
of tenuous atmospheres, sediments of history, unfrequented routes, during
the semi-random pedestrian examination of urban streetscapes. Knowledge
gained from this activity can psychologically transform urban spaces, and
usefully reveal points of potential playful action. The idea of playful and
subversive action or intervention seems to me the key new element that the SI
brought to urban walking. Yet this was often expressed only in words,
provocational texts and the famous slogans of May 1968. And how different
were these really from Lovecrafts own cosmicism, imprinted via his stories
into places through being distributed to the youthful masses via the potent
means of the pulp magazines? And what of these Situationist phrases from
the walls of Paris?
We see things only as we are constructed to see them
Penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism
In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in life
Possibilities are even more hideous than realities

52 Internationale Situationniste, 1958-1969, No.1 & 2. Editions Champ Libre, 1975.


42
Actually these are all from H.P. Lovecraft. But they could so easily have
been passed off as SI slogans from the walls of Paris in 1968.

ovecraft also has a number of ideas in common with the much later
L modern psychogeographers, the writers of what might be called the
London turn which flowered in the 1990s. There is the antiquarian
interest, which is an obviously similarity. But there are other similarities.
Stewart Home used the language and graphic crudity of the pulps in his
psychogeographic fictions. Other modern psychogeographers have a
traditionalist political bent like Lovecraft, such as Peter Ackroyd. Iain
Sinclairs novels and other work takes inspiration from Machen, among
others. Like Ackroyd and Sinclair, Lovecraft understands places as being
layered with eruptive traces of the past that can invade the present in various
forms 53 and that certain areas of cities often sustain their general ambiances
and trades despite the changing centuries and changing populations.
Ackroyd calls this chronological resonance
Yet perhaps it has become clear that certain activities seem to
belong to certain areas, or neighbourhoods, as if time were moved or
swayed by some unknown source of power. 54
Just as it seems possible to me that a street or dwelling can
materially affect the character and behaviour of the people who live
within them, is it not also possible that within our sensibility and our
55
language there are patterns of continuity and resemblances

53 I discuss this aspect of Lovecrafts work in my essay The Rats In The Walls:
otherness and British culture in my book Lovecraft in Historical Context, 2010. Will
Eisner explores the same themes of unconscious continuance, with more grit and
social/racial awareness, in his superb graphic novel of the biography of one New York
street, Dropsie Avenue. This may have been inspired by Lovecrafts The Street.
54 Peter Ackroyd, London, the biography. Chatto & Windus, 2000.
55 Peter Ackroyd, On the Englishness of English Literature. In: The Collection. Chatto

& Windus, 2001.


43
We might see such an eruptive past emerging into horror fiction form in the
hideously metamorphosed American Indians in New York, in Lovecrafts
short story He (1925), written in the hours after an intense all-night solo
walk in Manhattan. One can also see the idea fundamentally structuring his
earlier The Rats In The Walls (1923) where important structures are built
atop one other on the same site over the centuries and millennia. 56
Peter Ackroyd rightly points to the ways that the complex historical
pattern/patina of a city constrains the nature of what people can do and build
and how they might choose to think and act in certain places. A sound
historical awareness would certainly seem useful for the practice of
psychogeography, enabling one to identify what the hidden constrains and
long-term ties of a place are, in order to discern where it might offer real
opportunities for meaningful contemporary action and/or literary
transmutation. Such an approach has been derided by the more politically
minded, but it is perhaps a useful check against the increasingly antiquated
revolutionary urges of the Situationist-inspired psychogeographers, who in
their reverence for failed 20th century political projects seem to be just as
much in danger of becoming a species of antiquarian as those who operate in
the Machen / Lovecraft / Ackroyd line.

I hope this short essay has usefully outlined some intellectual strands that
might lead someone to say that Lovecraft deserves to be considered seriously
as a proto-psychogeographer, alongside Machen, Aragon and others. In a
further essay in this volume I will outline some of Lovecrafts actual walking
experiences and practices.

56 So far as I know, this then-heretical idea was first put forward in archaeological
circles in 1922 by Alfred Watkins Early British Trackways: Moats, Mounds, Camps and Sites.
Possibly Lovecraft read a review of this seminal work. But it seems more likely that as a
youth Lovecraft may simply have read such ideas expertly anticipated in literature by
Rudyard Kipling in his series of linked fantasy / historical stories Puck of Pooks Hill
(1909) and its sequel Rewards and Fairies (1910). There are probably many other examples
in British supernatural literature.
44
Dusk in New York City. Road leading to the Woolworths building, Sixth Avenue.
The building was then the tallest in New York, and indeed in the world. Lovecraft
went to the top of it on his first visit to New York in 1922. For an illustration of the
same view see the illustration given on page eight of my book.

From: The Lighting of New York, GEC. Public Domain.

45
2 : H.P. LOVECRAFTS NIGHT WALKS IN NEW YORK:
PSYCHOGEOGRAPHIC TECHNIQUES

his short account outlines 15 techniques that Lovecraft used on his


T walks. Probably there were many more, but they were not recorded or
documented. Others may be able to discover more through reading his
fiction and essays.

Anticipation pausing before entering, so as to previsualise in ones mind


the scene one is about to see, and to bring imaginative elements to bear.
Frank Belknap Long once recalled how, in their nocturnal strolls,
Lovecraft would pause before this shaded archway or that wanly
glowing fanlight and let his imagination [run riot, before entering] 1
alluring shadows of archaic things things half of the imagination.
I pausd and looked and then pausd and looked again 2

Ambiance sampling moving between small areas in a restricted over an


entire day, synchronizing ones reading matter to each area.
For instance, Lovecraft read Arthur Machens theoretical book on aesthetics,
Hieroglyphics, in July 1925 in a curious manner
I read it through, moving to a fresh bower of beauty [in Prospect
Park] for each chapter 3

Camera mind Lovecrafts impression of a place served as a kind of camera

1 Lewis Spence, Robert M. Price. The Shub-Niggurath cycle. Chaosium, 1994. p.201.
2 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.60.
3 Ibid. p.158.
46
Although Lovecraft seems to have owned two Kodak cameras, he thought of
it simply as a jobbing recording device. In many ways he simply did not need
a camera, since his amazing topographic faculties and memory served just as
well, if not better. He cultivated the faculty of capturing a place.

Connected ambiances rapid travel between places of similar ambiance.


Lovecraft was not averse to hopping rapidly between sites, by using New
Yorks public transport system, thus weaving a tapestry of impressions of a
city that all draw from the same time period.

Drugs use of stimulants before walking.


Lovecraft was in the company of heavy smokers in the meetings of the Kalem
Club, and the subsequent night-walks would thus see him thoroughly
infused with nicotine, especially potent because he was not himself a smoker.
He writes of buzzing with tobacco after meetings. 4 He was also infused with
the strong freshly-brewed New York coffee served at the gatherings.

Errance the surrealist technique of map-less openness to chance.


Lovecraft is exploring without map and guide as early as August 1924. 5 At
the end of September 1925 he spends several days and evenings without a
map, exploring the furthest outer suburbs and boundaries of New York 6
I had no map, & knew nothing of the country trusting to chance
with a very agreeable sense of adventure into the unknown 7

4 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.97.
5 Ibid. p.68.
6 Ibid. p.208.
7 Ibid. p.210.
47
Multiple animal encounters Lovecraft adored cats and made almost a
game of his very serious attempts to encounter as many street and garden cats
as possible on his walks. There were then a great many cats to encounter, as
his good friend Loveman commented...
One of the quaintest features of all colonial New York is the
number of cats seen at large 8
One has to also presume that cats were far more numerous and venturesome
before the advent of the cat-massacring mass car-culture, drug-addled yobs,
and the local pest-control officer. 9 Lovecraft always had a supply of catnip
to help attract them. 10

Liggage similar to gate-crashing a location, but done by a subterfuge.


I hung around this place [I wanted to enter] like a thief planning a
large-scale cleanup [i.e.: burglary], but was finally rewarded when a
large party evidently friends of the inhabitants called and
strolled about the patio and arcade with the gate open ! 11

Pre reading to attune oneself to the anticipated weather on a walk. He


writes in the Autumn of 1925, of a strategy to get himself in the mood to
appreciate the changing weather
I think I will peruse some old fashiond poet on the subject of
autumn p.202

8 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.74.
9 Lovecrafts flat was infested with mice at one point, and he had to use traps to catch
them. Presumably the landlady would not allow him to bring a local cat to his room for
a few nights to clear them out.
10 Letter by Lovecraft given on p.54 of Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark,
Wildside Press, 2005.
11 H.P. Lovecraft. Selected Letters: 1932-1934.
48
Promenade dressing up and promenading up and down a street engaged
in witty and intellectual conversation to see its effect on ordinary people.
See his fastidious attention to dress and the Sunday tradition of the Kalem
Club to promenade in best suits 12 and dandy canes down Clinton Street.
Rheinhart Kleiner later gave a full published account of this tradition. 13

Rejection of games not adapting mundane games in a facile attempt to


enliven walking.
Lovecraft had written generally on games, in a 1932 letter to James F.
Morton, that
They reveal no actual secrets of the universe, and help not at all in
intensifying or preserving the tantalising moods and elusive dream-
vistas of the aesthetic imagination 14
He is clearly talking here of either sports, or popular amusements and
diversions such as the crossword-puzzles (then newly invented and in vogue),
silly party games, or travel games to pass the time such as twenty
questions. Perhaps he also has in mind some occult type games, such as the
tarot and others. I do not think he is referring to what might be termed
playfulness in response to an environment. Certainly, the quote alone is no
reason for claiming that Lovecraft cannot therefore have engaged in anything
like surrealist games on his night walks.

12 Lovecrafts sartorial tastes and epic pursuit of the best suit at the lowest price
deserve an essay all of their own. He put an enormous amount of effort into the
presentation of his public personality, but it was only in small details of dress that this
was manifest. He refused to change the style of his suits to accommodate fashion, and
felt that sloppy dressing was heralding a new distinctly American style that would
presage the decline of the West.
13 S.T. Joshi. Lovecrafts New York Circle. Hippocampus Press, 2006. p.225.
14 In: Penelope Rosemont. Surrealist women: an international anthology. Continuum, 1998.
p.368.
49
Transference of night imaginations to the daytime world a way of forcing
the impressions gained on the radically-changed night streets back upon the
real world
What awesome images are suggested by the existence of such secret
cities within cities! The active imagination conjures up endless
weird possibilities having seen this thing, one cannot look an
ordinary crowded street without wondering what surviving marvels
15
may lurk unsuspecting beneath the prim and monotonous blocks.
It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with
darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of mid-
afternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis H.P. Lovecraft,
Cool Air (New York, 1926).

Mania allowing oneself to be worked up into a sort of fever-dream for the


past of the streets.
There were several times, though not in New York, when out-of-town
visitors were given tours that lasted all day. On these Lovecraft enthusiasms
frequently amazed and exhausted his companions, with an urgent verbal and
arm-waving conveyance of lost narratives, until they begged for the caf, the
train station, or the subway entrance.
He writes in one of his letters
16
the fever of the explorer was upon us
Some of his solo expeditions also indicate an amazing strength of will when
engaged in walking to visit so many locales, all day and often into the
evening, on what seems to have been a very meager diet. Some friends
seriously feared for his health after seeing him on his return from such manic
all-day exertions. Such as Cook in 1932

15 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.61.
16 Ibid. p.65-66.
50
Folds of skin hanging from a skeleton. Eyes sunk in sockets like
burnt holes in a blanket. Those delicate, sensitive artistss hands and
fingers nothing but claws. The man was dead except for his nerves,
on which he was functioning ... 17

Placeability fidelity in literary documentation of places, even if fictional


elements are used.
Lovecraft uses places in his fiction in such as way as the reader is made to
wholly believe in them. His paths and references can often still be followed
on the ground today. The surrealists did something similar
the textual inscription in novels such as Andre Bretons Nadja or
Louis Aragons Paris Peasant, often appears anchored to a reality
which we are led to believe took place and the writing frequently
possesses the instructive and at times banal specificities of a tour or
itinerary that might be literally as well as literarily followed. 18

Taking fragments and then somehow meditating on them off site.


Lovecraft chipped a small piece off a Dutch gravestone in Flatbush in 1922.
He then considered what vengeance might be exacted
I must place it beneath my pillow as I sleep... who can say what
thing might not come out of the centuried earth to exact vengeance
for his desecrated tomb? And should it come, who can say what it
might not resemble? The Hound.
and then wrote a story about it, which in time brought tourists to the site.
His small action thus had a very real effect, although only at a considerable
distance in time. One might perhaps see an echo of this sort of thing in
Robert Smithsons art-world idea of sites and non-sites.

17 S. T. Joshi. Dreamer and a visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. p.322.


18 Lucy Harrison. The Art of Misdirection. Canvey Guides, 2006-2007.
51
3 : THE NATURE OF THE NEW YORK STREETS

he New York of the 1920s, like Paris, served as a fine roaming ground
T for psychogeographic investigations. Walking its city streets at night
was perhaps the defining aspect of the emerging modern urban experience.
But what exactly were these streets like? This essay will allow me to pin
down something of the exact material nature of the city streets, as they would
have been experienced by Lovecraft between 1922 and 1927. I will first give
a very brief history of the surfaces of the streets of New York something
that Lovecraft would have known the details of, or quickly come to know,
and which he in part used to divine the ages of urban spaces in the city. I
will then discuss the rise of the motor car and the decline of the horse, his
security and crime concerns, the changing street lighting, and the sounds and
the smells.

i. The physical nature of the streets


The city of New York had first laid pavements of cobblestones in the mid
1600s, after vociferous complaints by washerwomen and servants that the
dust rising from the roads on dry days ruined their washing. These cobbles
appear to have been rather smaller and flatter than the few picturesquely
large rounded ones that have been allowed to survive to the modern age.
The first such cobbled road to be laid in New York was Stone Street in 1656,
and it reportedly attracted quite a crowd. 1 By the year of 1660 the city had
laid cobblestones in nearly all of its streets, but there were as yet no
sidewalks. People merely walked on the outer edges of the road, avoiding the
central gutter (which was where waste collected when washed down by
rains). No attempt was made by the city fathers to straighten the streets at

1 Municipal Journal & Public Works: Vol.10, 1901.


52
that time, which were reportedly as crooked as those in London 2 , although
they do seem to have been widened and their margins rationalised by the mid
1700s. No other surfacing material but cobblestones was used for the New
York roads for many decades, although some square wooden blocking was
experimented with on the lower Broadway in the mid 1830s. It seems that
these blocks were grooved, and were needed to help the horses keep their
footing. 3 In the late 1860s some very large blocks began to be laid, in places
such as Brooklyn, in addition to the usual cobblestones. It was this type of
block that first became used for the pavements of New York, but which was
later superseded by granite around 1876. More blocks were laid on the
Bowery in 1852, and came into very general use after 1859. Tar and gravel
were used for the joints of the pavements. The first laying down of hot
asphalt was in 1871 at the Battery, and as this practice spread it presumably
greatly aiding the early bicyclists. Concrete was first used as a base for
pavements in New York in 1888. In 1889 the city fathers decided to
implement a general project for the improvement of the pavements and
sidewalks, seemingly after an especially hard winter which had led to an issue
of bonds to help pay for road repairs. 4

ii. The arrival of the motor car


Along these newly tarred roads ran the first motor cars. There are some
slight traces of the rhetoric of the monstrous being used in relation to these
cars. For instance, the New York Times called automobiles devil wagons in
1905, while demanding an eight miles-per-hour speed limit. 5 One also
wonders if Lovecrafts several later references to the great beetle race of
beings (in two brief mentions he surmised that these would one day evolve

2 History of the city of New York: its origin, rise, and progress: Volume 1. p.179. Londons

streets had been rebuilt on their original windings after the Great Fire, in a proper
English respect for individual property rights.
3 Joel Arthur Tarr. The Horse in the City: living machines in the nineteenth century, 2007. p.59.
4 Street Pavements and Paving Materials: a manual of city pavements, 1903.
5 Allen Carlson. The aesthetics of human environments. Berleant, 2007. p.108.
53
from beetles to take the place of humanity) 6 might even have partly arisen
through his first experiences of seeing humans encased in the metal shells of
cars. 7

iii. The beginning of white flight to the suburbs


By 1920 New York was well paved, but the nature of the activity on the
streets was changing. 1920 seems to have been a particular turning point in
the street life of the New York, as the city and America emerged from the
First World War. Mass immigration and cars were the main causes of the
change, with immigration having a direct impact on the growth of car
ownership. Political radicalism and terrorism, closely associated in the public
mind with immigrants, had the unintended effect of stimulating the future
desire for cars. In 1919 two series of sophisticated and deadly mail bombs
had been discovered by postal workers, specially designed to blow the hands
off those who opened them. 8 There followed a major panic about violent
political doctrines among the newly arrived immigrants, and there were many
forcible deportations of anarchists and socialists who were sent back to
Europe. These deportations did not stop the terrorism and, at about noon
on 16th September 1920, a horse-drawn trolley car (a bus, in modern terms)
exploded in front of a Wall Street bank. Thirty-three people died in that
major anarchist bomb attack, which involved 100 pounds of dynamite and
sawn-up iron curtain-weights as added deadly shrapnel. 9 Partly as a

6 They beetle race briefly appears in the Lovecraft stories Beyond the Wall of Sleep

and The Shadow out of Time.


7 Lovecraft himself did not drive and could never have afforded to afford to run a car.
8 Thankfully, only one seems to have actually done so. For a history of the reaction
see Charles Howard McCormicks Hopeless Cases: the hunt for the red scare terrorist bombers.
University Press of America, 2005.
9 the heart of that plotting was in The Street, whose crumbling houses teemed with

alien makers of discord and echoed with the plans and speeches of those who yearned
for the appointed day of blood, flame, and crime. Of the various odd assemblages in
The Street, the law said much but could prove little. With great diligence did men of
hidden badges linger and listen about such places as Petrovitchs Bakery, the squalid
Rifkin [Ruskin] School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty
54
consequence of the fear about new waves of unassimilated non-white
immigrants, and possibly due to the fear of terrorist attacks on the public
transport system 10 , significant numbers of middle-class white people started
to withdraw from the pavements into the new motor cars. Car ownership
then fueled and accelerated the growth of suburbia 11 from the mid 1920s
onwards, and these suburbs were themselves de facto colour-segregated...
the middle class [of New York City], repelled by hordes of
pedestrian traffic, withdrew itself and its business to the suburbs 12

iv. The pedestrian and the car


Yet it would be a mistake to envisage the New York encountered by
Lovecraft in 1922, and then as a resident in 1924, was overrun with and
dominated by cars. In the 1920s cars were not dominant over pedestrians in
the city, especially during the evenings and night. In his discussion of
attitudes to car accidents and insurance in New York around 1920, Peter D.
Norton gives a newspaper editorial that suggests pedestrians still had many
rights, even during the day, in 1920
The New York Times claimed in 1920 that pedestrians rights to the
streets were so extensive that as a matter of both law and morals

Caf. There congregated sinister men in great numbers, yet always was their speech
guarded or in a foreign tongue [...] The rumour now spread widely that these houses
contained the leaders of a vast band of terrorists, who on a designated day were to
launch an orgy of slaughter for the extermination of America and of all the fine old
traditions which The Street had loved. Handbills and papers fluttered about filthy
gutters; handbills and papers printed in many tongues and in many characters, yet all
bearing messages of crime and rebellion. from H.P. Lovecraft, The Street (1919).
For the history of the terrorism, see: Beverly Gage. The day Wall Street exploded: a story of
America in its first age of terror. Oxford University Press, 2010.
10 Possibly it was also due to the very real and dangerous overcrowding of the subway

and elevated railway systems at rush hour. See my essay on the subways later in this
volume.
11 Then starting to develop, Lovecrafts wife had speculatively purchased two plots at

Bryn Mawr Park, in Yonkers.


12 Anthony Amato. On Foot: a History of Walking. New York University Press, 2004.
55
they are under no obligation to exercise all possible care [in the
face of car traffic] 13
This relative safety was greatly aided by the signing into New York law of
William Phelps Enos The Rules of The Road (1903) in 1906. 14
Generally, it has commonly been said of New York that it is a pleasant
walking experience, both due to these 1906 laws and also the layout of the
streets
the city was designed to be walked [] the city has always
developed with the pedestrian in mind. New York is a joy to walk
around 15
While it is certainly true that The sales of passenger cars alone in
16
Brooklyn in 1926 was over 32,000 it appears that many cars were only
used for special trips, or were purchased as prestige-only Sunday roadsters as
the economy started to take off into what was later called the roaring 1920s,
rather than being used as everyday commuting-and-school wagons as they
are today 17 . This can be evidenced by the apparent lack of the need for city-
centre car parks (parking lots) at that time.

v. Trams and horses as dangers in the street


What other real dangers might Lovecraft have encountered on his walks,
apart from the possibility of being knocked down by a car? There were the
trolley cars (i.e.: a form of tram or bus on street-rails). The popular press was

13 Peter D. Norton. Fighting traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city. MIT Press,

2008. p.70.
14 Peter Frank Peters. Time, innovation and mobilities: travel in technological cultures.

Routledge, 2006. p.130.


15 James Nevius. Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. James Nevius,

2009. p.16.
16 A Study of all American markets, 1927.
17 All but the very richest children walked and/or took standard public transport to

school in those days.


56
occasionally agog at sensational trolley car accidents involving the running
down of pedestrians, and this reporting no doubt magnified peoples fears.
Yet film of the period shows people thronging the streets, relatively oblivious
to the trolley cars and other vehicles, and not yet penned in to the sidewalks
by a sustained flow of traffic.
There was also the danger from horses, but these were then a fading
element of the street scene according to the 1922 Encyclopaedia Britannica
In New York City, for instance, a very large proportion of the street
traffic in 1920 was by motor, and in the main thoroughfares horse
vehicles were almost a rarity
Electricity had replaced horses on almost all trolley car lines by the mid
1920s and the sight of a horse had become rare by the late 1920s although
police mounted patrols still maintained traffic control from horseback. They
were also used for some heavy delivery and collection services in outlying
areas until quite late Lovecraft had a rare ride on a horse and cart when
his wife sold her piano in 1924. 18 Horse-drawn buggies were also found in
some ethnic areas such as Chinatown in the 1920s. Lovecraft may have seen
these when he first visited New York in 1922, since he went on a visit to
Chinatown 19 and later went on a night-walk through the district on 22nd/23rd
January 1925.
This decline of the horse removed one especially potent experience of
monstrosity in the city that of seeing and smelling dead horses in the
street (15,000 were worked to death in 1900 alone, dying in the street). The
smell of a dead old horse in the night air was said to be appalling

18 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.67.
19 Interestingly, while there are many other gross slurs about other races in the letter
that recounts this, and Lovecraft states that Samuel Loveman found the Chinese faces
he saw evil, Lovecraft himself makes no derogatory descriptions of the Chinese he
saw there. As with a visit to the Yiddish district, he appears to have had no problem
with immigrants who were in their native garb, safely in their own ethnic ghetto, and
who seemed unlikely ever to try to assimilate.
57
When a horse died, its carcass would be left to rot until it had
disintegrated enough for someone to pick up the pieces 20
But dead and rotting horses were a fading memory by the time Lovecraft
arrived in the city in the mid 1920s, confined only to the areas around vets,
tanners, and knackers yards. 21 On his nocturnal walks Lovecraft would not
have had to suffer the horror of suddenly coming upon a dead horse lying
rotting in the dark street.

Rotting horse left in the street in The Bowery (the worst slum in New York). One
can also see the flat/square style of cobblestone on the streets, and the big blocks that
make up the pavement or sidewalk.

Picture: Public Domain, via Shorpy blog.

20 David Rosner, Portrait of an Unhealthy City. Online, 2011. This may only have

been a temporary state of affairs in the city, since there are plenty of references in the
literature to the cost to the public of their rapid removal. Presumably some were
dumped or left with no identifying marks in the slum areas, so as to throw the expense
of their disposal on the local taxpayer, and only those few that were too far gone by
the time they were reported were then left to rot as described.
21 See Henry Millers evocation of his childhood scent memories in 1920s New York in

his Tropic of Capricorn (1938), and especially the sections on horses.


58
vi. Fear of crime
Even in the mid 1920s there was no doubt some fear of crime at night, but
Lovecraft would not have been enmeshed in the web of paranoia that today
spirals out from hard drug use in American cities. It is true that there were
reports of several outbreaks of non-medical use of heroin in New England in
1916, and that it quickly fell into disuse except in New York and
surrounding cities 22 where a small subculture was able to be established
due to ease of access to supplies. Addicts of morphine and heroin were then
overwhelmingly young men, and in large cities such as New York there may
have been links with queer prostitution. But it seems that dope use was very
much a niche activity on a tiny scale. While it was linked in the medical
literature with psychopathic personality types, and was seen as arising in
those people who were neurotic, or who have some form of twisted
personality 23 , more importantly it was not yet a habit funded by muggings
or aggressive begging. One does wonder, though, if Lovecraft may have
carried a potentially defensive cane on his night walks, as he did on his
Sunday morning promenades. A cane would also have served to signal his
gentlemanly status, when seen in silhouette by the police. He does
mention seeing some of the reeling toughs 24 in the streets at night, but
while wary of them he does not seem to have been particularly fearful. 25
Lovecraft would not have had to deal with the modern paranoid politics of
the sidewalk 26 in which to be seen daring to walk in many affluent parts
of some American cities today is to become marked down immediately as a

22 David T. Courtwright. Dark Paradise: a history of opiate addiction in America. Harvard


University Press, 2001.
23 Kolb, Types and Characteristics of Drug Addicts, Mental Hygiene, 9, 1925, p.300.
24 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.74.
25 I have not noticed any mention in his letters of his carrying a cane on night walks,
but it would seem to have been a sensible precaution.
26 Irena Ehrenfeucht and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. Sidewalks: conflict and negotiation

over public space. The MIT Press, 2009. See also chapter five, The History of
Pedestrianism, in Nicholas Blomles Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public
Flow. Routledge, 2010.
59
criminal suspect, and to find oneself a target for a roving police car pick-up
or even a paranoid gun-toting property owner. But one suspects that
Lovecraft roaming about in the dark in the small hours of the night
must himself have occasionally attracted the attentions of the police. One of
Kirks letters describes a Ford car police patrol watching the Lovecraft group
at a distance one night. 27 Yet in the mid 1920s he was a smart and tall
figure28 , wearing a clean and decent suit and collar, and with an urbane and
aristocratic New England accent. He did not drink, and therefore would
never have appeared intoxicated, an important factor at a time when the
prohibition of alcohol was starting to throw socialites into the arms of
thuggish gangsters. He did not swear at or cuss immigrants as they passed
on the street. His substantial physical and mental presence, as a sober and
polite gentleman, would have been likely have put most police at their ease.
The years between the 1890s and 1920s had anyway seen a rise of a new
type in America, the urban tourist 29 usually interested in antiquarian
matters, and Lovecraft was no doubt able to take full advantage of the tacit
knowledge that had been built up among ordinary people and police alike
about how to deal pleasantly with such types, and overlook things like old
walking shoes.
Certainly, days before writing out the entire plot of The Call of Cthulhu
he fearlessly went single-handed on a magnificently extensive all-night walk
through the city
I could go where I darned please and when I darned please [] I set
forth on a nocturnal pilgrimage after mine own heart; beginning at

27 Letter given in Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006).
28 Lovecraft seems to have stood a little over six foot, once in heeled shoes and a felt

hat.
29 Neil Harris. Urban Tourism and the Commercial City, in: Taylor, Inventing Times
Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. It is somewhat sad that Lovecraft never
considered turning his extensive travel writing over to someone who could have edited
them into saleable local architectural booklets for tourists. How well they might have
sold is another matter. For Lovecrafts collected travel writing see Collected Essays
Volume 4: Travel. Hippocampus Press, 2006.
60
Chelsea [] & working south toward Greenwich [] south along
Hudson St. to Old New York [] under Brooklyn Bridge [then back]
toward The Battery [and as dawn broke, onto] a Staten Island ferry. 30
Quite a trip to take, alone at the dead of night in a large city. Obviously he
had little fear of night crime by August 1925.

vii. The illuminated night


By the 1920s it was becoming easier to spot notable architectural and
streetscape features in the city at night, even outside of the areas that earned
New York the title of city of light, through the more widespread use of
electric street lighting. Navigation was aided by the illumination of shop
display windows and signs at night, by which one might read a finely-printed
map or a pocket notebook without the aid of a flickering match. There was
also a general increase in light pollution 31 and this must have meant that
street name signs were more visible at night. The thick veil of night that
had lain over the English-speaking cities of the world in the 19th century, and
which had given rise to potently grotesque English literature from Dickens to
the city mystery novels 32 to the early urban detective novel, had been largely
dispelled by the 1920s. 33

30 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.170.
31 Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the

Nineteenth Century. University of California Press, 1995. Also: John Jakle. City Lights:
Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins University Press, 2001.
32 Paul Joseph Erickson. Welcome to Sodom: The Cultural Work of City-Mysteries Fiction in
Antebellum America. Ph.D. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 2005.
33 Although in New York it seems that there were basic forms of street lighting even
from the earliest times, if only on moonless nights. For instance, a New York law of
1697 required that
every seventh householder, in the dark time of the moon, cause a lantern and
candle to be hung out of his window on a pole
Lovecraft must have known this, for he seems to have read deeply on the Colonial
period in New York. He uses this knowledge in the August 1925 short story He
61
There are a few interesting points of linkage between fantasy and the new
electric lighting of the early 20th century, although I am not sure they can be
closely linked to Lovecrafts short tenure in the city. 34 The city lights were
strongly associated in the media, and in the citys own self-made myths, with
a new glamour. There were new types of fantastically alluring display such as
department store windows and also the ice-cream parlors that Lovecraft so
adored. One might point out here that author of The Wizard of Oz books, L.
Frank Baum was also a leading authority on the new style of dressing of the
new illuminated plate-glass show windows of department stores. 35 These
windows often put on spectacular and fantastical shows, especially in the
winter months before Christmas. Often they were peopled with human
manikins, which seemed rather uncanny to many who first encountered
them. 36 There were also the great New York movie palaces of the time,
alive with light and neon, and another site at which one might gaze upon
simulacra of humans silver-screen actors who, like the manikins, could not
resist ones adoring and desiring gaze. This new mental operation of
projecting desire may have escaped into the wild among the equally theatrical
and eroticised street night-life outside.
The old 19th century gaslight had made everything at night seem as if lit by
a gauzy and romantic twilight 37 , for those enjoying the new nightlife it
enabled and historians suggest that a trangressive eroticism consequently

we came upon a fragment of alley lit only by lanterns in front of every


seventh house unbelievably Colonial tin lanterns with conical tops and
holes punched in the sides
34 For lengthy academic discussions of such, see: Mark Caldwell. New York Night: The
Mystique and Its History. Simon and Schuster, 2005. William Sharpe. New York Nocturne,
Princeton University Press, 2008. For the European experience, see Joachim Schlor.
Nights in the big city: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion, 1998.
35 William Leach, Strategists of Display and the Production of Desire, in Consuming

Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920.


36 Hillel Schwartz. The culture of the copy: striking likenesses, unreasonable facsimiles. Zone,

1998. See also the Loius Aragon quote I give in the short note on Lovecraft and the
surrealists in this book .
37 See Chapter One, Gaslit Babylon, in William Sharpes New York Nocturne.
62
flourished in the romantic atmosphere. While in Lovecrafts time the
gaslight had given way to harsher and less flattering arc-lighting, a sliver of
the old gaslight mood of romanticism was maintained. The continuance was
via the widespread use of a romantically artistic design for the electric new
lamp-posts used in New York 38 as the city rapidly electrified the street
lighting. 39 The new and brighter lights also had a certain political
significance, in that they protected against street crime after dark.

Modern ornate electric lampost. 1457 Broadway.

From: The Lighting of New York, GEC. Public Domain.

38 Michele Helene Bogart. The politics of urban beauty: New York & its Art Commission.
University of Chicago Press, 2006. p.297.
39 Thirty years of New York, 1882-1892: being a history of electrical development in Manhattan and
the Bronx. New York Edison Company, 1913.
63
Depending on ones politics one can understand these electric lights as
either a beacon of liberation from the fear of local bullies, a way of extending
potential evening and night employment opportunities to impoverished
districts, or an instrument of state repression through increased police
surveillance of crime and socialism. Possibly they were simultaneously all
three.
These posts and fixtures were still functioning into the 1960s 40 , so would
have been present for Lovecraft to notice all around him in the mid 1920s.
By Lovecrafts time it appears that the city was the most electrically lit in the
world, although a lighting engineer of 1908 could state that
There are to-day in the City of New York about 40,000 gas street
lamps 41
and the letters of George Kirk reported that Lovecraft delighted, on one
night-walk, in being able to point out some of the very oldest surviving wall-
lamps in New York, then unknown to the history books. 42 In one of his
letters from New York, he points out
The old lampposts (which reign supreme in this corner of the [city]
43

This is reflected in the short story He (1925), in which Lovecraft has a


modern city explorer see older lamps than those then currently prevalent
The streetlights we first encountered had been of oil, and of the
ancient lozenge pattern.
Only once, attempting to explore the outlying suburb of Jamaica, did
Lovecraft find that he not have enough light to walk by at night.

40 Arthur Hastings Grant. The American City: Volume 76, 1961.


41 E. Leavenworth Elliot. Good lighting and the illuminating engineer. 1908.
42 Letter given in Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006). p.27.
43 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.59.
64
viii. Fogs and mists
As fuel technologies changed the thick fogs ands smogs were vanishing from
most large English-speaking cities, along with the dark nights. This seems
to have forced the fictional possibilities to drift away from the fogs
themselves (seen in novels such as Robert Barrs The Doom of London, 1892,
Stevensons Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and some of the Sherlock Holmes stories)
to swamping gases brought to the city from elsewhere (such as in H.G.
Wellss novel In the Days of the Comet, 1909). 44
As for Lovecraft in the mid 1920s, we can be reasonably sure he was not
wading through pea-souper fogs of the London variety, but was only likely
to encounter the seasonal and reportedly blindingly white early Autumnal
(fall) harbor fogs. Such fogs appear from the literature to be mostly early
morning visitations although Lovecraft does give us one especially
evocative evening view of New York in the thin harbor mists, based on seeing
the city after a day in 1922 exploring the city with his friend Samuel
Loveman. Here is the gist of the letter 45 as later condensed and fictionalised
in the New York story He (1925)
I had seen it in the sunset from a bridge, majestic above its waters,
its incredible peaks and pyramids rising flowerlike and delicate from
pools of violet mist to play with the flaming clouds and the first stars
of evening. Then it had lighted up window by window above the
shimmering tides where lanterns nodded and glided and deep horns
bayed weird harmonies, and had itself become a starry firmament of
dream, redolent of faery music, and one with the marvels of
Carcassonne and Samarcand and El Dorado and all glorious and
half-fabulous cities.

44 For those who are interested Sam Moskowitz has a short account of the literary uses

of the black sooty coal fogs in early science fiction in his Science fiction by gaslight: a history
and anthology of science fiction in the popular magazines, 1891-1911.
45 Given in S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade,
2005. pp. 9-10.
65
ix. Sounds
One must also consider the soundscape, or more aptly the noise scape, of the
city. No doubt Lovecraft thought the city a lot more noisy than Providence.
It was becoming increasingly so in the 1920s, at least by comparison with
what came before it. Noise was increasingly startling, sudden, and unwanted,
and became more so as the 1920s progressed. The background noise of
horse-shoes and cartwheels on stone cobbles was no doubt very significant
during the daytime peak in the 1890s, but with the decline of the horse and
the steam-engine there appears to have been a lull in the general noise-scape
of the street, especially with the coming of macadam-surfaced streets. Street
noise would also have come from street barkers selling their wares from carts
and trays, possibly with the accompaniment of alerting wooden rattles, but
that trade seems to have been a constant through the ages in all cities until
such boys faded away from most Western cities in the 1950s. There were
less human noises after the 1920s, such as the electricity being applied to
sirens and hooters. Sirens had been hand-cranked but by the 1920s were
being mounted on vehicles such as the police Ford patrol cars and police
motorcycles. This could presumably be done because there were far fewer
horses around to scare with such sharply interruptive sounds.
Lovecraft seems to have anticipated another aspect of the changed
soundscape even before he visited New York, since his story Nyarlathotep
(1920) is strewn with noises and these are shown as being linked to a sort of
hypnotic madness. Commercial radio broadcasting of music and voice had
begun in America in 1920, and there were a host of radio stations in New
York by 1925, even a Yiddish one. 46 No doubt some of Lovecrafts
correspondents and amateur journalism associates experimented at this time
with home-made crystal radio sets. Lovecraft himself sometimes twiddled
the shortwave dials, to see how exotic an overseas radio station he could pick
up. There was, as yet, no means of truly portable amplified music, although

46 See: Michael C. Keith. Radio cultures: the sound medium in American life. Peter Lang,

2008. Shawn Gary VanCour. The Sounds of radio: aesthetic formations of 1920s American
broadcasting. The University of Wisconsin, 2007.
66
the bulky new radio sets and phonographs doubtless caused some noise
pollution inside buildings at night, and also through open windows as people
sat outside in the street on their stoops during the warm months. Unwanted
noise seems to have become a factor in the general anti-immigrant feeling
that was fuming in both New York and in the nation by the mid 1920s. For
instance, an immigrant dimension to noise led the New York City Society
for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise to explicitly structured their anti-
noise arguments in the 1920s around a barbarism vs. civilization theme 47,
although accompanied by a focus on the sleep needs of children and the ill.

x. Smells
Likewise unavoidable in sense terms, and also subject to a rhetoric that
linked it with immigrants, was the pungent smell -scape of the New York
City streets. The members of the Lovecraft circle, many of them coming
fresh to New York City, commented several times in their letters on the
indescribable and unspeakable nature of the smells, especially in the slums
and immigrant areas they visited. 48

xi. The city as The Maze


Finally there is the famous maze/grid nature of large sections of the New
York streets. Despite, or possibly because of, the grid system used in key
areas the city appears to be a maze for the new arrival. It seems very easy for
the newcomer to become lost, even with maps in hand. The Maze is of

47 Karin Bijsterveld. Mechanical Sound: technology, culture, and public problems of noise in the

city. MIT Press, 2008. p.104.


48 New kinds of faces appeared in The Street; swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes
and odd features, whose owners spoke unfamiliar words [...] A sordid, undefinable
stench settled over the place. H.P. Lovecraft, The Street. See also Henry Millers
vivid recounting of his 1920s New York childhood smell-memories in Tropic of Capricorn
(1938). For general reading on urban smell-scapes, see: Jim Drobnick. The Smell Culture
Reader. Berg, 2006.
67
course a truly ancient symbol, and in the form of the Cretan labyrinth is
closely associated with the entrapment of monsters
This myth [of the Cretan Maze] has figured in European poetry
and painting for three thousand years 49
It has also served as a key structuring element of the refined literary fantastic
of the 20th century
The labyrinth, as we could continue to demonstrate, became a life-
symbol of our century (witness Borges and his labyrinths, Gides
Theseus, Cortazars Hop-Scotch, Kafka, Kazantzakis) 50 51
One wonders if Lovecraft was familiar with W.H. Matthewss classic Mazes
and Labyrinths: their History and Development (1922). If he was not,
Lovecraft would certainly have been aware of the mythic nature of the Maze
and its connection to monsters, since he lived at a time almost everyone in
the middle and upper classes was taught the Minotaur story as a child.
Those who know Lovecrafts work intimately will remember the frequent
structuring element of the maze and the labyrinth in a great many stories,
sometimes implicit and sometimes explicitly. 52 Of New York, Lovecraft in
his fiction uses phrases such as: teeming labyrinths; inexhaustible maze of
unknown antiquity; and the Red Hook district is a maze of hybrid squalor.
This aspect of Lovecrafts work seems to deserve a future essay, one with a
wider scope than just the New York stories, and so all I will do here is to

49 Guy Davenport, Ruskin, in The Death of Picasso. Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003.

pp.37-38.
50 Guy Davenport, The House That Jack Built, in The Geography of the Imagination: forty
essays. David R. Godine, 1997. p.51.
51 One might also point to the labyrinthine nature of Lorcas poems from New York,

in which phrases are used such as the maze of the screens. As for SF, there must also
be many examples of mazes in popular science fiction, although it appears that no-one
has yet undertaken a survey of the theme but a short survey can be found under
Labyrinth in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science fiction and Fantasy, Volume 2.
52 For a short discussion of Lovecraft and the concept of Maze see the entry on

Lovecraft in Vol.22 of Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism series from Gale. The maze
also features in the work of Machen.
68
point to the obvious relevance of mazes as a structuring element for his
experience of pedestrian travelling and wayfinding in New York City.
Similarly, I discuss the nature of the New York City subway in another later
essay.

Conclusion
Doubtless there are many more aspects that might be mentioned. But I have
outlined enough to draw a more grounded picture of the nature of the night-
time city streets that Lovecraft navigated. The surfaced streets would, for the
most part, have been well-lit and fog-free. There were personal security
concerns, as well as concerns arising from the 1914-1920 terrorist threat, but
Lovecraft seems to have been well able to negotiate these. With a large
number of police patrolling the streets, often on foot, he would have felt
relatively safe in most areas. Prohibition liquor and its ill effects were very
much behind closed doors in secret clubs. Late night street drunkenness and
jockish rowdiness appears to have been present, but it was presumably muted
for fear of the police and the prohibition laws. At the dead of night the
streets would have been relatively free of both cars and horses, and very
largely free of other people. The efficient city transport system meant that
Lovecraft and his friends could return home relatively speedily, at any time of
the night. He and his friends could often find cafes open even into the small
hours of the night. The layout of the city streets was generally conducive to
easy and pleasant walking, even if was relatively easy for a newcomer to
become lost. He may have had the aid of maps, public transport route maps,
and timetables.
In all it seems that night in New York in the 1920s must have very heaven
for the independent and sensitive walker, especially a jobless one who had
many hours to spare and thus perhaps rather enjoyed becoming lost in the
night. Lovecraft and his friends took full advantage of the unique
opportunities afforded by the streets of New York.

69
Evening. Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, New York City. 1900s?

From: The Lighting of New York, GEC. Public Domain

70
A New York bookshop, early 1930s. The New York book district was in lower
Manhattan, with 36 shops in six blocks. Lovecraft visited frequently, using his
literary knowledge to pick up bargains on the cheap racks. Picture: Public Domain.

For an interesting book-collecting story of New York in the 1970s, see The Man
Who Collected Lovecraft by Richard Harter.1 It details the surprise finding, after
the death of one Philip Jack Grill (1903-1970) in New York, of an apartment full of
the largest collection of work by and about the late horror master H.P. Lovecraft
in private hands. Some of Lovecrafts notebooks were preserved by Grill. For more
details see: A Catalog of Lovecraftiana: The Grill/Binkin Collection, Mirage Press,
1975. Details of 668 Lovecraft items from the collection of Philip Jack Grill.
Includes 22 pages of photographs. Introduction by L. Sprauge de Camp. Also
seems to be known as: Lovecraftiana: A Catalog of the Largest Collection by & on H. P.
Lovecraft Currently in Private Hands.

1 home.tiac.net

71
4 : NOTE ON H.P. LOVECRAFT AND IMMIGRANTS

o book on Lovecraft and New York can go without some comments


N on his attitudes to immigrants. I hope this short note will be useful in
clarifying the subject for new readers. Lovecraft arrived to live in New York
City in 1924. This was the high point of non-white immigration to the
USA, both legal and illegal, around which there swirled hot and sustained
debates 1 that reflected the daily and obvious presence of a mass of newly-
arrived unassimilated immigrants on the streets of New York. This was not
only a New York debate. Specifically, Lovecraft arrived shortly before the
point when whole sections of the U.S. population unleashed a firestorm of
abuse on New York City during the election campaign against Mayor Al
Smith of New York in which the city essentially became a scapegoat for
the race and immigration fears of a large section of the nation. 2
The decade of the 1920s in America appears to have been saturated in
racial-political prejudices often referred to as race thinking 3 , and within
this context Lovecrafts own racialist views would have seemed quite normal
and mainstream, and in many respects far more enlightened than the bulk of
the rural population. Lovecraft was also enmeshed in a potent and
international intellectual set of race thinking ideas, prevalent among the
4
English-speaking writers of the 1920s which he would have routinely

1 This also erupted in the Red Scares of 1919 and 1920, and in the Al Smith campaign
in 1924, among others. See: Mae M. Ngai. Impossible subjects: illegal aliens and the making of
modern America. Princeton University Press, 2005.
2 Governor Al Smith of New York ran for Democratic nomination for president in

1924, and suffered a sustained and vicious press campaign against him which also
blatantly served to demonise New York and its immigrants. See: Robert A. Slayton.
Empire statesman: the rise and redemption of Al Smith. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
3 The 1924 Immigration Act was a key moment. See: Joel S. Fetzer. Public attitudes
toward immigration in the United States, France, and Germany. Cambridge University Press,
2001.
4 Lovecrafts prejudices were very much of their time, and shared in part or in whole
by a great many other British and American writers and thinkers, even by some who we
now think of as socialists such as H.G. Wells. Jung in Psychology of the Unconscious several
72
encountered in a wide variety of literature. One might also consider the
older 18th century texts that Lovecraft knew well, in terms of the racial views
and also the anti-Catholic stances he would have encountered there as
normal and unremarkable elements of the text. Lovecraft appears to have
grown up with Irish servants, yet was suspicious of Catholicism as Popery 5
(though hardly ever vociferous on the subject, at least in the letters I have
read). He was deeply prejudiced against unassimilated immigrants from
outside of the English-speaking world, but was far more tolerant of the
assimilated Spanish and Portuguese and of what he thought of as pure-
blood Jews who had abandoned their religion. He married an assimilated
Jew 6 , and several of his best friends were Jewish. After he returned to
Providence he mentored a young Jewish boy who had come to live in the
town. Lovecraft was always generally uncomfortable when in close proximity
to black people, such as on the subway, although that feeling seems to have
been very common at the time among white people. He was aware of jazz,
and once remarked in his New York letters on his awareness of the new
cultural forms of theatre then being born in the clubs of Harlem. But he
obviously had no interest in seeing or hearing first-hand such developments
in urban black culture.
To be specific, my complete reading of the monumental S.T. Joshi
autobiography of Lovecraft, I Am Providence (2010), suggests to me that
Lovecrafts fears appear to have been triggered more by unfamiliar facial
features and noisy behavior than by the actual categories of race. 7 Especially
offensive to him were those who had facial features not associated with his
view of the normal. 8 His phobia appears to have been heightened to a

times mentions the lower races, like the negroes. There are countless other examples
to be had.
5 He was not alone in this. See Note 10.
6 Although it seems his wife Sonia did not have citizenship until 1924/5?
7 their accents were coarse and strident, and their mien and faces unpleasing H.P.
Lovecraft, The Street.
8 This is based on my complete reading of S.T. Joshis monumental biography I Am

Providence. It should perhaps also be remembered that these immigrants were coming
73
near-unbearable pitch of bodily anxiety if he saw such people wearing the
flashy modern Jazz Age American city-clothes of the 1920s, and all
together in a loud crowd. He does not seem to have been as concerned by
groups who maintained their own ethnic clothing and who went about their
business in their own areas an early New York sight-seeing visit to a
Yiddish bookselling district 9 and to Chinatown with George Kirk 10 seems
to have intrigued him rather than repelled him. Doubtless he also interacted
with many Jewish used booksellers during his stay in New York.
It should be noted here that S.T. Joshi has found no instance of Lovecraft
either verbally or physically attacking any of the new immigrants 11 and
Lovecrafts close friend Frank Belknap Long later wrote
This may be hard for you to believe. But during the entire NY [New
York] period, in all the meetings and conversations I had with him,
he never once displayed any actual hostility toward non-Nordics
to use the term to which he was most addicted in my presence,
either in the subway or anywhere else... If one of them had been in
distress he would have been the first to rush to his or her aid.
Emotionally he was kindliness personified. It [fear of unassimilated
Jews, Orientals and black people] was all rhetorical the kind of
verbal overkill 12 that so many of the hippie underground-press
writers engaged in the sixties. It was a sickness in him, if you wish
the verbalization part [i.e.: the offensive language used in

from regions of the earth where uncorrected birth defects and physiognomy-changing
illnesses were common, although that is no excuse for Lovecrafts attitudes - since
Lovecraft himself had a slightly deformed jaw, and also appears to have had ugly
ingrown facial hairs in his later youth.
9 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010.
10 George Kirks letters in Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006).
11 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010.
12 This mode of rhetoric may perhaps have a link with the hardline Protestant tradition of the
speech of fury personified in its dying years by the Rev. Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.

74
Lovecrafts letters] but it wasnt characteristic of him in a deep,
basic way. 13
Lovecraft did, however, denigrate immigrants publically in print, in several of
his New York stories, especially The Horror at Red Hook. He seems to
have been especially concerned for the future of New York City (and by
extension, the nation) if it fell into the hands of Asiatic immigrants whom
he seems to have associated with the historical Mongol hordes from the
Steppes of Russia rather than with the Japanese or Chinese. Despite the
1924 Immigration Act banning all Asiatic races from eligibility for American
citizenship 14 , Lovecrafts presents a hellish vision of a far-future New York
in the short story He (1925) 15, in which he clearly conflates Asiatic
immigration and religion/occult rites
For full three seconds I could glimpse that pandemoniac sight, and
in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterward torment me
in dreams. I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things,
and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with
impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights
burning from unnumbered windows. Arid swarming loathsomely on
aerial galleries I saw the yellow, squint-eyed people of that city,
robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the
pounding of fevered kettle-drums, the clatter of obscene crotala 16,
and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges

13 Frank Belknap Long in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp.


14 Morton Keller, R. Shep Melnick. Taking Stock: American government in the twentieth
century. Cambridge University Press, 1999. p.66. Apparently this Act was not the
immediate success that many hoped it would be.
15 A story that explicitly arises from, and uses his experience of, long night walks in the

city.
16 A type of clapper, used in antiquity as a form of percussion instrument during cultic

rites.
75
rose and fell undulantly like the wave of an unhallowed ocean of
bitumen 17. H.P. Lovecraft, He (1925).

Those interested in a full and nuanced account of Lovecrafts attitudes to


race, which the subject certainly deserves, should consult the work of S.T.
Joshis including his biography of Lovecraft I Am Providence (2010), and also
Joshis complete book on Lovecrafts opinions on the subject of race. 18

17 bitumen - possibly an allusion to and anticipation of the rise of the car culture in

the city?
18 S.T. Joshi. H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West. Wildside, 1990.
76
5 : H.P. LOVECRAFTS NEW YORK COFFEE HOUSES AND
ICE CREAM PARLOURS

his short note surveys the various coffee houses and ice-cream parlours
T that Lovecraft was known to frequent in New York, presenting them
with historical background and two new photographs. The coffee houses
and the cafes often served both a goals and bases for walks, and as such are
integral to the nature of the urban walk.

i. The Double-R:

The Double-R Coffee House was a large establishment that served as a fairly
regular hangout of Lovecraft and the Kalem Club in New York City. It was
also the preferred meeting place of the poet Samuel Loveman. This is what
the interior looked like when it opened

77
William Harrison Ukerss 1922 book All About Coffee gives a little potted
history of the Double-R

Members of the family of the late Colonel Roosevelt began to


promote a Brazil coffee-house enterprise in New York in 1919. It
was first called Cafe Paulista, but it is now known as the Double R
coffee house, or Club of South America, with a Brazil branch in the
40s [this one is Lovecraft's 112 West Fortyfourth Street haunt] and
an Argentine branch on Lexington Avenue. Coffee is made and
served in Brazilian style; that is, full city roast, pulverized grind,
filtration made; service, black or with hot milk. Sandwiches, cakes,
and crullers are also to be had. 1

And here is a description of the Double-R in the 1920s, from a local


history publication

Upon entering the long narrow shop, a patron saw portraits of


Voltaire and Shakespeare on opposite sides of the room. The walls
were decorated with green and gold wallpaper containing a Brazilian
bamboo plant design. The room contained 30 small oak tables and
matching chairs with a large oak counter in the center where freshly
ground coffee was made. 2

The Double-R seems to have lasted about ten years under the first owners,
and seems to have been set up specifically to take advantage of the
prohibition of alcohol. It sold coffee, postum (which seems to have been a
sort of decaf coffee substitute, before decaf), pastries and cakes, sandwiches,
and offered a daily Brazilian dish. It seems the manager was Brazilian.

1 William Harrison Ukers, All About Coffee (1922).


2 Joshia Reyes, The Rough Writer: The News of the Volunteers at Sagamore Hill, Volume 9,

Issue 3.
78
There were reportedly Expansion plans of Double-R Coffee House 3 which
presumably meant the new Lexington Av. branch, but the venue was sold in
1928 4 to a Mr. and Mrs. Zivko Magdich at which time the New York
Times described it as a

gathering place for aspiring playwrights, actors, artists and


musicians.

The letters of George Kirk are a little more explicit on its artistic nature. It
seems that, at least part of the week, the Double-R Coffee House served as a
discreet queer meeting place

If you had been longer in NYC youd know that there are many
boys and many girls both male and female. My dear Double-R is
claimed to be a hangout for these half and halfers. George Kirk,
Letter of 17th Feb 1925. 5

Lovecraft wrote a poem to the place

Here may free souls forget the grind

Of busy hour and bustling crowd

And sparkling brightly mind to mind

Display their inmost dreams aloud

from On the Double-R Coffee House (1st February 1925) 6

3 New York Times, 1923.


4 Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, 1928, also The New York Times.
5 In Kirks later letters he later reveals that he is himself bisexual, which is possibly
how he knew. See Lovecrafts New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006). Other
active queer men Lovecraft was friends with were Samuel Loveman. He was also
acquainted with the queer poet Hart Crane. I think a good - though probably not
provable textual case could also be made for Everett McNeil of the Kalem Club.
6 The full poem is to be found in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H.P.

Lovecraft, which at 2011 is very affordable as a paperback.


79
The Double-R was also rather smoky, since Lovecraft writes in the same
poem

Midst them I sit with smoke-tryd eyes

from On the Double-R Coffee House

He also talks in one of his letters of the nicotined atmosphere of the


place.

The Greenwich Village quill of 1921 very briefly mentions the Double R, so
it seems that it was on the map of the Greenwich Village crowd even at that
time. Lovecrafts poem somewhat contradicts his very sour view of the artists
of Greenwich Village in the short story He, although the fact that the
coffee shop was a queer meeting place 7 may throw new light on this line in
He

uncommunicative artists whose practices do not invite publicity


or the light of day.

Such a coffee house was probably all the more important in 1925 as a
discreet queer meeting place because of the raids on the more dedicated
queer clubs, which a year of persistent police harassment and raids in 1924/5
had reduced to just three. 8 Possibly the police had been well informed by
the new monthly magazine Brevities which

7 There were of course other queer meeting places in the city. In the 1920s Times
Square was a common such meeting place, as were presumably, the cafes around the
Square. See: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Irena Ehrenfeucht, Sidewalks: conflict and
negotiation over public space p.45. Lovecraft frequented an automat there: At Times
Square we lunched at the Automat where Leeds and I lunched on a former occasion,
my fare this time being macaroni, potato salad, cheese pie, and coffee. - from: Selected
letters: Volume 1 (1965).
8 Possibly this as a reason for the Lovecraft Circle briefly adopting a new hangout at
the Chatham Cafeteria around Christmas 1925, although the move may simply have
been due to the Double-R becoming very crowded toward the Christmas period.
80
included numerous features on gay life [in the city], including an
astonishing yearlong series of articles in 1924 on Nights in
Fairyland, 9

The Double R apparently had a post-closure media ghost, since it seems


to have been recreated as a setting in the popular American TV series Twin
Peaks. I have never seen the series, so I dont know how faithful it might
have been to the original. Presumably the use of the name was a covert
Lovecraft reference by the makers.

Recreation of the Double-R menu board, in the TV series Twin Peaks.

ii. Cairo Gardens, Brooklyn:

According to the letters 10 I have read, it seems Lovecraft only went there
once. He was rather disappointed at the dcor in the place. It was in the
Arabian district, and had live Middle Eastern music.

9 George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male

World, 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1995.


81
iii. Tiffanys, Brooklyn:

Lovecraft calls this my regular caf in the 1925 letters. Apparently


(perhaps later) it was the occasional hangout of young roughs, since a
Lovecraft letter of 1927 reportedly (I have not seen the letter) states that the
police had arrested some youngsters for possessing guns at the cafe.
Although, one wonders if perhaps they were just attempting to extort
protection money from the owner? Tiffanys obviously also sold food, since
Lovecraft states in a New York letter that he dined there with friends.
Elsewhere in his New York letters Lovecraft calls it the Tiffany Cafeteria.

iv. Tontinis, Brooklyn:

Nothing known. This name seems to occur only in Kirks letters, as far as I
can tell? Could this name actually be Kirks mis-spelling of the name of the
legendary Totonnos on Coney Island, which was originally on Neptune
Ave off Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn?

Since 1924, Totonnos pizzeria has been a beacon on the block,


remarkable for its longevity and for the deliciousness of its food.
New York Times, March 2009.

If Totonnos had just opened in 1924 it is possible that Lovecraft visited it.
He is known to have been especially partial to Italian food, and he regularly
devoured spaghetti and loved cooked cheese. Two of his favorite Italian
restaurants were the Taormina in Clinton Street, and a Joes restaurant.
Possibly the Taormina was first tried because of the association of the name
with classical antiquity.

10 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.121.
82
v. Ice-cream parlors:

Ice-cream parlours were something of a passion for Lovecraft. Lovecraft and


his circle also paid at least one visit to Coney Island, which had plenty of ice-
cream parlors. 11 The parlours of the 1920s were apparently very sparkly, and
a woman in the 1920s was once described at the time as glittering like an
ice-cream parlor. Doubtless his circle also visited such parlors when they
went to the various New York zoos, as they did to visit the newly arrived
Komodo dragons in 1925. Somewhat interestingly, although perhaps only
for a horror writer, ice cream is remarkably similar to the words: I scream.
Lovecraft would have heard the common phrase I Scream for Ice Cream!
from boys on tricycles selling it on the streets of New York. There were also
the Good Humor ice-cream trucks, operating from 1926 in New York City.

Good Humor ice-cream vendors tricycle, possibly c.1920s?

11 The commercial ice-cream trade was then a fairly new industry, in its safe and

modern form. The U.S. Association of Ice Cream Men had only been formed in 1917,
following health regulations which standardised production and made eating it less likely
to give one the runs. The popsicle was first invented in 1920. The first ice-cream pot-
filling machines were sold in 1920, and the first automatic electric freezer was sold in
1923. So Lovecraft really was on the cusp of the commercial ice-cream revolution. The
first dedicated ice-cream freezer wasnt even on the market until 1926, after which ice-
cream trucks developed.
83
vi. Maxfields:

Lovecrafts famous ice-cream eating contest happened at Maxfields

After digesting Warrens quiet lanes and doorways we went across


the tracks to Aunt Julias, where we tanked up on twelve different
kinds of ice cream all theyre serving at this time of year.
Selected Letters: 1932-1934.

I had pictured this as being in urban New York. But seemingly not. It
appears to have been more of a mansion in a very rural suburb...

21, Federal Street [Warren, Rhode Island]. Bosworth Mansion or


Maxfields c.1840: 2 story gable roof Greek Revival house possibly
designed by architect Russell Warren for Judge Alfred Bosworth;
known for years as Maxfields a popular local ice-cream parlor. 12

From: Ruth Marris Macaulay, John Chaney. Warren. Arcadia, 1997.

12 State Inventory Listing document, online at townofwarren-ri.gov


84
This was owned by Julia A. Maxfields whose father was apparently Louis
Warren Taft, and was of an old Rhode Island family. It seems from the
mention of Aunt Julia in the letter that she was related to a member of the
Lovecraft Circle? It seems, though, that the Bosworth Mansion was not
the actual site of the parlor. The parlor was apparently in a nearby building,
presumably in the grounds and maybe looking more like a wooden Summer
House? Or possibly it was a veranda-like extension at the back of the house,
which Wandreis (then nearly 20 years-old) memories seem to imply. 13
Although I think I would rather trust the memories of the local historians
and local people that the parlor was actually some distance from the main
house. 14

Possibly Julia A. Maxfield didnt actually work there either, but employed
her relatives to do so, since I have discovered an online genealogical mention
of a Charles Redfern Maxfield Snr. being the manager of an ice-cream parlor
in Warren in the 1920s. 15

In The Dweller in Darkness (1944) 16 , Donald Wandrei gives the story


behind the famous 1927 trip to Maxfields

We each ordered a double portion of a different flavor, and by


dividing each others choice, we enjoyed three flavors with each
serving. The trams came on and on chocolate, vanilla, peach,
black raspberry, pistachio, black walnut, coffee, huckleberry,
strawberry, orange, plum, mint, burnt almond, and exotic types
whose names I do not recall. The ice-cream was superior; there was
no doubt of its being of the finest quality. But on the twenty-first

13 Published in Marginalia. Arkham House, 1944.


14 Ruth Marris Macaulay, John Chaney. Warren. Arcadia, 1997.
15 Descendants of Clement Maxfield of Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tenth

Generation by Charles A. Maxfield.


16 Published in Marginalia. Arkham House, 1944.
85
variety I was beyond capacity. I watched with awe while the
remaining flavors arrived in the same huge portions, and Lovecraft
and Morton ate on with undiminshed zest, interspersing the
astonishing meal with a wealth of literary allusions on the origins of
ice-cream, its preparation in Italy, its appeal to famous men, the
distinctions between meringues, ice-creams, and ices. I managed to
sip each flavor for the record of twenty-eight, but I was a weak
runner-up to the champions. I would estimate that Lovecraft and
Morton consumed between two and three quarts of ice-cream apiece
on that gastronomic triumph.

The group famously wrote a long note on their triumph, with comments
on each of the flavours, and left it on the table. When they next returned it
had been framed and hung on the wall. Sadly, four flavours had been
missing on the day of the contest, so what hung on the wall was not a
complete appraisal of the range.

86
87
UNDERGROUND:
ON THE MONSTROUS, OCCULT AND
HIDDEN IN NEW YORK CITY

88
6 : LOVECRAFT AND THE SUBWAY

I guess you won't wonder now why I have to steer clear of subways
H.P. Lovecraft, Pickmans Model.

he first New York subway line had opened in 1904, effectively an


T extension of the sidewalks. The new system would quickly be
characterised in the press as an antechamber of Hell 1 , in stark contrast to
the elegant and sublime visions of lofty beauty to be found at the grand city
railroad stations such as the old Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central.
Lovecraft had expressed anxiety at the thought of subways as early as 1920, as
seen in the ominous manner in which people walk into the subway entrances
in his dream-story Nyarlathotep (1920)
One [column of people] disappeared in a narrow alley to the left,
leaving only the echo of a shocking moan. Another filed down a
weed-choked subway entrance, howling with a laughter that was
mad. H.P. Lovecraft. Nyarlathotep.
This may reflect his own experience of the Boston subway system in the
1910s, or of reading news and commentary on it in the press. In New York
in 1925 he has
nightmares of strange underground caverns like the Boston
subway 2
Later he even appears to have feared the sight of the subway entrances, or
at least has one of his narrators voice such a fear
I cannot see a well or a subway entrance without shuddering.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Lurking Fear (1922).

1 See my following essay on ghosts and monsters in the New York subway.
2 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.158.
89
The Lurking Fear was written after his first visit to New York, and may
reflect his own experience there. Yet in his letters of 1922 he gives little
indication he disliked using the subway. In 1924 and 1925 he expresses
increasingly dislike of using them at certain times, but not fear. Nevertheless
he may well have had several deep-seated concerns about his safety, since if
he was prone to fainting then to fall down steep subway steps could be quite
fatal. Or if he were to faint on the platform and fall onto the electrified rails.
There was also the likely behavior of other travelers in an emergency to be
considered. On 1st August 1918, when a then-new subway shuttle system
had opened in New York, there had apparently been a riot and stampede to
get out of the station. This was before the installation of glowing guide-lines
that led people out of the dark. 3 There had been other similar incidents in
the early years of the subway
Indescribable scenes of crowding and confusion, never paralleled in
this city. [] a deadly, suffocating, rib-smashing subway rush which
began at 7 oclock tonight. Men fought, kicked and pummeled one
another [] grey haired men pleaded for mercy, boys were knocked
down and only escaped by a miracle from being trampled underfoot.
The presence of the police alone averted what would undoubtedly
have been panic after panic, with wholesale loss of life. New York
Tribune, 28th October 1904.
In the frenetic growth of the 1920s, rush-hour overcrowding might have
made those sorts of scenes even more likely in Lovecrafts mind. One
commentator wrote that
Monster crowds live in Brooklyn, across the East river; monster
crowds live in New Jersey, across the Hudson river 4
Lovecraft echoes this rhetoric of the monstrous, when he described in his
letters the crowd in the pre-Christmas crush of December 1924 as

3 Meyer Berger and Pete Hamill. Meyer Bergers New York. Fordham University Press,

2004. p.102.
4 Article on subways in Technical World magazine, Vol.9, 1908.
90
rushing and slithering human vermin 5
He cannot have been much encouraged to find out that the ventilation in
the subways still left much to be desired, even in the mid 1920s
It is disappointing to hear that travellers on the New York Subway
are complaining of imperfect ventilation and other discomforts
which were not anticipated The Electrician journal, 1925.
In his letters Lovecraft refers to some types of closed New York buses as
prepayment suffocation chambers 6 , so how much more trepidation might
he have felt about suffocation on the subways? 7
In February 1926 Lewis Mumfords essay on the nature of the city
highlighted the disquietingly humid and tactile nature of the overcrowded
subways, while citing them as a sure and certain symbol of the decay of urban
life in the city. Mumford strongly suggests that the subways were then places
of deep discomfort and misery, using phrases such as
The Swedish Massage of the Subway [] the pulping mill of the
8
subway
Lovecraft may have been being irrational on the basic probabilities of
stampede or suffocation while travelling, but nevertheless his trepidations
were clearly shared by others. It was obviously unpleasant but he tolerated it
in 1922, 1924 and well into 1925. Something changes around late 1925 /
early 1926. His fear has its most vivid depiction in the gruesome canvas
painted in his story Pickmans Model (written September 1926)

5 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.101.
6 Ibid. p.158.
7 Lovecraft may have been encouraged to worry about entombment and suffocation

when his own building had been shaken by a minor earthquake in late February 1925.
This was followed by Pickwick Club collapse disaster, in nearby Boston (New England)
in July 1925. The collapse killed 44 people. Lovecrafts New York stories The Horror
at Red Hook (written 1st-2nd August 1925) and He (written 11th Aug 1925) both
culminate in calamitous and severe building collapse. Similarly, In the Vault (18th
Sept 1925) features a man trapped in a building.
8 Lewis Mumford. The Intolerable City. Harpers magazine issue 212 (Feb 1926),

pp.283-93.
91
Still from Manhandled, a 1924 Gloria Swanson movie, showing the over-crowding of
the New York subway system.

Picture: Public Domain.

Note the gent in the bowler hat, who resembles Lovecraft.

92
There was a study called Subway Accident, in which a flock of the
vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb
through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and
attacking a crowd of people on the platform. Pickmans
Model.
Following Pickmans disappearance, the narrator refuses to venture into the
subway system
If I dont like that damned subway, its my own business
Pickmans Model.
There are some obvious explanations, such as his growing dislike of being
in very close proximity to unassimilated immigrants. Yet other factors may
have been at play. Medical doctors much later became aware of a fainting
sickness brought on by a sudden blood pressure drop while travelling the
subway
there is an actual sickness that affects mass-transit users []
overcrowding leaves people wedged in place with blood accumulating
in their feet, leading to faintness [] the claustrophobia and dreads
combine to push people from unease to panic. 9
Lovecraft had suffered from feeling faint and fainting in the years before he
came to New York. Lack of a breakfast is apparently often a contributing
factor to subway sickness, and Lovecraft was often very badly nourished in
the second half of his stay in the city. Possibly this poor and irregular diet
may help to partly account for his change in attitude to using the subway?
Finally, I wonder if it is just possible that Lovecraft somehow associated
the system with the horrors of socialism? 10 Everyone paid the same fare,
there were no first class tickets, no separate entrances or seating areas.

9 Christopher Norwood. The Subway Syndrome. New York Magazine, 9th August
1982.
10 Im reliably informed that it is still common for new public transport proposals in

the USA to have to overcome a basic assumption by politicians that the system would
somehow be a vanguard of socialism.
93
Everyone was dragged down to the same level in the same mundane and
deeply uncomfortable cattle car experience. This would have been in stark
contrast to the experience of the railways with their class-based ticketing
structure and their palatial and uplifting stations. I know of no evidence for
his ever making the comparison in writing, however. Yet there was at this
time a more ideological than practical/biological set of structuring
assumptions about the mass urban crowd, an implicitly conservative one, and
it may have fed into an implicit distrust of public transport. 11
I refer to the rise of the popular idea of the mob mind, those urban masses
who act in a semi-hypnotised manner. The mob mind was a popular
concept and talking point around 1919-1920, and relates more to the
ideological dangers of crowds than to the everyday and very real dangers of
crowded and ill-educated cities 12 although there is some overlap.
E.A. Rosss best-selling book Social Control (1901) had suggested that
people were increasingly subject to a primitive suggestibility in crowded
modern cities. Partly this had to do with the rise of and change in the nature
of advertising and shop window displays, partly with the rise of a violent and
agitational leftist politics, but in America it was able to build on thinking
about the nature of the new modern urban crowd and its patterns of behavior
that had arisen in France after the French revolution but which then had
later become linked explicitly to racialised and race-thinking ideas of the type

11 One can see this attitude in the British upper classes even in the 1980s, when Loelia
Ponsonby, one of the wives of 2nd Duke of Westminster said: Anybody seen in a bus
over the age of 30 has been a failure in life. She was apparently quoting the 1930s poet
Brian Howard. The leftists in the press were quick to falsely attribute the quote to Mrs
Thatcher, then leader of the Conservative Party.
12 For a full intellectual history of the idea and reality of the mob see J. S. McClellands
The Crowd and the Mob: From Plato to Canetti. Taylor & Francis, 2010. For the history in
America see Paul S. Boyer. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920. Harvard
University Press, 1992. For an intellectual history in Britain, see John Carey. The
Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia 1880-1939.
Faber and Faber, 1992.
94
then very common, as intellectuals tried to divine what sort of new politics
might come out of the new modern crowds. 13

The neo-gothic architecture of a New York subway entrance.

Picture: Library of Congress.

13 On the specific hypnotic nature of urban crowds, which seems relevant to the

columns of semi-hypnotised people in the Lovecraft story Nyarlathotep (1920) and to


the news reports of subway stampedes, one might also point to Gustave le Bons earlier
The Crowd (published in America in 1896) which had argued that an individual who is
too long in a crowd... finds himself in a special state, which much resembles the state
of fascination in which the hypnotized individual finds himself in the hands of the
hypnotizer.
95
In 1919 Rosss student Robert Gault had published The Psychology of
Suggestion, drawing heavily on Rosss ideas and the concept of the mob mind,
and this was no doubt reviewed in the sort of publications Lovecraft would
have read such as Scientific American and Popular Science Monthly. I expect
that the race riots, leftist parcel-bomb attacks 14 , and the serious political
unrest in 1919 gave Gaults book a wide readership on publication.
Then on 9th September 1919 the whole of the Boston police force deserted
their posts, leaving the city virtually defenceless 15 , leading to further strong
cultural anxieties about Bolshevism (then a common name for communist
socialism) this time much closer to Lovecrafts own Providence and
conflating politicised trades unions and crime in the public mind. These
anxieties were set against the background of the terror of the Russian
Revolution and its international spreading of the Bolshevist creed, and of
recent race riots. 16 In the following years there occurred the major terrorist
bomb attack on New York on 16th September 1920, in which an old trolley
car (tram) had been used as the delivery vehicle. 17
All these fears must have contributed to the anxieties associated with using
mass public transport. By the time Lovecraft arrived to live in New York in
1924, these wider anxieties appear to have quieted down somewhat, possibly
aided by the mass deportation of anarchist and communist immigrants and
heighted vigilance. Nevertheless such anxieties had undoubtedly left their
mark on the psyches of ordinary people.

14 Which had been going on since 1914, see Trevor Conan Kearns, Jennifer L. Weber.
Key Concepts in American History: Terrorism. Chelsea House, 2010. p.67.
15Francis Russell. A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike.
Houghton Mifflin, 2005. The event partly inspired Lovecrafts story The Street.
16 On the links between the mob crowd and the race riots in 1919 and the years

following, see: Jan Voogd. Race riots and resistance: the Red Summer of 1919. Peter Lang,
2008.
17 Beverly Gage. The day Wall Street exploded: a story of America in its first age of terror.

Oxford University Press, 2010.


96
7 : IT EMERGED FROM THE SUBWAYS!

On the genesis of the monstrous under New York City

r. H.P. Lovecraft famously compares his shoggoth monsters to


M subway trains in the horror novelette At The Mountains of Madness.
Robert H. Waugh suggests Lovecraft may have been influenced by the
legend of a vast subterranean labyrinth below Chinatown in San Francisco, in
the essay The Subway and the Shoggoth 1 in Lovecraft Studies 39. Waugh
reportedly suggests that this notion of underground tunnels can be seen in
Sax Rohmers popular Fu Manchu stories, by which Lovecraft could have
been influenced. I have not been able to read his essay due to cost 2 but I
would guess that Rohmers Tales of Chinatown (1922) is the obvious
candidate here as a possible source novel. Yet I have independently turned
up the fact that the notion was abroad in the dime novels ten years earlier, in
1912. One can, for instance, see the use of the same idea in novels such as
The Bradys Yellow Foe; or, In the Tunnels of Chinatown (1912), which
Lovecraft may even have read when it was first issued. Lovecraft is known to
have consumed dime novels voraciously and extensively during his youth and
teenage hermitry. Some of his earliest fiction was clearly influenced by
the dime novel. 3 Interestingly this 1912 Bradys novel is set beneath the
Chinatown in New York 4 , and not in the one in San Francisco. While this
sort of popular literature could have been an influence on the New York
canal tunnels in Lovecrafts The Horror at Red Hook (1925), and possibly

1 Robert H. Waugh. The Subway and the Shoggoth. Lovecraft Studies, No.39, Summer

1998.
2 I have not been able to see this article due to the cost of obtaining the now-rare used

copies of Lovecraft Studies, which are not obtainable via the British Library at 2011.
3 S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Greenwood, 2001. p.180.
4 J. Randolph Cox. The Dime Novel Ccompanion: a source book. Greenwood, 2000. p.14.
97
also on the tunnels in At The Mountains of Madness (1931), I cannot find any
mention of the New York or Boston subway systems being metaphorically
laid on top of any folk beliefs about networks of tunnels under the city 5
such as those of the Chinatown tunnels.
The presence of the supernatural in the New York subways seems to have
begun in literature in 1925. Lovecrafts New York gay acquaintance Hart
Crane seems the key progenitor for the future mythologizing of the subway,
with his poem The Tunnel (the writing of which appears to have been
started around late 1925 and with development continuing into 1926 6 ) in
which the overcrowded and claustrophobic city subways become the
nightmare haunt of the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. Crane presents Poe as a
covert symbol of an underground queer culture, linking his deathly status
with the persecutions that normalcy inflicts upon the artistic...

Whose head is swinging from the swollen strap?


Whose body smokes along the bitten rails,
Bursts from a smoldering bundle far behind
In back forks of the chasms of the brain,
Puffs from a riven stump far out behind
In interborough fissures of the mind . . . ?

And why do I often meet your visage here,


Your eyes like agate lanternson and on
Below the toothpaste and the dandruff ads?
And did their riding eyes right through your side,
And did their eyes like unwashed platters ride?
And Death, aloft,gigantically down
Probing through youtoward me, O evermore!

5 Those seeking such examples from cities other than New York might usefully consult
books such as Benson Bobricks Labyrinths of Iron: subways in history, myth, art, technology,
and war. William Morrow & Co, 1986.
6 George S. Lensing. Hart Cranes Tunnel. Ariel, 1975.
98
And when they dragged your retching flesh,
Your trembling hands that night through Baltimore
That last night on the ballot rounds, did you,
Shaking, did you deny the ticket, Poe?

Would it be very scurrilous to suggest that perhaps Crane may have had the
idea of placing Poes ghost on the subway from a chat with Lovecraft, or
with one of his weird fiction friends? Even if that were so, I have found that
Crane was beaten to it by a New York World comic-strip of 1905. This
satirical comic imagines the ghost of Dante riding the hellish New York City
subways 7 and finding them even worse than Hell. The strip was seemingly
drawn and written by one V.P. Whit[?]

Picture: Library of Congress.

7 They really were hellish. See: Michael W. Brooks. Subway city: riding the trains, reading
New York. Rutgers University Press, 1997.
99
Lovecraft was writing his story The Horror at Red Hook (1st-2nd August
1925) around the time of the genesis of Cranes poem The Tunnel. His
substantial story mentions a subway, but only briefly as a location through
which to emphasise the degradation of Robert Suydam who is

seen occasionally by humiliated friends in subway stations

The real focus in Red Hook is instead on the secret network of


underground maritime canals that connect the wharves with Brooklyn and
Red Hook, and which then spread out into

several subterranean channels and tunnels in the neighbourhood

So it seems clear to me that Crane must take the prize of being the first to
seriously haunt the New York subway system in literature, albeit only in
passing and without a sustaining narrative. Possibly some of the earliest
dime novels and pulps may have taken the subway system as a setting for
horror or the supernatural, but I can find no mention of this in the
scholarship only the pulp character of Thubway Tham, a professional
subway pickpocket with a lisp, who hardly seems to count as a monster or a
supernatural being 8 .

It appears that H.P. Lovecraft was the one who first made a truly
spectacular use of the subways and monsters in literature if only as
adjuncts to two powerful stories, and with the first of these set in Boston
rather than New York. Lovecraft gives the subway its first real monsters in
Pickmans Model (Sept 1926, Weird Tales October 1927) in the description
of a gruesome canvas painted in the story

There was a study called Subway Accident, in which a flock of the


vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb

8 Thanks to the editors of the plot encyclopaedia Science-fiction: the Gernsback years.
100
through a crack in the floor of the Boylston Street subway and
attacking a crowd of people on the platform.

He quickly follows this by showing readers the tunnels from which they
arise, describing the network in a manner not unlike a cross-section or
diagrammatic map of a subway system

One disgusting canvas seemed to depict a vast cross-section of


Beacon Hill, with ant-like armies of the mephitic monsters
squeezing themselves through burrows that honeycombed the
ground.

H.P. Lovecraft, Pickmans Model.

Possibly this Subway Accident theme arises from Lovecrafts reading in


the newspapers of subway riots on the 1st of August 1918. A then-new
subway shuttle system had opened in New York, and there had been a riot
and stampede to get out of the station. This was before the installation of
glowing guide-lines that led people out of the dark. 9 There had been other
similar incidents reported in the early years of the subway, which the young
Lovecraft would have read of in the newspapers of the time

Indescribable scenes of crowding and confusion, never paralleled in


this city. [] a deadly, suffocating, rib-smashing subway rush which
began at 7 oclock tonight. Men fought, kicked and pummeled one
another [] grey haired men pleaded for mercy, boys were knocked
down and only escaped by a miracle from being trampled underfoot.
The presence of the police alone averted what would undoubtedly
have been panic after panic, with wholesale loss of life. New York
Tribune, 28th October 1904.

9 Meyer Berger and Pete Hamill. Meyer Bergers New York. Fordham University Press,

2004. p.102.
101
One then wonders if this barbaric behavior may even have had a bearing on
the conception of the half-human / half-ghoul nature of Pickman in
Pickmans Model? The 1900s crowds that jammed onto the subways were
sometimes talked of publically in terms of the monstrous

Monster crowds live in Brooklyn, across the East river ; monster


crowds live in New Jersey, across the Hudson river 10

Even in the 1920s the same rhetoric was still current, making a connection
between the monster new skyscrapers and the subways that served them

One of the most virulent skyscraper opponents was Major Henry


Curran, counsel of the City Club of New York, who denounced the
buildings as monsters and their spread as a plague. Curran
11
blamed them for subway crowding and [the] automobile ...

In the early 1930s Lovecrafts own personal memories of his 1925/6 fears
of the subways 12 produced what S.T. Joshi calls 13 possibly the most
terrifying moment ever written in modern horror literature when the
shoggoth rushes out of the tunnel toward the end of the novella At The
Mountains of Madness (Feb-Mar 1931, Astounding Stories Feb-Mar-Apr
1936). In this famous novelette the onrushing shoggoth is compared by
Lovecraft to the forward motion not just of a train, but specifically of a
subway train

10 Article on subways in Technical World magazine, Vol.9, 1908.


11 David Ward, Olivier Zunz. The Landscape of Modernity: essays on New York City, 1900-
1940. Russell Sage Foundation , 1992. p.64.
12 Possibly induced due to his very poor diet after he moved to the dismal hovel at

169 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights, NYC, since subway syndrome can be affected
by this factor. See: Christopher Norwood. The Subway Syndrome. New York
Magazine, 9th August 1982.
13 Lovecraftian Obsession Podcast, Episode 2: S.T. Joshi interview. June 2010.
102
its nearest comprehensible analogue is a vast, onrushing subway
train as one sees it from a station platform

This is foreshadowed in Mountains by Lovecraft having an insane explorer


chant the names of the subway system to try to calm himself, thus in the
mind of the reader subtly linking the idea of the subways with madness. The
moment of revelation is famously if rather colourfully depicted on the cover
of Astounding Stories for February 1936, even though the scene would not be
available to read until the later April issue.

Cover of Astounding Stories, February 1936.

The idea of monsters in the subways would only be fully developed as a


central plot device by Robert Barbour Johnson 14 in his classic Far Below

14 He appears to have written six stories for Weird Tales under his own name. He lived
for at least twenty-five years in San Francisco, where seems to have been involved in
UFO groups in the 1970s and 80s. He seems to have been living in San Francisco in
1940, since the Century Press of San Francisco issued his The Magic Park in 1940 which
103
(Weird Tales, June-July 1939) in which giant, carrion feeding, subterranean
molemen derail a subway train 15 . This long work was inspired by
16
Lovecraft , and is generally considered to be a highlight of the immense
wave of Cthulhu mythos fiction inspired by his works. Far Below is clearly
the breakthrough moment for the idea, in which it is fully developed in a
sustained and very successful manner, and becomes central to a horror/SF
narrative. Incidentally, the protagonist of the story, Inspector Craig, reports
to the reader that he once gave Mr. Lovecraft a tour of the tunnels.

There had been some earlier pulp uses of the setting but they were very
minor. A search of the plot encyclopaedia Science-fiction: the Gernsback years
reveals a similar paucity of subway usage by pulp writers. The only story
listed with any real usage of the setting seems to be Harl Vincents pulp story
The Menace from Below (Science Wonder Stories, Vol.1 No.2, July 1929),
but the subway serves as a fairly quickly-dismissed portal to a typical lost
world/hollow earth SF scenario. The Spider edition of April 1938, City of
Whispering Death, had attempted to use the subway as a minor element as the
lair of a criminal torturer, but The Spider List website reports that is it a
confused and unsuccessful novel. This appears to be The Spiders only use of
the subway-as-setting in the entire Spider run. As far as I can tell, subways

appears to be set in the city. In 1942 he was described in Architect and Engineer as circus
writer and artist. Possibly there may thus be some influence on Far Below from the
San Francisco Chinatown tunnels myths?
15 Available in the forthcoming anthology Spawn of the Green Abyss, and also the 2003

collection Far Below and Other Horrors from the Pulps. Possibly this latter work is the same
as the Robert Weinberg edited anthology of 1974, Far Below and Other Horrors. The
name mole men may arise from the animals, but the giant machines that dug the
subways were called monster moles by the press of the time.
16 S.T. Joshi suggests it... was inspired by Lovecraft's description in Pickman's

Model of a ghoul attack on a subway platform. S.T. Joshi. Icons of Horror and the
Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares. Greenwood , 2006. Volume 1,
p.257.
104
do not feature in any relevant way in either the long-running The Shadow or
the Doc Savage adventure pulps.

From the appearance of Robert Barbour Johnsons Far Below the concept
was taken up, albeit in an apparently rather cursory manner, by the comics in
the early 1940s. Here are some panels showing Frankenstein escaping into
the New York subway after defeating a crocodile-man, in the little known
Prize Comics (Dec. 1940). The subway is presented simply as a means for the
monster to escape, rather than as a lair or haunt...

Prize Comics #7 (Dec 1940). Art and Story by Dick Briefer.

Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (Timely/Marvel, Nov. 1940) led with a Carl
Burgos 12-page Human Torch story Terror in the Subway. The Joe
Simon and Jack Kirby Captain America issue #3 (Timely/Marvel, May 1941)
has the super-villain Red Skull building a hideout in the New York subways.
In the same Captain America issue there was an extra story by writer Jack
Kirby, called Satan and the Subway Disasters in which

105
The use of infernal death boxes in causing subway wrecks draws
17
the attention of Hurricane.

The idea/setting then appears to vanish, presumably forgotten during the


war. Then after 20 years it re-emerges, quite literally, into the city on the
famous cover of the first Fantastic Four issue (Nov 1961). The villain of this
issue is the subterranean evil genius The Mole Man, who in the cover
illustration has unleashed a monster on the city

The first issue of Marvels The Fantastic Four series, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

17 Marvel.com description - Captain America Comics (1941) #3.


106
Various monsters and criminals inhabit abandoned tunnels, sometimes
subway tunnels, in the Marvel monster and superhero comics of the 1960s
and 70s. The frequency does not, however, seem to be great. Yet one can
certainly see the theme well illustrated in Marvels Monsters on the Prowl #13
(October 1971), a throwback to the old Jack Kirby monster comics, albeit
only in the six-page fifth story called In The Shadow of Traag

Artist: Syd Shores. Picture: Marvel Comics. I would suggest that this is one of the
most compelling monster illustrations of the period. Sadly the front cover is by a
different artist and does not have the same quality.

107
As the quality of the New York subways system declined drastically in the
1970s and 80s, its horrific urban reality needed little supernatural
embellishment. One might even see the depiction of its ruined far-future in
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) 18 as a kind of foreshadowing of the hell
that the subways would become in actuality. There apparently emerged real
Mole Men in the 1980s, colonies of addicts and insane people who lived
deep in the warmth of the subway tunnels 19 and who seem to have provoked
some urban legends in the city. At this time the subway served in movies as
backdrop for hijackings, muggings, shootings, psycho murders, and sundry
other grim reflections of its real contemporary existence. David Lawrence
Pike has undertaken a survey of such films in his essay for the academic film
journal Wide Angle, Urban Nightmares and Future Visions: life beneath
New York (1988).

Only after the subway system was literally and psychologically cleaned up
around the early-mid 1990s 20 , by the application of zero tolerance and other
measures, do supernatural or extraterrestrial monsters once again creep back
into the representation of the New York subways. The Lovecraft-inspired
movie director Guillermo del Toro tackled the theme with great vigour in
the moderately successful Mimic (1997) 21 . Men in Black II followed his lead
a few years later in 2002. del Toros Hellboy (2004) movie also has significant
sections that use the idea of monsters in the subway.

18 Also its long-running mid-1970s Marvel comic book original plot-extensions.


19 Jennifer Toth. The Mole People: life in the tunnels beneath New York City. Chicago
Review Press, 1993.
20 City Journal Interview: Victory in the Subways: William J. Bratton. City Journal,

Summer 1992.
21 Apparently released only in studio-chopped form, and thus not really satisfactory to

the director. del Toro reports that he has an unreleased Directors Cut of Mimic he is
happy with. See his interview with Deadline, 13th September 2010.
108
Further reading:

Benson Bobrick. Labyrinths of Iron: subways in history, myth, art, technology,


and war. William Morrow & Co, 1986.

Charlotte Brunsdon. A Fine and Private Place: the cinematic spaces of the
London Underground. Screen 47.1 (Spring 2006). pp. 1-17.

Stanley Greenberg, Thomas H. Garver. Invisible New York: the hidden


infrastructure of the city. JHU Press, 1998

Alex Marshall. Beneath the Metropolis: the secret lives of cities. Carroll and
Graf, 2006.

Christopher Payne. New Yorks forgotten substations: the power behind the
subway. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.

David Lawrence Pike. Urban Nightmares and Future Visions: life beneath
New York. Wide Angle, 20 (1998), 4. pp. 9-50. [ Locked behind a paywall,
but on post-1960 movies featuring the theme. ]

David Lawrence Pike. Subterranean cities: the world beneath Paris and London,
1800-1945. Cornell University Press, 2005.

Julia Solis. New York underground: the anatomy of a city. Routledge, 2005.

109
8 : ON MYSTICAL AND OCCULT NEW YORK

ew York was home to other undergrounds than those of the subways,


N Colonial-era crypts and wharf tunnels. Lovecraft was largely
uninterested in the Greenwich Village bohemian literary underground 1, and
he obviously did not care to see the early manifestation of the vibrant black
literary and musical culture then bubbling up in Harlem 2 . But what of the
citys occult or mystical underground? Indeed, what of it? Evidence for it
seems so lacking in the 20th century that no-one has bothered to write a
history of occult or mystical New York, even at a time when an avalanche of
books on the citys history have appeared. 3 Even so, New York has certainly
been a hotbed of publishing on the topic 4 , and is also host to a wealth of
relevant material in the many libraries and museums.
So, in the absence of in-depth research on the history of the occult in New
York, I can only sketch some rough outlines of what else Lovecraft may have
known about in the city at that time, and point to several key occult and
mystical groups in the city: the Theosophists and their meeting places such

1 From He (1925): It was in a grotesque hidden courtyard of the Greenwich


section, for there in my ignorance I had settled, having heard of the place as the natural
home of poets and artists. [...] I found the poets and artists to be loud-voiced
pretenders whose quaintness is tinsel and whose lives are a denial of all that pure beauty
which is poetry and art... Possibly Lovecraft associated artistic bohemianism both with
the 19th century romanticism he despised and also with the taint of criminality that has
always hung around it. If he had ever visited England he might have been more at
home, since English bohemianism was and is seasonally far more rural and bucolic and
less urban. Nevertheless, Lovecrafts regularly frequented the Double-R Coffee House
which was a queer venue and haunt of the Greenwich Village artists, and he wrote a
poem to it.
2 Now know as the Harlem Renaissance, and about which a great deal has been
published. Lovecrafts letters show that he knew of the new cultural forms then
developing there, but obviously he did not care to investigate further.
3 The closest yet is probably Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow, The Occult in America:

new historical perspectives. University of Illinois Press, 1986. Also Cathy Gutierrez, The
Occult in Nineteenth-Century America. Davies Group, 2005.
4 In 1923 for instance, a monumental eight-volume A History of Magic and Experimental

Science (1923-58) began to be published in the city.


110
as The Lamasery and Roerichs gallery; the Masonic temples in the business
district 5 ; Kabbalistic and mystical survivals among the Yiddish jews of
Poland and Russia; and the Rosicrucian Supreme Grand Lodge in New
York. One might also include the Spiritualists and astrologers, and the
American Society of Psychical Research. Lovecraft was of course a lifelong
atheist and a profound skeptic, and would only have been interested in any of
these as source material for his fiction. Nevertheless it may be useful to
undertake a short survey of them here, to see if any of them can shed any
light on Lovecrafts New York experience. I will explore each in turn,
immediately followed by a separate chapter that forms a lengthy digression
on the possible 1920s perception of ethnographers as crypto-mystics.

i. The Theosophists
While I know of no evidence of any contact by Lovecraft with Rosicrucians
or Masons, Lovecraft certainly had contacts with a similarly well-established
group called the Theosophists. This contact appears to have been mainly
through the mystical Theosophist / Buddhist Russian exile, explorer and
artist Nicholas Roerich. 6 Lovecraft frequently visited Roerichs gallery in the
mid 1920s and was apparently at the opening in New York in 1930 of
Roerichs major show of his fine paintings called Shambhala. Roerich had
made the paintings on and soon after his expeditions to try to locate the
mythical mountain paradise of Shangri La high in the Himalayas (1923-28),
and Roerich scholars suggest these may have contained authentic Bon
shamanic motifs from Tibetan culture. Lovecraftian scholars have suggested
the presence of a number of Theosophist ideas in Lovecrafts fiction 7 , which
he presumably gained from conversation and possibly from reading their
texts, but these were used professionally and in a cursory way by him. In the

5 Lovecraft did not have access to these.


6 Colleen Messina. Warrior of light: the life of Nicholas Roerich. Summit University Press,

2002.
7 Robert M. Price, HPL and HPB: Lovecrafts Use of Theosophy. Crypt of Cthulhu,

1982. I have also identified several themes from the Theosophists in Lovecrafts work.
111
early 1920s Theosophist beliefs appear to have been seen by Lovecraft and
his friends as just another mine of weird beliefs about past lost civilisations
to use for their weird fiction stories. What may have been especially
interesting was the Theosophist interest in ancient central and south
American cultures and archeology, which was then only a nascent field of
study and as such were wide open to speculation. Theosophy is mentioned
several times in The Call of Cthulhu, a key story arising directly from
Lovecrafts New York period.

ii. Immigrants and the occult in the 1920s


There were explicit American beliefs in the early decades of the 20th century
that there were links between immigrants and the occult. 8 Many of these
beliefs now appear to have had some factual foundation
Blacks, immigrants from European peasant stock, and Southern
Appalachians, as we will later see, all cultivated the occult beliefs and
practices that their cultures had passed on to them 9
Yet this sort of activity had not been unknown in the early centuries of
English colonisation, when
Clergymen, church councils, and church associations perennially
confronted fusions of magic and the occult with popular Christianity.
The persistent belief in magic and occultism among English
immigrants to North America is demonstrated [in Colonial court

8 See: Susan Kay Gillman. Blood Talk: American race melodrama and the culture of the occult.

University of Chicago Press, 2003. Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African
American Conjuring Tradition. University of California Press, 2006. On the occult books
that the immigrants brought with them, see the chapter Across the Oceans in Owen
Davies, Grimoires: a history of magic books, 2009. On the entertainment use of the idea of
the Chinese stage magician and associated occult imagery see Arthur Bonner, Alas! what
brought thee hither?: the Chinese in New York, 1800-1950.
9 Catherine L. Albanese. America, Religions and Religion. Wadsworth, 1992 (Second

edition). p.251. It should be pointed out, however, that Christianity also had a strong
grip on black, Irish and Italian communities.
112
records] dating as far back as the earliest colonization [and
persisting] throughout the 18th century... 10
In Lovecrafts time such beliefs about Protestant occultism seemed to lie in
the dark past 11 and while it was certainly a past which Lovecraft was
deeply familiar with, and would have spotted its relics seemed to be little
in evidence in New York City itself in the 1920s.
Similar fears did still linger in the city, though, in connection with Catholics.
There were still persistent and widespread links made between certain types
of Catholics and unholy practices
Pagan! Heathen! Idolator! These were among the epithets hurled
at the Italian immigrants around the turn of the century 12
It may seem strange to us now, but the Catholic / Protestant split was then
a vociferous one filled with the fear of Popery. The Popery concept was
understood with shudders and loathing 13 , as was something called
priestcraft. The Pope, in particular, was routinely perceived by many as a
sort of monster or antichrist. The sentiments arising from this fear of
Catholics riddled the 18th century texts that Lovecraft was so intimately
familiar with. It had persisted in early New York 14 , had intensified in the
middle 1800s in America in both literary and riotous forms 15 , and was still
present in the latter part of his stay in New York when Lovecraft lived amid
an intense storm of anti-Catholic feeling unleashed from western and

10 John A. Grigg, Peter C. Mancall. British Colonial America: People and Perspectives ABC

Clio, 2008. p.172


11 Some of the German communities carried with them a certain amount of mysticism,

that some scholars have suggested later influenced evangelical Christianity in the USA.
12 Randall M. Miller, Thomas D. Marzik. Cult and Occult in Italian-American

Culture, in: Immigrants and Religion in Urban America. Saint Josephs College, 1977.
13 Robert P. Lockwood. Anti-Catholicism in American Culture. 2000
14 Jason K. Duncan. Citizens or Papists?: the politics of anti-Catholicism in New York, 1685-

1821. Fordham University Press, 2005.


15 James S. Olson. The Ethnic Dimension in American History. Wiley, 2010. p.180-181.
113
southern citizens against New York.16 One thus has to consider the
American perception of Catholicism as a form of the occult, even if it was
not so in actuality.
In this respect it is interesting to consider the horror novel as a potent
projection of anti-Catholic feeling. The earliest horror novel, Beware the
Cat! (c.1570), is in part an anti-Catholic tract. 17 Such propaganda fiction
was assiduously and widely developed 18 , becoming ever more lurid, and then
obviously made the jump to America
Anti-Catholicism intensified [in America] midway through the
nineteenth century. Newspapers, books, and pamphlets ridiculing
Catholics became best-sellers, and frightened Protestants avidly
consumed the most sensational propaganda 19
There is then perhaps an interesting linkage to be made with the Catholic
campaigns of the 1920s against the horror novel in pulp form in New York.
Some of the more salacious and erotic pulp literature was especially likely to
be found on the news-stands around Times Square. 20 Irish Catholics were
strongly in the pro-censorship lobby in the 1920s and into the 1930s, with in
New York City a focus on places such as Times Square. Most of the material
on sale was published locally, since New York was a hotbed of erotic
publishing in the 1920s, containing 26 of the 28 publishers of erotica in the
US . 21 Some of Lovecrafts friends, such as George Kirk, were briefly caught

16 Governor Al Smith of New York ran for Democratic nomination for president in

1924, and as an Irish Catholic he suffered a sustained and vicious press campaign
against him which also blatantly served to demonise New York and its immigrants. See:
Robert A. Slayton. Empire Statesman: the rise and redemption of Al Smith. Simon &
Schuster, 2001.
17 See my version in modern language in my book Tales of Lovecraftian Cats, 2010.
18 Victor Sage. Horror Fiction in the Protestant tradition. Macmillan, 1988. Chapter 2,
The Unwritten Tradition: Horror and the Rhetoric of Anti-Catholicism, pp.26-69.
19 James S. Olson. The Ethnic Dimension in American History. Wiley, 2010. p.180-181.
20 Also a noted gay pick-up location of the 1920s.
21 Jay A. Gertzman. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940.

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. p.321. The letters of George Kirk, one of the
114
up in the trade and Kirk once appeared in court. Weird Tales magazine also
had its tangles with and worries about censorship. One thus wonders if the
pulp writers struck back by carefully insinuating anti-Catholic aspects into
their stories?

Newsstand in Manhattan, 1935. Photo by Berenice Abbott.

Picture: New York Public Libraries.

In relation to this it may be notable that the citys dance halls were then
subject to a vociferous popular campaign which claimed they were haunts of
Satan 22, which suggests the presence of some particularly dogmatic variants
of Christianity in the city, obsessed with the Devil and demons. This would
have relevance to the dance hall / church in Lovecrafts The Horror at Red

Kalem Club, also give insight into this. He was arrested and charged in connection with
obscene literature.
22 Ralph G. Giordano. Satan in the dance hall: Rev. John Roach Straton, social dancing, and

morality in 1920s New York City. Scarecrow Press, 2008. The choice of a dance hall as
the central setting of the horror in Lovecrafts The Horror At Red Hook thus takes
on a new aspect.
115
Hook. Certainly in the 1920s the nation fantasised about New York as a
hotbed of Roman Catholic Popery 23 as a proxy for its fear of immigrants,
and as I have said previously the horror novel has a long tradition of arising
from anti-Popery feeling. 24
Lovecraft very occasionally seemed to like to have a poke at Catholics in his
fiction, at times when they threatened him personally for instance in the
mid/ late 1920 when their pro-censorship crusades presumably also
threatened Weird Tales
These creatures attended a tumbledown stone church, used
Wednesdays as a dance-hall, which reared its Gothic buttresses near
the vilest part of the waterfront. It was nominally Catholic; but
priests throughout Brooklyn denied the place all standing and
authenticity, and policemen agreed with them when they listened to
the noises it emitted at night. The Horror at Red Hook
and later in his The Haunter of the Dark when the Catholic church
marred the precious view from his study window. 25 While he was always
careful to distance the Catholic church from the buildings depicted as such
loci of horror in these stories, his impish intent seems clear.
In Lovecrafts The Mound (1929-30) he also comments tersely on his
view of the nature of Catholicism itself

23 Governor Al Smith of New York ran for Democratic nomination for president in

1924, and suffered a sustained and vicious press campaign against him which also
blatantly served to demonise New York and its immigrants.
24 From Beware the Cat! (c.1570) onwards. See: Victor Sage. Horror Fiction in the Protestant

tradition. Macmillan, 1988. Chapter 2, The Unwritten Tradition: Horror and the
Rhetoric of Anti-Catholicism, pp.26-69.
25 While not actually naming it in The Haunter of the Dark as a Catholic church, the
imputation is clear from the large number of Irish and Italian names the story gives us
when describing the area immediately around it. The story arose from a real Catholic
church whose spire, seen dreamily adorning the skyline from Lovecrafts study window,
was destroyed by lightning and then capped by the church fathers rather than being
rebuilt.
116
In hinting of these things Zamacona displays for the first time that
shocked and pious hesitancy which impairs the informative value of
the rest of his manuscript. We cannot help regretting that the
Catholic ardour of Renaissance Spain had so thoroughly permeated
his thought and feeling. The Mound
He generally seems to have confined his anti-Catholic ardor for his letters,
and even then it is expressed only very sparsely in the letters I have read.
Possibly he considered the centuries-long Protestant-Catholic conflict
essentially a battle won in civilisational terms, and not worth wasting time
on. Yet there were instances, for example when Frank Long dallied with the
idea of Catholicism in 1931, when he sent a stinging letter with phrases such
asthat incredible & anti-social anachronism called the Popish church.
Also, in the parody Ibid (1927) one reads of a Lovecraft character that
he abhorred all that was Popish
In relation to the 1925 Stopes trial, he talks of
Catholics stifling science in less benighted parts of the nation 26

iii. Jewish mysticism


Many Russian and Polish Jews came to America between 1880 and 1924, a
great many settling in and New York City, and they brought their Kabbalah
and other mystical and folkloric traditions with them to their new
communities
These immigrants had left behind one of the worlds preeminent
Jewish communities, noted for fine rabbinical schools, prestigious
rabbis, and strong mystical traditions. By and large, these
immigrants maintained most of Judaisms religious practices. 27

26 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.150.
27 Colleen McDannell. Religions of the United States in practice. Princeton University

Press, 2001. p.79


117
But apart from one brief tourist visit to the Yiddish Jewish area, where it
appears he saw booksellers selling from street push-carts, Lovecraft appears
to have had no contact with practicing Jews, especially not aged mystics who
could probably speak very little English. Perhaps though, on his tour, he
remembered the part of the novel The Monk (1797) where there is a
cabbalistic ritual whereby the Wandering Jew helps him to fathom
and banish his dead tormentor. H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural
Horror in Literature.
There are signs of interest, in one story, while he is in New York. For
instance, he uses the word in 1925 in his The Horror at Red Hook
the Malone could not read much of it, but what he did decipher was
portentous and cabbalistic enough
And the police detective in the story shows an interest in a pamphlet on the
Kabbalah
an out-of-print pamphlet of his on the Kabbalah [] Malone
mentioned his admiration for Suydams old brochure on the
Kabbalah and other myths
These references, together with the references in the story to Samael and
Sepiroth
When he spoke it was to babble of unlimited powers almost within
his grasp, and to repeat with knowing leers such mystical words or
names as Sephiroth, Ashmodai, and Samal.
seem to indicate that the Lilith in the story is meant to be the Jewish
Lilith. Such references would also seem to indicate that Lovecraft had at
least read the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Kabbalah by 1925, but
probably not much more. Then in 1926 Lovecraft appears to develop his
knowledge a little more in relation to the use of Jewish mysticism in fiction.
He has this brief line in the essay that shows some awareness of and some
sympathy to the existence of a relevant Jewish folklore of the Eastern
European Yiddish-speaking immigrants

118
Jewish folklore has preserved much of the terror and mystery of the
past, and when more thoroughly studied is likely to exert
considerable influence on weird fiction. Supernatural Horror in
Literature.
In the same essay he also shows some awareness of Kabbalah and its
scholarly nature, if only in passing
The Middle Ages, steeped in fanciful darkness, gave it an enormous
impulse toward expression; and East and West alike were busy
preserving and amplifying the dark heritage, both of random folklore
and of academically formulated magic and cabbalism, which had
descended to them. Supernatural Horror in Literature.
In 1926 or 1927 he does present a bookselling Jew as a character, albeit
very briefly, in one unpublished fragment of fiction. He implies arcane
knowledge on the part of the bookseller over what appears to be a lost copy
The Necronomicon. This arcane and evil fictional book is somewhat
improbably purchased cheap in a second-hand bookshop in The
Descendant (1926?) thus
It was at a Jews shop in the squalid precincts of Clare Market,
where he had often bought strange things before, and he almost
fancied the gnarled old Levite smiled amidst tangles of beard as the
great discovery was made. The bulky leather cover with the brass
clasp had been so prominently visible, and the price was so absurdly
slight.
The one glimpse he had had of the title was enough to send him
into transports, and some of the diagrams set in the vague Latin text
excited the tensest and most disquieting recollections in his brain.
He felt it was highly necessary to get the ponderous thing home and
begin deciphering it, and bore it out of the shop with such
precipitate haste that the old Jew chuckled disturbingly behind him.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Descendant.

119
Lovecraft also has a very fleeting reference to the Kabbalah in The Case of
Charles Dexter Ward, although one gets the impression that he is just
throwing another spice in the pot by the use of the word
the books in the special library of thaumaturgical, alchemical, and
theological subjects which Curwen [] The bizarre collection,
besides a host of standard works which Mr. Merritt was not too
alarmed to envy, embraced nearly all the cabbalists, daemonologists,
and magicians known to man; and was a treasure-house of lore in the
doubtful realms of alchemy and astrology.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927)

Overall it seems Lovecraft had very little awareness of the nature of Jewish
mysticism, only knowing that it existed and had been used by some writers of
the supernatural in various limited forms. Basically, it seems to me that he
never really got very far beyond the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for
Kabbalah.

iv. Spiritualism and the campaign against it


The charlatanry of spiritualism had been born in New York with the
Hydsville Rappings of 1848, and had seen a great resurgence after the First
World War as relatives tried to communicate with their dead loved ones. It
was also tirelessly advocated by the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur
Conan Doyle. Lovecraft admired the Jewish escapologist and stage magician
Ehrich Weiss aka Houdini (1874-1926) for his debunking of spiritualists
and other faux-mystic charlatans. 28 Houdini gave significant and lucrative
ghost-writing work to Lovecraft, primarily in the form of the long story
Under The Pyramids (1924), and he also socialised with Lovecraft in New

28 For a good account of these battles see: Kenneth Silverman. Houdini!!! The Career of

Ehrich Weiss. Harper , 1997.


120
York. Lovecraft had a further very healthy payment of $75 for a ghost-
written Houdini article attacking and debunking astrology.

Houdini article. Popular Science Monthly, November 1925.

Houdinis sudden death due to a student prank, in 1926, put an end to the
prospects of more collaborations and income such as the planned The
Cancer of Superstition (1926), a book debunking superstitious beliefs to be
written in collaboration with Clifford Eddy Jr. and which was intended to
appear under Houdinis name. Lovecraft had apparently already drafted this
in basic outline form, and had started researching magic and witchcraft for it.
Houdinis early death cut the project short, but some of the research may
have surfaced in the Lovecraft story The Horror at Red Hook.

v. The New York Public Library


The New York Public Library holdings were extensively used by Lovecraft,
in working on various essays such as Supernatural Horror in Literature, and
121
also for the abandoned Houdini book on modern superstitions. He must
also have taken the opportunity to regularly browse the new periodicals and
journals of interest to him. He also undertook the reading of rare books on
the history of Providence, such as Gertrude Selwyn Kimballs Providence in
Colonial Times (1912). This reference-only work was read over many
evenings in the Genealogy Room, then
At the northern end of the Main Reading Room is the room
devoted to Local History and Genealogy (No. 328). The collection
numbers about thirty thousand volumes. 29

Genealogy and Local History reading room of the New York Public Library.

Picture: Handbook of The New York Public Library, 1916. Public Domain.

Possibly this is the sort of small genealogical reading-room that


Lovecraft had in mind when writing The Dunwich Horror just a few
years later in 1928

29 Handbook of The New York Public Library, 1916.

122
The building was full of a frightful stench which Dr Armitage knew
too well, and the three men rushed across the hall to the small
genealogical reading-room whence the low whining came. For a
second nobody dared to turn on the light, then Armitage summoned
up his courage and snapped the switch. One of the three - it is not
certain which - shrieked aloud at what sprawled before them among
disordered tables and overturned chairs. [] The thing that lay
half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and
tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all
the clothing and some of the skin. It was not quite dead, but
twitched silently and spasmodically while its chest heaved in
monstrous unison with the mad piping of the expectant
whippoorwills outside. Bits of shoe-leather and fragments of apparel
were scattered about the room The Dunwich Horror.
One even wonders if the nature of this depiction was perhaps Lovecrafts
literary revenge on some particularly annoying phlegmy and wheezing old
cougher, such as he might have once had to endure in the room at the New
York Public Library?
Today the main Library has strong collections on esoteric magic,
spiritualism and witchcraft, divination and Theosophy, as well as a nationally
important archive of Lovecraft letters.

vii. Coney Island


On Coney Islands boardwalk, and in its many sideshows, the imagery of the
occult and the primitive became the stock-in-trade of the gaudiest
entertainment. Lovecraft and his circle visited Coney Island more than once.
There they would have seen, among the other amusements, classic fairground
imagery of Chinese conjurers, slot-machine Indian fortune tellers, ghost
trains, shrunken heads, mystical mazes, haunted houses, crystal ball seers,
and the like. There were also many freak shows, usually fronted by garish

123
advertising pictures that evoked a kind of quasi-occult demonology. Here is
Lovecraft on visiting in July 1925
we observed many unusual things, including an open air circus & a
Room of Wonder which was advertised to upset all known rules of
gravitation 30

Luna Park at night, Coney Island. Circa 1910. Picture: Library of Congress.

viii. The gargoyles of New York


One final aspect of the presence of the superstitious imaginary in New York
City deserved mention. One might also point to the fact that
The huge variety of nymphs, grotesques, demons, gargoyles, and
other mysterious creatures carved into the facades of New York
buildings is pretty astounding. Ephemeral New York blog, 12th
January 2011.
I know almost nothing of the roots of Masonic beliefs, but it may be that
some scholar has reliably traced gargoyles back to guilds of masons whose
traditions recalled those of Egyptian sculpture at the time of Rome, perhaps
via Byzantium? Lovecraft is likely to have made the Egyptian connection in
his mind, when he saw the various monstrous creatures and faces adoring the
buildings, in their squatting poses and types. Perhaps in the gargoyles of
New York one might even detect one possible inspiration for the squatting
figure of Cthulhu, especially the wings. Although the main elements of the

30 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.152-3.
124
figure as described in its statuette form in The Call of Cthulhu are
probably from squatting Egyptian sculptures of the mythical figure of Bes
with its very tentacle-like beard...

Ancient Egyptian squatting figure of Bes.

New York gargoyle with cat face and cat-like feet. Egypt venerated the cat.

125
ix. American Society of Psychical Research
The headquarters of the American Society of Psychical Research was situated
on West 73rd Street, dedicated to investigating reports of supernatural and
also superhuman activity such as telepathy (ESP). The Society formed in
1885, and began research into ESP in 1924. There were apparently heavy
crossovers with believers in spiritualism, and the group was prone to sances
and splits. It published the Journal of the American Society of Psychical
Research. There is no known link with Lovecraft.

The sance of a spirit medium, as imagined by early Hollywood.

Picture: Public Domain.

x. The commercialization of the occult


But increasingly the occult could simply not compete, on an organisational or
presentational level, for the attentions of the young. The occult was difficult,
learned, scholarly or pseudo-scholarly, slow. Often it was muddled and
incoherent. It was presided over by old people. The thrills were few, and the

126
forbidden knowledge (if such even existed and was worth having) a long way
off for a young novitiate. Some who would otherwise have found mysticism
or the occult found new secular beliefs in the form of anarchism, socialism or
communism. Others found what they needed in eugenics, race-thinking,
vegetarianism, free-love, and the varieties of socialism that were then moving
toward being proto-fascist. Many Greenwich Village artists made new
deities of the Id and the unconscious and similar concepts from Freud and
his followers. The more retiring, bookish and imaginative of the 1920s
generation required quicker doses of the marvelous, the mysterious, and the
awesome than any rigid system of belief or fractious pseudo-science could
provide. As the old Christian religion melted away under the hot lights of
New York City, a new space opened up in which the symbols and systems of
belief, fear and punishment, all the panoply of the techniques for the
inculcation of belief, were now available for all to play with and re-combine.
Whereas the Gothic had merely been able to play with the demise of folk
superstitions and dogmatic belief among the intelligentsia, now it must have
seemed that all the worlds myths, superstitions and formal religions were
one giant play-box, whose parts were suddenly tipped out and jumbled on
the floor and up for grabs. 31 Science fiction, modern weird fiction, the early
superheroes, all these new gods of popular entertainment were born as
popular entertainment at around this moment. Lovecraft was very much in
the right place at the right time, in that respect.
In another respect, by 1926 he was in the wrong place. Entertainment
plots had started to be formularized with Wycliffe A. Hills Ten Million
Photoplay Plots (1919). The pulp style of plotting in the mystery pulps
dates to about 1923 and was becoming strongly established by 1926. The
pulps also shifted strongly toward action stories, presumably to compete
with the increasingly alluring range of movies and radio then on offer. A
semi-industrial assembly-line approach began to take hold. Writers had to
write what sold, and a semi-mechanised approach to help them do this
emerged with the aid of William Wallace Cooks book Plotto: The Master

31 Frowning and tutting noises from the Catholic church not withstanding.

127
Book of All Plots (1928) and later Wycliffe A. Hills extensive The Plot Genie
series (from 1930). Soon there would also be magazines devoted to single
heroes, The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider, powered by one-man writing
machines like Lester Dent, who used the carefully constructed index and
randomization methods of Cook and Hill for constructing pulp plots, based
on an extensive analysis of what sold and what readers liked. This process
was also occurring in the middle-market, and there it was expertly skewered
by Edward J. OBrien (much to Lovecrafts delight) in his book The Dance of
the Machines (1929). 32 OBrien talks of publisher fever charts in mainstream
fiction magazines that assiduously record the audiences reactions to stories
written to formula.
This semi-mechanised method was one small part of the developing dream
machine that New York was becoming, as it formulated a new industrial
revolution in the manufacture and sale of desires and fantasies. This
approach to writing was also one aspect of the manic desire for magic get-
rich-quick schemes that flourished in the late 1920s, especially in New York.
Historically, Lovecraft arrived in and bailed out of New York at just the right
moments. By 1927 the party was essentially over, but the manic behavior
would continue on a kind of automatic-pilot to reach ever more absurd
heights until the eventual psychological and financial crash of 1929. One
legacy of that manic rush to modernity would be the new assembly-line
approach to making the potent thrills of popular culture.

32 Edward J. OBrien. The Dance of the Machines: The American Short Story and the Industrial
Age. MacCaulay, 1929.
128
Times Square at night, 1920s.

Picture: Library of Congress.

129
9 : ON H.P. LOVECRAFT AND FRANZ BOAS
My thanks to Martin A. and Jim J. for two useful factual corrections to this essay, in regard to
Boass expedition to the Central Eskimo.

here may have been connections, if only in Lovecrafts mind, between


T occult mysticism and charlatanry and the new types of ethnographic
investigations then emerging in American anthropology. This essay explores
these conceptions in relation to two key Lovecraft stories of the mid 1920s,
and also looks at Lovecrafts possible attitudes to some of the claims of Franz
Boas about ancient African civilisations.

Lovecraft weaves the character of a charlatan anthropologist into his long


New York story The Horror at Red Hook (1925). There is something very
antagonistic in Lovecrafts portrayal of Robert Suydam, something that goes
beyond simply making Suydam the bad guy 1 of a pulp horror story, and
which seems to reflect Lovecrafts distrust of the then emerging sociological-
ethnographic type of researcher. Of Suydam he writes
he freely admitted the queerness of demeanour and extravagant cast
of language into which he had fallen through excessive devotion to
study and research. He was, he said, engaged in the investigation of
certain details of European tradition which required the closest
contact with foreign groups and their songs and folk dances. The
notion that any low secret society was preying upon him, as hinted
by his relatives, was obviously absurd; and shewed how sadly limited
was their understanding of him and his work. The Horror at
Red Hook.

1 He might also be easily read as a hero who lays down his life to infiltrate the cult and

destroy the pillar of Lilith.


130
Lovecraft here shows us an ethnographer who conceals ulterior motives
under a cloak of respectability. 2 There actually were such cases 3 in the
1910s, and the practice seems to have been quite extensive in the U.S. 4 ,
although of course it would be unfair to tar all such researchers of the period
with the same brush. As it happens though, later controversies over the
ethnographic work of researchers such as Mead and Malinowski have indeed
cast more than a few shadows over early ethnography 5 , and there does seem
to be support for Lovecrafts skepticism from at least one modern scholar of
the history of such ideas in America
its central methodological values have long been sustained by stories
6
and beliefs that have something of the character of myth
This brings me to a key, and as yet unanswered, question in Lovecrafts
biography. S.T. Joshi crucially points out that while Lovecraft assiduously
tried to keep up with most of other advances in scientific knowledge, he did
not follow the new ideas on race emerging in anthropology. He knew about

2 Lovecraft, with his interest in antiquity, may have read the work of Ephraim George
Squier from the 1890s. Squier railed against the credulity given to ancient American
hoax discoveries made by what he called charlatans and fools among ethnographers
and archaeologists. The tradition of ethnographic hoaxes in America continued into the
1960s with the works of Carlos Castaneda.
3 Anthropology does indeed appear to have been used as a cover for the purposes of

political espionage. For a case in Mexico in 1917, which surfaced publically, see:
Charles Houston Harris, Louis R. Sadler, The Archaeologist was a Spy. University of New
Mexico Press, 2003.
4 Franz Boas believed this was a common practice, and published the article Scientists
as Spies on the subject in 1919. Boas implicated many others writes Elazar Barkan
in The Retreat of Scientific Racism, Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.90.
5 On the apparent tendency for these new anthropologist ethnographers to distort and

mislead, see the later hot debates over Malinowskis diaries, and the fieldwork of
Margaret Mead, among others. Boas also faked some of his Eskimo photographs.
There was also criticism of the scholarship of Margaret Murray from the early 1960s.
6 George W. Stocking. The Ethnographers Magic and other essays in the history of anthropology.
University of Wisconsin Press, p.278. Stocking is here talking of the entire early
profession in the America of the 1920s, and not simply Mead and Malinowski. Boas
himself is now known to have faked some of his Arctic photographs on this see:
Robert G. David. The Arctic in the British imagination, 1818-1914. Manchester University
Press. p.16.
131
and drew upon earlier evolutionary, eugenicist, and scientific racialist
thinking in this area, ideas which were very widely publicised and fully
worked-out in the 1920s. 7 But Joshi states that Lovecraft completely
ignored the new race theory work of those early thinkers such as the
Columbia professor of anthropology Franz Boas (1858-1942) who in a
rather contradictory 8 and antiquated 9 manner had in the 1910s and

7 Barbara Foley. Spectres of 1919: class and nation in the making of the new Negro. University
of Illinois Press, 2003. p.152. Foley writes...
The scientific racists enjoyed almost unlimited backing in the mass media.
While Boas and company were publishing in the Dial [a modernist magazine
that folded in 1929] and the Nation [a leftist magazine], as well as scientific
journals with even less of a popular audience, the Saturday Evening Post, the
largest circulation magazine in the country, brought to its two million readers
for weeks on end the wisdom of Kenneth Roberts and Lothrop
Stoddard. [Also, as] the statements of Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge [major
politicians of the time] make clear, racist antiradicalism received unequivocal
support from the ruling elite in the early 1920s.
One can also show that the eugenics lobby, increasingly discredited as it was in terms of
racial categories, persisted strongly into the 1930s in presenting fully-developed theories.
8 Leonard B. Glick. Types Distinct from Our Own: Franz Boas on Jewish Identity

and Assimiliation. American Anthropologist, 84, 1982, pp.545-565. Many other works on
Boas point out the contradictions and archaisms in his various stances, especially on
race. Boas was often misunderstood in the 1920s, even in the limited publications and
venues where his work appeared. It appears that for some white readers he actually
confirmed their prejudices (see: Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The Condemnation of Blackness,
Harvard University. Press, p.112) and Glick points out that he could easily be read as an
assimilationist at that time. In 1943 Leslie White criticised his apparently lack of
coherence as a... planless hodge-podge-ism given in the afterword The Passion of
Franz Boas in the Transaction edition of Boass Anthropology & Modern Life.
9 In 1908 Boas began using physical anthropology methods, measuring the skulls of
Jewish children in New York, moving on to measuring the heads of new arrivals at the
Ellis Island immigration centre in New York. He then recruited assistants and spread
out to measure head size in New Yorks immigrant districts. He claimed rapid
adaptation of skull type to a new American norm. He published in Changes in Bodily
Forms of Descendants of Immigrants (1910/12). To the modern reader the idea of
such very rapid physical adaptation to new environments in one generation might smack
of the Soviet Lysenkoite charlatanry of the 1930s, the worst excesses of craniometry
(measuring of skulls and inferring intelligence from brain size) in 19th century scientific
racism, and would seem to confirm its opposite the 19th century degeneration theory.
Yet the theory of such human plasticity still apparently holds in modern anthropology
and bioarcheology, since the physical evidence is apparently overwhelming. Such
measuring of brain size and the idea of rapid one-generation skull plasticity, however,
led Boas to be publically misinterpreted in various ways at the time. One can
132
1920s begun the effort of undermining racist frameworks in science. S.T.
Joshi ascribes this ignorance, specifically of the new Boasian anthropology
after 1930, to Lovecrafts own conscious racialist prejudices and beliefs. 10
That may be so, especially after 1930. But I think it is worth exploring
exactly what Lovecraft felt and could have known about anthropology in the
1920s, to see if this may illuminate his later ignorance of Boasian
anthropology and the new conceptions of race.

Let me start by pointing out that in Lovecrafts seminal The Call of


Cthulhu, a work plotted in New York and written very shortly after his New
York period, he appears greatly enamored of the idea of the anthropologist.
The story presents both the anthropologist-explorer and the
psychotherapeutic dream analyst in a positive light. 11 Indeed, Lovecraft
12
imagines himself as a potential anthropologist, and moreover as an old-
style anthropologist a sort of detective-adventurer on the trail of ancient
cults
I felt sure that I was on the track of a very real, very secret, and very
ancient religion whose discovery would make me an anthropologist
of note. My attitude was still one of absolute materialism, as I wish
it still were, and I discounted with almost inexplicable perversity the

understand why, if one were to read certain passages from Boas on negro brain size
out of context.
10 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus, 2010. p.939. Joshi finds no evidence for
Lovecraft ever mentioning Boas. However, R.E. Howards Lovecraftian The Children
of the Night (1931) does mention that: Boaz has demonstrated, for instance, that in
the case of immigrants to America, skull formations often change in one generation.
11 One might even see his night walks in New York as a kind of psychoanalytic dream-
analysis combined with ethnographic exploration.
12 His reference in this story to visiting his fellow member of the Kalem Club James F.

Morton clearly places Lovecraft as the narrator here... I had largely given over my
inquiries into what Professor Angell called the Cthulhu Cult, and was visiting a
learned friend in Paterson, New Jersey; the curator of a local museum and a
mineralogist of note. Morton was also the author of the book The Curse of Race
Prejudice, and his racial interests no doubt gave him insight into the then-current
ethnological debates.
133
coincidence of the dream notes and odd cuttings collected by
Professor Angell.
We see here an interesting link between dream analysis/psychoanalysis and
anthropology, presented as one which fundamentally structures the first third
of The Call of Cthulhu. Possibly Lovecraft had considered the chances of
some minor employment in that field, since at that time anthropology was
not yet a profession that required a university education. Like archeology in
the 1920s, anthropology was an adventurer profession which seems to have
been open to anyone who wanted to claim themselves to be such 13 and who
could claim a major discovery. Although it was on the verge of becoming
more respectable, especially for those few who were talented enough to have
a record of being hired for various state-funded projects among native
peoples. Franz Boas was a major driving force for the professionalisation of
the activity, and had headed some of the biggest anthropological expeditions
the world had then seen, such as the Jesup Expedition (1897-1902). I can
now show that Boas seems to make an appearance in The Call of
Cthulhu, further strengthening the links the story has to traditional
American anthropology.
I have found a very probable allusion in Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu
to Franz Boas. Boas had done fieldwork (during 1884-85) among the Baffin
Island Eskimos, as published in the book The Central Eskimo (1888). The
book included extensive coverage of native beliefs and myths, which would
have made it doubly interesting to Lovecraft, since he was also fascinated by
the Polar Regions. Lovecraft gives the reader a rather similar character to
Boas in a cameo appearance in Cthulhu...
This person was the late William Channing Webb 14 , Professor of
Anthropology in Princeton University, and an explorer of no slight
note. Professor Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in

13 Anthropology/ethnography emerged as an accredited academic discipline in the


1920s, before which most practitioners came to it from fields other than science.
14 There may also be a possible link to the William Henry Channing (1810-1884) of Rhode

Island. Like Boas, Channing strongly espoused the cause of negro emancipation.

134
a tour of Greenland and Iceland in search of some Runic 15
inscriptions which he failed to unearth; and whilst high up on the
West Greenland coast had encountered a singular tribe or cult of
degenerate Esquimaux [Eskimo] whose religion, a curious form of
devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and
repulsiveness. It was a faith of which other Esquimaux knew little,
and which they mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had
come down from horribly ancient aeons before ever the world was
made. Besides nameless rites and human sacrifices there were certain
queer hereditary rituals addressed to a supreme elder devil or
tornasuk 16 ; and of this Professor Webb had taken a careful phonetic
copy from an aged angekok or wizard-priest, expressing the sounds
in Roman letters as best he knew how. But just now of prime
significance was the fetish which this cult had cherished, and around
which they danced when the aurora leaped high over the ice cliffs. It
was, the professor stated, a very crude bas-relief of stone 17 ,
comprising a hideous picture and some cryptic writing.
The conference in The Call of Cthulhu is described as being held in
1908...

15 Incidentally, Lovecraft may have been correct on the Runic aspect. Other
ethnographers such as Rink had noted that... In South Greenland the memory of the
contests between the Eskimo and the Norsemen which took place between 1379 and
1450 survives ...which gives the runic link. See also: E.B. Tylor, Old Scandinavian
Civilisation among the Modern Esquimaux, 1884.
16 The Tornasuk is found only in Greenland, and not among the Central Eskimos -
thus partly confirming Lovecrafts use of a religious division between tribes. Lovecrafts
spelling of tornasuk, rather than Boass Tornasukk given with two kks, seems
common in the literature of the 1860s through to 1905 on Eskimo beliefs. For instance
it is given with one k in an article on the beliefs in The Universe of the Esquimaux in
Greenland in The Astronomical Register vol.XIV, nos.157 to 168, Jan. to Dec., 1876
1877: According to the tradition of the Esquimaux, the whole world is inhabited by
demons; but these are under the control of a superior being named Tornasuk. The
same spelling is used in an article in Pearson's magazine (1905), and in the popular book
The Living Races of Mankind: a popular illustrated account (1902).
17 Lovecraft is also correct on the idea of special stones. The Greenland shamans had

special stones at which the new shaman gained control of a spirit. See: Wendell H.
Oswalt. Eskimos and Explorers. University of Nebraska Press, 1999. pp.92-93.
135
1908, seventeen years before, when the American Archaeological
Society held its annual meeting in St. Louis.
This date is another relevant link to Franz Boas, since he gave the keynote
opening address 18 at the 1908 International Congress of Americanists, titled
The Results of the Jesup Expedition, a report on his massive expedition to
document sub-Arctic native cultures. There thus seems to be four significant
points of correspondence between the character of Webb and Franz Boas:
professorship at a major university; expedition to Eskimos; contact with their
shamans; and the 1908 date of the Boas speech at a similarly-named
conference. One further and more tangential link arises from the fact that
the Jesup Expedition was a very major collector of meteorites, something
which would certainly have aroused Lovecrafts astronomical interest...
In September 1897 a triumphant Peary [of the Jesup Expedition]
sailed his ship Hope into the Brooklyn shipyard [Navy Yard] with
100 tons of metorites on board, including the monster known as
Alnighito. 19
See also other points in the story (see my footnotes 15 through 17) that
suggest Lovecraft had done a little more research than simply reading a page
in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Lovecraft was very aware of anthropology during his New York stay as
evidenced in the figure of Suydam in The Horror at Red Hook, and the
Boas/Webb figure and his own ambitions as expressed in The Call of
Cthulhu. Possibly this awareness arose from multiple sources: the many
trips to and browsing in the great New York museums and libraries; his
library research for the debunking Houdini book Cancer of Superstition

18 Reported in the American Journal of Archaeology, 1909.


19 David Hurst Thomas. Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native
American Identity. Basic Books, 2001. p.79. Alnighito was from Greenland, a fragment
of the massive 200-ton Cape York meteorite. It landed about 2,000 years ago.
136
(1926); possibly also the impact of his conversations with the museum
curator, black rights advocate and Kalem Club member James F. Morton. 20
The combination of dream analysis and anthropological discovery in The
Call of Cthulhu, and the depiction of the pseudo-anthropologist in The
Horror at Red Hook, seem to be contradictory. This apparent contradiction
now points the way to an interesting line of further investigation. Did
Lovecraft associate the new type of ethnographic anthropologists then
emerging in the early/mid 1920s with what he understood to be quasi-
mystics in psychology/psychoanalysis? He could have. There had certainly
been much talk of psychological anthropology in the 1910s and 20s,
including from Franz Boas himself, which must have served to muddy to
waters in terms of causing the intelligent layman to conflate the new
psychology / psychoanalysis and the new ethnography. 21
Lovecraft may have been vaguely aware of the growing divide in
anthropology in the mid 1920s between local anthropological societies of
archaeologists, antiquarians and historians on the one hand, and the
emerging theoretical and university-accredited ethnographers under Boas on
the other. 22 This may be what we see played out in the different attitudes
shown in the two stories in question. Yet on the evidence I have found in
The Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft seems not to know enough about the
details of the academic debate to associate the new ethnographic approaches
with Franz Boas by 1926. If I am correct then in the mid 1920s he still

20 There may have been other, earlier sources, arising from Lovecrafts interest in

folklore. Here there is another Franz Boas link. Boas had become the editor of the
Journal of American Folklore in 1908, and regularly wrote articles in it, which may have
brought his name to the attention of the young Lovecraft who was 18 in 1908. I am
told informally that the Providence public library carried this journal.
21 There were also growing links between psychology /psychiatry and social science in
the mid 1920s, especially in Chicago, and with Marxism in the figure of Wilhelm Reich.
22 There would seem to have been at that time a growing split in the U.S. between
older local anthropological societies of archaeologists, antiquarians and historians on the
one hand, and the emerging younger theoretical and university-accredited ethnographers
on the other. See Thomas Carl Patterson, A social history of anthropology in the United States.
Berg, 2003.
137
associates Boas simply with what he has read of Boass Eskimo explorations
of the 1880s. Any antagonism toward the new anthropology, as seen in the
figure of Suydam in The Horror at Red Hook in 1925, therefore seems
unlikely to rest on an antagonism towards Boas himself or to his increasingly
political project of a new anthropology.
Might such an antagonism then instead have arisen because Lovecraft
believed that there was a psychoanalysis-ethnography link? 23 If he had
considered the matter then he would have become skeptical of such links for
a number of reasons: he had already investigated and rejected the new
psychoanalysis; anyone in cultural circles at that time knew of the clear link
between psychoanalysis-ethnography and modernist art via the eclectic
adoption of both by the New York bohemians; and possibly he may have
known of the occult tendencies of some prominent psychoanalysis
practitioners such as Jung. I will now briefly explore each of these in turn.

While it is well known that Lovecraft had a strong interest in dreams and
their interpretation, he had little regard for Freud and his followers once he
had learned enough about them 24 to make a judgment...
HPL [Lovecraft] always maintained a certain scorn for the
psychological theories of Sigmund Freud, although recognising their
revolutionary import upon culture 25

23 It does not matter if Lovecraft was factually incorrect in his understand in terms of

what we now know, merely that he believed it at that time. Yet it now seems he was
broadly correct in this assumption of a connection, although there were very many
points of dispute between the two.
24 Seemingly by reading second-hand sources and book reviews. He seems never to
have read them in the English translations, other perhaps than as extracts, but only read
others summaries and opinions of them. In Beyond The Wall of Sleep (1919) he
talks of... Freud [...] with his puerile symbolism, and by 1921 he seems to have
dismissed Freud and his followers as useless, while implying that they were usefully
having galvanising effects on cultural production among the more gullible modernist
artists and writers. In 1926 he wrote to his aunt... I dont believe you will find much
sound science in Freuds [book] Dream Psychology [1920] many of his hypotheses can
be punctured quite readily - S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York.
Night Shade, 2005. p.258.
138
He abandoned interest in the new psychology/psychoanalysis around 1921,
judging the ideas to be inapplicable to either life, dreams or literature.
Presumably he did not follow them closely enough thereafter to distinguish
or care to distinguish between the positions of Freud, Jung, and others. This
lack of discrimination was relatively common in America at that time
This mlange of Freud and Jung was not uncommon, particularly in
the 1920s, when to many outsiders Freud was merely the first
among equals and the new psychoanalytical thinking often was an
eclectic mix of Alder, Freud and Jung. 26
This pick-and-mix approach fueled the fantasies of the modernists in art in
their new-found adoration of the primitive 27 and by extension of the
supernatural and irrational, seen in
the ecstatic, Bergson- and Freud-inspired fantasies of de Zayas and
other high modernists 28
The modernist emphasis on the primitive, clearly linked to both
ethnography and psychoanalysis, was also present in the visual arts and
dance
use of ethnographic material, however, was central to the
development of modernism both in the visual arts and choreography
29

25 S.T. Joshi, The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature. Hippocampus Press, 2000.
p.77.
26 Badia Sahar Ahad. Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic
Culture. University of Illinois Press, 2010. p.27.
27 Also deeply associated with the new psychology of Freud and Jung.
28 Janet Witalec. The Harlem Renaissance. Gale, 2003. p.75. See also Lovecraft in The
Call of Cthulhu... although the vagaries of cubism and futurism are many and wild ....
29 Ramsay Burt. Alien Bodies: Representations of Modernity, Race and Nation in Early Modern

Dance. Routledge, p.141. Admittedly, this may have related more to museum
collections rather than the new academic ethnographic imagination, but the usage was
validated by academic discourses.
139
and ethnography, as well as psychoanalysis, even influenced realist
literature according to Michael A. Elliott, who wrote in 2002 of
... recent [scholarly] efforts to link American literary production
with the anthropological concept of culture. Marc Manganaro,
Walter Benn Michaels, and Susan Hegeman have all insisted upon
the importance of [Boasian] cultural anthropology to the literary
modernism of the United States in the first half of the twentieth
30
century.
There is thus a strong mix in the mid 1920s between the new ethnography
and psychoanalysis 31 in culture, which must have been apparent to all.
Lovecrafts antagonism to modernism must have been part and parcel with
an antagonism to its fellow travelers. 32 It seems that this is where the
antagonism evident in The Horror at Red Hook partly arises from.
There is also some suspicion of the ethnographic/psychoanalytic research
method, given in The Call of Cthulhu. When the narrator, who is
Lovecraft by proxy, suspects that
lacking their original letters, I half suspected the compiler [of an ad-
hoc but scientific summary of widely disparate dream/nightmare
accounts] of having asked leading questions, or of having edited the

30 Michael A. Elliott. The Culture Concept: writing and difference in the Age of Realism.

University of Minnesota Press, 2002. p.17.


31 There were also strong academic links, of which Lovecraft would very probably have

been unaware. Jungs Psychological Types, translated into English and published in 1923,
causing much excitement among the new ethnographers at that time (see: The
Ethnographers Magic and other essays in the history of anthropology. University of Wisconsin
Press, p.298). Jung was receiving sympathetic reviews from Boas-associated
ethnographers such as Sapir. Boas and Jung were apparently important to the each
others reception in the 1920s (see: Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the making of modern
psychology: the dream of a science. Cambridge University Press, 2003. p.276. Although
apparently in 1920 Boas had doubts on the applicability of psychoanalysis across
different races). Boas and Jung had spoken together on the same platform at
conferences - presumably this was reported in America in leftist intellectual journals
such as The Nation and academic journals.
32 After he wrote The Call of Cthulhu he may have seen reviews of Franz Boass new

book Primitive Art (1927).


140
correspondence in corroboration of what he had latently resolved to
see. The Call of Cthulhu.
There is also an implication of charlatanry in the mention of Freud in
From Beyond (1934) in which the villain Crawford Tillinghast opines
You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow
endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu 33 of the Freudian.
That gland is the great sense organ From Beyond.

One final possibility for a source of this antagonism toward psychoanalysis


deserves a quick glance, although it seems an unlikely one. Lovecraft would
have been especially leery of the melding of the new ethnography and
psychoanalysis if he had learned of Jungs regular use of astrology. This was
used by Jung from the early 1910s 34 onwards, and astrology was a
superstitious practice Lovecraft wholly despised
Jung attempted to provide a scientific basis for the use of astrology
in psychology [] according to Jung and the many astrologers who
followed him the planets and stars (zodiac) represent universal
principles reflected in aspects of human psychological makeup [] a
knowledge of ones horoscope can provide self-insight and offer
solutions to psychological problems 35
This would have been like a red rag to a bull to a skeptical astrology-
loathing astronomer as Lovecraft, if he had read of it in the popular science
magazines or seen it ridiculed in the various astronomy journals he read. He

33 Parvenu: someone of humble origins who has rapidly risen to wealth and celebrity.
The word was once often used alongside upstart or charlatan.
34 Jung: My evenings are taken up largely with astrology [...] I make horoscopic
calculations in order to find a clue to the core of psychological truth Jung to Freud,
12th June 1911. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated
certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand Jung to
Raman, June 1948.
35 Entry on Astrology in: David Adams Leeming, et al. Encyclopaedia of Psychology and

Religion, Volume 2. Springer, 2009. p.73.


141
might also have heard of Jungs use of astrology from those in his circle, or
from bohemians at his favourite Double-R Coffee House in New York. 36
Perhaps even from Houdini, who was always alert to such dubious practices,
who in 1925 had very recently travelled in Europe, and who had
commissioned Lovecraft during his New York years to write a book attacking
contemporary superstitions.
There was also apparently a good deal of spiritualism in Jung 37 and
Lovecraft loathed spiritualism as much as astrology. These are all interesting
possibilities, but nothing more as there appears to be no evidence of
Lovecraft ever wrote about Jung directly. 38 The presentation of the dream
analysis sessions and the ethnographic collecting of dreams in The Call of
Cthulhu does seems quite benign, and does not suggest an antagonism on
Lovecrafts part. Though it should be noted that these sessions while
resembling psychotherapy sessions are undertaken not by a
psychotherapist, but by Professor Angell who is described as an elderly
scientific archeologist. 39

36 A haunt of the Greenwich Village crowd, and queer meeting place. Freud was then

closely associated with sex, and Caroline Farrar Ware in her 1934 memoir of the Village
recalls those who would... preface their seductions with chapter and verse from
Freud. Caroline Farrar Ware. Greenwich Village, 1920-1930. University of California
Press, 1994. p.256.
37 See: F.X. Charet. Spiritualism and the foundations of C.G. Jungs psychology. State

University of New York Press, 1993.


38 Lovecrafts letters show that he was well aware of Jungs theory [of the unfolding

psyche and its fundamental conflicts] writes Mosig. See: Dirk W. Mosig. The Four
Faces of The Outsider, in: Darrell Schweitzer, Discovering H.P. Lovecraft. Borgo Press,
2001. p.21. But apparently Jung only appears in the Letters in list form along with other
psychoanalysts my thanks to Martin Andersson for the latter information in Aug
2011: HPL mentions Jung in passing in Selected Letters III a few times, but always in lists
of names of psychoanalysts, not by himself.
39 George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown

University, Providence, Rhode Island, but his papers are published in archaeological
journals and he is clearly someone involved in the study of antiquity.
142
here was another element that could have led Lovecraft into some
T skepticism about Franz Boas at some time after 1926. It had to do
with very ancient history. Boas described some ancient sub-Saharan black
African civilisations 40 in glowing terms, these civilisations being said to have
been based on iron technology invented before the ancient Egyptians or
Anatolians
it seems likely that at a time when the European was still satisfied
with rude stone tools, the African had invented or adopted the art of
smelting iron [...] It seems not unlikely that the people who made
the marvelous discovery of reducing iron ores by smelting were the
African Negroes 41
Ideas about ancient civilisations were always of interest to Lovecraft, and he
sought them out. Including African ones. 42 But the notion of ancient
civilisations in sub-Saharan Africa was then a very new and academically
unsupported idea in America 43 , and even today Boass early ideas on the
topic can be described as an early and somewhat ungrounded form of
intellectual philanthropy
But while Boas often engaged in a form of intellectual philanthropy
with African American organizations and spoke in glowing terms
about ancient African civilizations, he limited his work along these
lines. 44

40 Expounded from 1904 onwards. See George Hutchinson. The Harlem renaissance in

black and white. Harvard University Press, 1996. p.63.


41 Boas in an article titled Old African Civilizations, in Atlanta University Studies,
No.20 (1916). Boas talks about more than iron, of course, pointing to Ghana, Mali and
Songhia.
42 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.
p.256.
43 William Leo Hansbury (1894-1965) taught the first college class at Howard

University... on ancient African civilizations in 1922 - Jerry Gershenhorn. Melville J.


Herskovits and the racial politics of knowledge. University of Nebraska Press, 2004. p.172.
44 Lee D. Baker, Research, Reform, and Racial Uplift. In: Richard Handler (Ed.).

Excluded Ancestors, Inventible Traditions: Essays Toward a More Inclusive History of Anthropology.
University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. p.73.
143
Ultimately, Boass reassessment of African history was written with
an eye to the present: he looks to the past in order to improve race
relations in his contemporary America. 45
Boass claims about ancient sub-Saharan black African civilizations then
seem to have been made crucial to his new and wider ideas on race and
culture
Boass key intellectual move was to argue based on anthropological
evidence, citing the historic achievements of African civilizations
before European colonization, that there was no close relation
between race and culture. Instead, the future of the Negro would be
determined not by a biological imperative but on the basis of history
and social status, a history, Boas insisted, that was civilized and
prosperous before European contact. 46
If Lovecraft had then read the actual specifics of the sub-Saharan African
iron civilization assertion by Boas, he might have been even more skeptical
of the wider claims then derived from and based on it. Boas argued that
German scholars had uncovered strong non-archeological evidence for
traditions of basic forms of iron making (i.e.: directly from the ore) in sub-
Saharan Africa, thus making it a practice which may have pre-dated the
more advanced types of iron making invented in Anatolia. Boas was
referring to the scholarship in the first volume of Ludwig Becks untranslated
Die Geschichte des Eisens in technischer und kultur-geschichtlicher Beziehung 47
[The History of Iron] (1891). Beck, drawing on the research of several
Africanists and Egyptologists, had written

45 Rachel Farebrother. The collage aesthetic in the Harlem Renaissance. Ashgate, 2009. p.32.
46 Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The Condemnation of Blackness. Harvard University Press,

2010. p.111.
47 Beck is not to be confused with his son, who served Hitler as Chief of the German

General Staff in the 1930s.


144
we see everywhere [today] an original art of producing iron among
the numerous native tribes of Africa, which is in its entire essence
not imported but original and [] must be very old. 48
This work did not give archeological evidence, because in the 1920s
there was no archeological evidence as yet of very early ironworking
in sub-Saharan Africa 49
By 1950 there was still none, and
Decades of research had revived and reinforced the classical belief
that iron smelting originated in Anatolia [i.e.: the Ancient Greek
city states there, now modern Turkey] 50
If Lovecraft had read Boass claims in the 1920s or 30s, then he would have
been able to bring a certain amount of knowledge to bear on the topic. 51 As
someone generally interested in archeology and ancient civilizations, he may
have known of the complete lack of archeological evidence for sub-Saharan
iron working in ancient times. He might have seen Boass idea picked up by
popular science magazines or seen some rebuttals by U.S. archeologists in
more learned publications although if there was a debate on this topic in
the 1920s and 30s then I am not able to access it in the relevant archives
because these are closed to me due to cost factors. 52

48 Thanks to Stanley B. Alperns paper (see below) for the translation.


49 Stanley B. Alpern. Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa, History in Africa, Volume 32, 2005.

p.45.
50 Stanley B. Alpern. Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa, History in Africa, Volume 32, 2005.
p.44.
51 As an astronomer and an amateur student of the history of Ancient Egypt, would
have doubly known, for instance, of the Ancient Egyptian working of meteoritic iron.
As a youth he had researched and written a treatise on Iron Working (now lost).
52 Sadly I have not been able to find such via open search tools. Historians in this area
may know of debates on this topic that might have reached the sort of journals read by
Lovecraft. I have found one article that states of Boas... His reputation began to be
seriously questioned by the 1940s - Herbert S. Lewis, Boas, Darwin, Science, and
Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Vol.42, No.3, June 2001. p.381.
145
That said, Lovecraft does show a complete pig-headedness when he was
faced with vivid and extensive first-hand accounts of exploring the
Zimbabwe ruins in Africa, heard directly from his friend Edward Lloyd
Sechrist in December 1925. In his letters Lovecraft sent to his aunt about
this recounting, he runs through every possible Near Eastern or other white
race of antiquity as the potential builders, except for the Africans themselves.
He cannot attribute the ruins to the negro, and he reflects on Sechrists
points on repairs over time as being significant
repairs [to the ruins over the centuries] showing less & less skill,
as the white man faded and mixed with the black tribes 53

Possibly Lovecraft knew nothing of Boass African iron claims, and cared
little for the tangle of interactions between modernism, ethnography and
psychoanalysis. Like many in the USA, he did not read the correct
modernist journals such as the Dial in the 1920s or the leftist The Nation in
the 30s, where such ideas commonly appeared 54 or the journal American
Anthropologist and the like. He could thereby have missed key specialist
books such as Melville J. Herskovitss study of the physical anthropology
(i.e.: body and head measurement) of black people in The American Negro: a
study in racial crossing (1928) 55 , or Zora Neale Hurstons later study of
African American folklore Mules and Men (1935). Nor, it seems, would he
have been able to find a library textbook with the new approach to race
before 1938, as the Italian Lovecraft scholars have also pointed out that [my
translation] ...
The first authoritative textbook published in the United States in
which ethnic groups are talked about without drawing hierarchical

53 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.

p.256.
54 Barbara Foley. Spectres of 1919: class and nation in the making of the new Negro. University

of Illinois Press, 2003. p.152. The Dial folded in 1929.


55 As a study of miscegenation and its physical effects, this might have been of interest
to Lovecraft.
146
evaluations is General Anthropology edited by Franz Boas which
appeared in the middle of 1938, i.e. more than a year after the death
56
of Lovecraft.
Herskovitss influential The Myth of the Negro Past did not appear until 1941,
several years after Lovecrafts death.
Perhaps, as a proud subject of the King, Lovecraft took the lead of the
British anthropologists on the matter, since
The English [British] disregarded totally any work done by
Americans, especially Franz Boas. 57
In this respect it is relevant that in Lovecrafts The Whisperer in
Darkness (1930), Lovecraft has Wilmarths first letter give a list of the
anthropologists he has studied. Since Lovecrafts fiction always has a strong
autobiographical element, and also because he must have been aware that
members of his adoring young audience might well follow up such references
at their local public library, this might perhaps be taken as reflecting
Lovecrafts own view of the authorities on the topic at 1930. This we get
from Wilmarth
I might say, with all proper modesty, that the subject of
anthropology and folklore is by no means strange to me. I took a
good deal of it at college, and am familiar with most of the standard
authorities such as [Sir Edward Burnett] Tylor, [Sir John] Lubbock,
[Sir James] Frazer, [Jean de] Quatrefages [de Breau], [Margaret]
Murray, [Henry Fairfield] Osborn, [Sir Arthur] Keith, [Marcellin]
Boule, [Grafton] G. Elliot Smith, and so on. The Whisperer in
Darkness.

56 G. De Turris, S. Fusco. LOrrore della Realta. Edizioni Mediterranee, 2006. p.264


57 Elazar Barkan. The Retreat of Scientific Racism. Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.66.
Barkan does not as far as I can see elaborate on the reason for this. It may well have
been for reasons around eugenics and race, but it may have been for the various other
reasons that led to the decline of Boass reputation after his death in 1942. This re-
evaluation as led by Leslie White from 1943.
147
These were all real, and all British except for an American and two
Frenchmen. 58 The one American was a very prominent eugenicist who had
studied at Cambridge University in England. One of the Frenchmen was a
member of the Royal Society of London. Clearly, Lovecraft in 1930 strongly
valued the British view of anthropology, and thus may have shared what
seems to have been the total antipathy of the British to the race work of
Franz Boas. 59 This bulwark of old opinions could certainly have served as a
useful crutch for Lovecraft, supporting his continuing willful ignorance of
the fledgling new American ideas on race.

I think this essay has been a useful exploration. When one adds some
historical context to the puzzle of his lack of engagement with Boasian
anthropology, there does seem to be a case to be made that the matter may
be more complex than it might first have appeared. Yet at this distance the
truth of why Lovecraft chose not to engage with Boas and his followers, after
about 1930, may never be fully known. For many, Lovecrafts painfully clear
racialist prejudices give a straightforward and simple explanation for these
very unfortunate lacunae in his intellectual life. Having explored the topic I
am very much inclined to agree with those who think simple racism was the
cause, since between 1930 and 1937 Lovecraft must have come across at least
some book reviews and newspaper articles, in Scientific American and the like,
that could have outlined to him the emerging new thinking on race. 60

58 Jean de Quatrefages seems to have been essentially a biologist, and was the first to suggest that

new races might be formed by inter-breeding. Marcellin Boule gave us the view of the ancient
Neanderthal type of humans as brutish, hairy and ape-like.
59 American folklorists of the time appear to have felt much the same...
He [Lovecraft] was, apparently, unaware of contemporaries such as Franz Boas who
were rejecting this [race thinking] model in favor of cultural relativism. Many of the
older or more conservative folklorists of the day, including Charles Skinner, Henry
Shoemaker, and John Lomax, also were either unaware of or unwilling to accept
relativistic models of culture. from: Timothy H. Evans (2004), "A last defence against
the dark: folklore, horror, and the uses of tradition in the works of H.P. Lovecraft",
Journal of Folklore Research, Vol.42, No.2.
60 He seems to betray a sliver of awareness of the race debate, possibly had via the

Kalem Club member Morton, who was strongly pro-integration, when he writes in his
148
Publicity shot from the set of the film Just Imagine (1930), which depicted the
future New York of the year 1980 as a car city.

Picture: Public Domain.

letters in 1926 that... Vast harm is done by those idealists who encourage belief in a
[national U.S. racial] coalescence that can never be - S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft
Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.269.
149
10 : NEW YORK CITY AS RLYEH, SUNKEN CITY OF
CTHULHU

he American writer Henry James, when looking at the New York


T skyline in 1904, wrote of the monstrous. But he felt powerless in its
presence
The monstrous phenomena themselves [had] got the start, got
ahead of, in proper parlance, any possibility of poetic, of dramatic
capture 1
The task may have been beyond James 2 , but it was not beyond Lovecraft. I
believe I can strongly suggest that Lovecraft transmuted New York into the
great evil city of Rlyeh, sunk beneath the waves, the eon-slimed lurking place
of tentacled Cthulhu.
By 1925 New York was a city of over 1,000 towering skyscrapers, and the
foundations of 30 more were being laid. Beneath these monsters (as they
were sometimes called at the time 3 ), many wreaths of smoke constantly
curled between the buildings and into the sky like so many tentacles. 4 This
great crucible of modernity was plunged into darkness by a total eclipse of the
sun in January 1925. Some 10 million people in New York and New
England saw the eclipse on that day. Lovecraft recalled the eclipse in a letter
of 1932

1 Henry James. The American Scene, 1906.


2A writer who was once so sniffy about Lovecrafts writing style. See: S.T. Joshi. I
Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2011.
3 Major Henry Curran, counsel of the City Club of New York, denounced the

buildings as monsters and their spread as a plague. David Ward, Olivier Zunz. The
Landscape of Modernity: essays on New York City, 1900-1940. Russell Sage Foundation ,
1992. p.64.
4 See the New York paintings of Tavik Frantisek Simon (1877-1942)
150
In 1925 (when I was in New York) some of us tramped up into the
5
cold of northern Yonkers to see the January eclipse
Le Sprague de Camp elaborated
On January 24, 1925, he went with Morton, Leeds, Kirk, and
Ernest Dench of the Blue Pencil Club to Yonkers, to see a total
eclipse of the sun, beginning at 9:12 am. They had a fine view of the
6
corona,
I presume that de Camp could be so specific because he was using either
the letters or Lovecrafts detailed 1925 diary. The view of the eclipse was
excellent from Yonkers, and indeed The Review of Popular Astronomy had
given the advice that city observers
will find more desirable observation points at Yonkers, Newburgh
or Poughkeepsie 7
According to George Kirks letters, they found an aqueduct that they
climbed to raise them quite high 8 so they would have seen an even better
view of the city than others. There was snow on the ground, and Lovecraft
9
later recalled the cold of that occasion as a marrow-congealing ordeal ,
since he really was not used to being out in cold weather and certainly not
used to standing around in it on an aqueduct. He feared fainting in such
weather, and rarely liked to go out in such cold weather. 10
An eclipse was portentous for Lovecraft, although in a scientific and not in
a superstitious manner. In 1919 and 1923 eclipse observations had
confirmed Einsteins theory of relativity. Lovecraft had drawn what S.T.
Joshi calls

5 H.P. Lovecraft. Selected Letters: 1932-1934.


6 Le Sprague de Camp. Lovecraft: a biography, 1975.
7 The Review of Popular Astronomy, 1925.
8 Letter given in Lovecrafts New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927. Hippocampus,
2006.
9 H.P. Lovecraft. Selected Letters: 1932-1934.
10 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010.
151
wild conclusions from Einstein, both metaphysical and ethical,
11
[that] are entirely unfounded
and he did not come to a real understanding of Einstein until 1929. At
the time of the eclipse he seemed to believe that Einsteinian science had
somehow proved that
All is chance, accident, and ephemeral illusion [] There are no
values in all infinity the least idea that there is [to be regarded as]
the supreme mockery of all. All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be
treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another. 12
The eclipse would thus have had more than astronomical meaning to
Lovecraft. It was a portent of doom, one seemingly inextricably linked in his
mind with the cultural relativism he endured in the melting pot of New York
City. Both, in his mind, foretold the doom of the West.

Cover of the New York Evening News, 24th January 1925.

11 S.T. Joshi. A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. Liverpool University

Press, 2001. p.183.


12 S.T. Joshi. A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. Liverpool University

Press, 2001. Letter given on p.182.


152
As an amateur astronomer, albeit one not involved in theoretical matters
due to has inadequate mathematical skills, Lovecraft had responded well to
the spectral light of eclipses on other warmer occasions such as the eclipse of
August 1932 August, and described them vividly
When the crescent waned to extreme thinness, the scene grew
strange and spectralan almost deathlike quality inhering in the
sickly yellowish light. Just about that time the sun went under a
cloud, and our expedition commenced cursing in 33-1/3 different
languages including Ido. At last, though, the thin thread of the pre-
totality glitter emerged into a large patch of absolutely clear sky. The
outspread valleys faded into unnatural nightJupiter came out in the
deep-violet heavensghoulish shadow-bands raced along the
winding white cloudsthe last beaded strip of glitter vanishedand
the pale corona flickerd into aureolar radiance around the black disc
of the obscuring moon. [] Finally the beaded crescent remerged,
the valleys glowd again in faint, eerie light, and the various partial
phases were repeated in reverse order. The marvel was over, and
accustomd things resumd their wonted sway. 13
We might thus similarly imagine Lovecraft in January 1925 looking across
at the citys towering black monolith-like skyscrapers, from the height of a
raised aqueduct, and seeing New York as if it were a sunken city risen from
the bottom of the ocean, with semi-darkness all around and the brightest
stars shining suddenly above. It is also possible Lovecraft may have later seen
newsreel cinema footage and quality magazine pictures in National
Geographic, of New York during the eclipse, which could have contributed to
his ideas about the visual descriptions of Rlyeh.
A year later he would write of
The great stone city Rlyeh, with its monoliths and sepulchres, had
sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters, full of the one primal
mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the

13 Letter to James F. Morton, 3rd September 1932. From hplovecraft.com


153
spectral intercourse. But memory never died, and the high-priests
said that the city would rise again when the stars were right.
The Call of Cthulhu.
he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities
of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green
ooze and sinister with latent horror. The Call of Cthulhu.
The connection between his eclipse viewing of New York and his portrayal
of Rlyeh seems clear, even if it did not immediately occur to Lovecraft. 14 In
this case, the full writing of The Call of Cthulhu took place in the summer
of 1926.
There had been an earlier 1922 vision of New York, as a wonderful land of
faery towers, but even here are to be found two Rlyeh like elements. They
are found in his 1922 letter giving his visionary experience of the cityscape at
sunset in the company of Samuel Loveman 15 Out of the water is rose at
twilight Here is a clear foreshowing of New York as a sunken city, one
that rises. The same passage in the letter also compares it to an undersea
coral city the loveliness that is coral, branching and glorious
By 1925 Lovecafts experience of the city had soured and he saw only a
much darker vision of a dead city. This was potently expressed in a night
vision in the August 1925 short story He which was set in New York
I saw at last a fearful truth which no one had ever dared to breathe
before the unwhisperable secret of secrets the fact that this city
of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York
as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in
fact quite dead, its sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and
infested with queer animate things which have nothing to do with it
as it was in life. H.P. Lovecaft, He.

14 Locations often took about a year to find their way into his fiction.
15 For the letter see S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night

Shade, 2005. pp.9-10.


154
Later in the same story, he animates it in a further vision of the future New
York. The city is again given in terms that make it seem like a prototype for
Rlyeh
I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath
them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious
pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from
unnumbered windows. H.P. Lovecraft, He (1925).
The reference to the moon and the lights give this as a night scene, akin to
his own eclipse vision of New York.
Such a vision of hellish, semi-destroyed New York may have been
somewhat foreshadowed in Lovecrafts mind by two post-apocalyptic New
York novels. One was the journalist Garrett P. Servisss The Second Deluge
(serialized 1911, book form 1912) in which an undersea New York is vividly
explored. The other was The Vacant World (1912) by George Allan England.
16
Here is an extract from the latters very early stages
Out over the incredible mausoleum of civilization they peered. Now
and again they fortified their vision by recourse to the telescope.
Nowhere, as he had said, was any slightest sign of life to be
discerned. Nowhere a thread of smoke arose; nowhere a sound
echoed upward. Dead lay the city, between its rivers, whereon now
no sail glinted in the sunlight, no tug puffed vehemently with plumy
jets of steam, no liner idled at anchor or nosed its slow course out to
sea. The Jersey shore, the Palisades, the Bronx and Long Island all
lay buried in dense forests of conifers and oak, with only here and
there some skeleton mockery of a steel structure jutting through. The
islands in the harbor, too, were thickly overgrown. On Ellis, no sign
of the immigrant station remained. Castle William was quite gone.
And with a gasp of dismay and pain, Beatrice pointed out the fact

16 For a full bibliography of such works see Roberta Scott and Jon Thiem.
Catastrophe Fiction, 1870-1914: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works in
English. Extrapolation 24:2, Summer 1983. For a selection regarding London see my
own anthology, London Reimagined: an Anthology of Visions of the Future City (2010).
155
that no longer Liberty held her bronze torch aloft. Save for a black,
misshapen mass protruding through the tree-tops, the huge gift of
France was no more. Fringing the water-front, all the way round, the
mournful remains of the docks and piers lay in a mere sodden jumble
of decay, with an occasional hulk sunk alongside. Even over these
wrecks of liners, vegetation was growing rank and green. All the
wooden ships, barges and schooners had utterly vanished. [] Far
out she gazed. The sun, declining, shot a broad glory all across the
sky. Purple and gold and crimson lay the light-bands over the breast
of the Hudson. Dark blue the shadows streamed across the ruined
city with its crowding forests, its blank-staring windows and sagging
walls, its thousands of gaping vacancies, where wood and stone and
brick had crumbled downthe city where once the tides of human
life had ebbed and flowed, roaring resistlessly. High overhead
drifted a few rosy clouds, part of that changeless nature which alone
did not repel or mystify these two beleaguered waifs, these chance
survivors, this man, this woman, left alone together by the hand of
fate.
This is vivid, but sadly it is only one bright glimpse at the start of an
otherwise rather tediously stilted and dialogue-heavy novel, which forms the
first of a ponderous trilogy. The trilogy very quickly falls back on the then-
conventional civilization-vs-savages approach that fitted with the socialist-
Aryanist race-regeneration views of the time. The novel The Vacant World is
certainly a curiosity as a rare instance of the British post-apocalyptic disaster
novel transferred to New York, but it hardly seems like an inspiration for
Lovecraft.
Far more interesting in this regard is The Second Deluge (1911), especially in
relation to Lovecrafts conception of New York as the undersea of Rlyeh
presided over by Cthulhu. The novel takes a very long time to get to New
York, but the city is eventually depicted near the end in Chapter 25: New
York in Her Ocean Tomb when it is viewed from a large diving bell. We

156
are then given an extended picture of an undersea New York brooded over by
an alien and unspeakable monstrosity
They began with the skeleton tower itself, which had only once or
twice been exceeded in height by the famous structures of the era of
skyscrapers. In some places they found the granite skin yet in situ,
but almost everywhere it had been stripped off, probably by the
tremendous waves which swept over it as the flood attained its first
thousand feet of elevation. They saw no living forms, except a few
curiously shaped phosphorescent creatures of no great size, which
scurried away out of the beam of the search-light. They saw no trace
of the millions of their fellow-beings who had been swallowed up in
this vast grave, and for this all secretly gave thanks. The soil of
Madison Square had evidently been washed away, for no signs of the
trees which had once shaded it were seen, and a reddish ooze had
begun to collect upon the exposed rocks. All around were the
shattered ruins of other great buildings, some, like the Metropolitan
tower, yet retaining their steel skeletons, others tumbled down, and
lying half-buried in the ooze.
Finding nothing of great interest in this neighborhood they turned
the course of the bell northward, passing everywhere over
interminable ruins, and as soon as they began to skirt the ridge of
Morningside Heights the huge form of the cathedral of St. John fell
within the circle of projected light. It was unroofed, and some of the
walls had fallen, but some of the immense arches yet retained their
upright position. Here, for the first time, they encountered the real
giants of the submarine depths. De Beauxchamps, who had seen
some of these creatures during his visit to Paris in the Jules Verne,
declared that nothing which he had seen there was so terrifying as
what they now beheld. One creature, which seemed to be the
unresisted master of this kingdom of phosphorescent life, appears to
have exceeded in strangeness the utmost descriptive powers of all
those who looked upon it, for their written accounts are filled with

157
ejaculations, and are more or less inconsistent with one another. The
reader gathers from them, however, the general impression that it
made upon their astonished minds.
The creatures were of a livid hue, and had the form of a globe, as
large as the bell itself, with a valvular opening on one side which was
evidently a mouth, surrounded with a circle of eyelike disks,
projecting shafts of self-evolved light into the water. They moved
about with surprising ease, rising and sinking at will, sometimes
rolling along the curve of an arch, emitting flashes of green fire, and
occasionally darting across the intervening spaces in pursuit of their
prey, which consisted of smaller prosphorescent animals that fled in
the utmost consternation. When the adventurers in the bell saw one
of the globular monsters seize its victim they were filled with horror.
It had driven its prey into a corner of the wrecked choir, and
suddenly it flattened itself like a rubber bulb pressed against the wall,
completely covering the creature that was to be devoured, although
the effect of its struggles could be perceived; and then, to the
amazement of the onlookers, the living globe slowly turned itself
inside out, engulfing the victim in the process.
[] no sooner had the tragic spectacle which they had witnessed
been finished than they suddenly found the bell surrounded by a
crowd of the globe-shaped creatures, jostling one another, and
flattening themselves against its metallic walls. They pushed the bell
about, rolling themselves all over it, and apparently finding nothing
terrifying in the searchlight, which was hardly brighter than the
phosphorescent gleams which shot from their own luminescent
organs. One of them got one of its luminous disks exactly in the
field of a magnifying window, and King Richard, who happened to
have his eye in the focus, started back with a cry of alarm.
I cannot describe what I saw, the king wrote in his notebook. It
was a glimpse of fiery cones, triangles, and circles, ranged in tier
behind tier with a piercing eye in the center, and the light that came
158
from them resembled nothing that I have ever seen. It seemed to be
a living emanation, and almost paralyzed me.
[] Avoiding the neighborhood of the cathedral, they steered the
bell down the former course of the Hudson, but afterward ventured
once more over the drowned city until they arrived at the site of the
great station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which they found
completely unroofed. They sank the bell into the vast space where
the tunnels entered from underneath the old river bed, and again
they had a startling experience. Something huge, elongated, and
spotted, and provided with expanding claw-like limbs, slowly
withdrew as their light streamed upon the reddish ooze covering the
great floor. The nondescript retreated backward into the mouth of a
tunnel. They endeavored, cautiously, to follow it, turning a
magnifying window in its direction, and obtaining a startling view of
glaring eyes, but the creature hastened its retreat, and the last
glimpse they had was of a grotesque head, which threw out piercing
rays of green fire as it passed deeper into the tunnel.
[] they were almost frozen into statues. Close beside the bell,
which had, during the struggle, floated near to the principal heap of
mingled treasure and ruin, heavily squatted on the very summit of
the pile, was such a creature as no words could depictof a ghastly
color, bulky and malformed, furnished with three burning eyes that
turned now green, now red with lambent flame, and great shapeless
limbs, which it uplifted one after the other [] They were terror-
stricken now, and pushing the propellers to their utmost, they fled
toward the site of the Metropolitan tower. On their way, although
for a time they passed over the course of the East River, they saw no
signs of the great bridges except the partly demolished but yet
beautiful towers of the oldest of them, which had been constructed
of heavy granite blocks. They found the cable attached as they had
left it, and, although they were yet nervous from their recent
experience, they had no great difficulty in re-attaching it to the bell.

159
Then, with a sigh of relief, they signaled, and shouted through the
telephone to the Ark [on the surface of the sea].
This is certainly all very notable, which I have given it at such length. One
has to wonder, are we reading here the partial 17 genesis of Cthulhu and
Rlyeh? Especially given the multiple instances of the emphases placed on
the unspeakability of the tentacled terror? Note also the bizarre geometry
seen in a single visionary glimpse whirling around an alien creature
It was a glimpse of fiery cones, triangles, and circles, ranged in tier
behind tier with a piercing eye in the center,
The very first lines of this novel even open it with a classic Lovecraftian -
style disclaimer about being pieced together from multiple and fragmentary
narratives, in the same manner as The Call of Cthulhu
WHAT is here set down is the fruit of long and careful research
among disjointed records left by survivors of the terrible events
described. []in the substance of his narrative, as well as in every
detail which is specifically described, he has followed faithfully the
accounts of eyewitnesses, or of those who were in a position to know
the truth of what they related.
It certainly seems very curious that here we have four major Lovecraft
approaches in one novel: a sunken city presided over by horrific octopi;
unspeakability; alien geometry; the story allegedly pieced together from
fragmentary narratives.
The evidence that Lovecraft once read this novel is very compelling. The
18
Second Deluge was first serialized in The Cavalier from July 1911 to July
1912, one of the several Munsey magazines that Lovecraft is known to have
enjoyed as a youth

17 One could of course also point to Poes sunken city in the poem The City in the
Sea, and the fact that Lovecrafts uncle Franklin Chase Clark (1847-1915) wrote about
a sunken city of coral in a magazine article titled A Curious City (1878). There was
also the myth of Atlantis. Also the vision of a sunken New York in the 1925 eclipse.
Possibly also to Eskimo myths see my essay in this book on Franz Boas.
18 Internet Speculative Fiction Database www.isfdb.org
160
He appears to have read them from cover to cover 19
This is the opinion of Will Murray, talking of Lovecrafts reading of the
Munsey magazines Argosy, The All-Story, and The Cavalier, in the period to
1914. S.T. Joshi agrees
Lovecraft read each issue [of All-Story Cavalier] sometimes 192
pages, sometimes 240 pages cover to cover, month after month 20
Lovecraft had had what he termed a reaction toward literature about
1911 21 and started looking at the significant amount of weird fiction
published by these three Munsey magazines with a new eye. Lovecraft
seems to have stopped reading All-Story Cavalier only in late 1914 22 ,
presumably as he improved his literary tastes. Certainly, though he was
reading it in the first half of the 1910s since he had a letter published in the
8th February 1913 issue, praising Irvin S. Cobbs story Fishhead 23 which he
had read in 1913 24 , which was only six months after the appearance of The
Second Deluge. He had another letter published there in the 14th August 1914
edition, praising George Allen England who wrote the post-apocalyptic The
Vacant World novel given above. 25 Would he have read the one post-
apocalyptic novel featuring New York, but not the other?
Given all this evidence it seems that he would have read The Second Deluge ,
a substantial minor classic of early speculative fiction, when it first appeared

19 Will Murray, Lovecraft and the Pulp Magazine Tradition, in An Epicure in the
terrible: a centennial anthology of essays in honor of H.P. Lovecraft. Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 1991. p.104.
20 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.143.
21 Ibid p.135.
22 By May 1914 it was the combined All-Story Cavalier Weekly, and it may have lost
some of its previous character by the end of 1914. See . S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence.
Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.140.
23 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.141.
24 Cobbs Fishhead seems only really relevant as a source for The Shadow over

Innsmouth, but is an interesting indication of the way Lovecraft could reach back to
his Munsey magazine reading as inspiration.
25 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.142.
161
in 1911/12. Yet The Second Deluge was then published as a book in 1912 26 ,
illustrated with four pictures by George Varian 27 including one of the true
face of the Sphinx (the present one falls off after the deluge, revealing
another older and more mysterious one). This would have given the young
Lovecraft the additional opportunity to read it at the Providence public
library or perhaps to purchase it, since the book was no doubt heavily
advertised in The Cavalier and other Munsey magazines.
There is a further compelling reason for Lovecraft to have read the work.
Serviss (1851-1929) was also the author of various practical astronomy non-
fiction 28 , including Other Worlds: Their Nature, Possibilities and Habitability
in the Light of the Latest Discoveries (1901). Lovecrafts library contained at
least three of Servisss non-fiction works 29 at the end of his life, and
Lovecraft used a section from one of them verbatim in his Beyond The Wall
of Sleep (1919). 30 Serviss was a well-known and respected science
populariser who also wrote the first ever U.S. syndicated newspaper columns
on astronomy so how unlikely would it have been that Lovecraft would
not have read a substantial fantastical new work by a fellow astronomer that
31 32
he had known since childhood?

26 The Serviss novel The Second Deluge also appeared in Amazing Stories, in installments
from November 1926 concluding February 1927, where perhaps Lovecraft may have
refreshed his boyhood memories of it while revising The Call of Cthulhu after its
Weird Tales rejection although sadly all we appear to have of The Call of Cthulhu,
in terms of original material, is a single undated typescript and we thus cannot follow
any revisions that may have been made.
27 Freely available online at Archive.org at 2011.
28 Pleasures of the Telescope (1901); The Moon (1907); Astronomy With The Naked Eye
(1908); Curiosities of the Sky (1909); Round the Year with the Stars (1910); and Astronomy in a
Nutshell (1912). These and others are available at Archive.org
29 S.T. Joshi. Lovecrafts Library: A Catalogue (2nd revised edition). Hippocampus Press,
2002.
30 S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. p.19.
31 Serviss also worked on the short explanatory film The Einstein Theory of Relativity
(1923). He also seems to have edited an astronomy journal called the Monthly Evening
Sky Map. For more on Servisss astronomy activities, see the front-page obituary One
Who Loved the Stars in Popular Astronomy Aug-Sept 1929. This last is freely available
online.
162
Some of Servisss other works seem to have further parallels with Lovecrafts
The Call of Cthulhu. Serviss also wrote The Moon Metal (published 1900
as a book 33 ) a globe-spanning work that opens in Antarctica, one of
Lovecrafts favorite places. It has a second half that features a lot of
astronomy, which would no doubt have delighted Lovecraft. Interestingly,
its central figure Dr. Syx is just once described as a
devil-fish [i.e., an octopus] sucking the veins of the planet and
holding it helpless in the grasp of his tentacular billions
Servisss A Columbus of Space (serialised January to June 1909 in The All-
Story, revised 1911; serialized again in Amazing Stories with the opening
chapters appearing in the August 1926 edition 34 ) is a fairly conventional but
well-done adventure-trip to Venus, but interestingly it opens with the same
sort of disturbed cosmic dreams that would later feature in The Call of
Cthulhu
I finally got to sleep, but I had horrible dreams. [and the next
night] My dreams were disturbed by visions of the grinning
nondescripts at the foot of the wall, which transformed themselves
into winged dragons, and remorselessly pursued me through the
measureless abysses of space.
Admittedly these are mentioned only very briefly. They seem anticipatory
of the events to come, but they are not linked to any specific deity who may
be sending them as in Cthulhu.
Lovecraft would no doubt have read A Columbus of Space in The All-Story at
age nineteen 35 , for the reasons I have given previously in this essay.
There is yet another Serviss work that links itself to Lovecraft, this time in
terms of being a possible pointer toward his overall philosophy. Servisss

32 Serviss had also engaged on a grand Nyarlathotep-like lecture tour of the USA, with
some of the most advanced theatrical presentational devices of his day.
33 The Moon Metal was also published in 1900, as a now-lost newspaper syndication.
34 Mike Ashley. The Gernsback Days. Wildside, 2006. p.86.
35 See my previous recounting of the evidence for this, some pages back.
163
non-fiction Other Worlds: Their Nature, Possibilities and Habitability in the
Light of the Latest Discoveries (1901), although a conventionally brisk and
vivid survey of the Solar System, does open with the follow remarkable
quotation that seems a precursor or Lovecrafts cosmic indifferentism
Shall we measure the councils of heaven by the narrow impotence of
human faculties, or conceive that silence and solitude reign
throughout the mighty empire of nature? Dr. Thomas Chalmers.

We may never know the actual truth of the genesis of Cthulhu. But given
all of the above one then has to wonder if the very final words Lovecraft ever
wrote in substantial fiction, the famous last line of The Haunter of The
Dark (1935)
Yog-Sothoth save methe three-lobed burning eye. . . .. . . .
might not be a revealing of (and perhaps a sentimental return to or
goodbye to) what might have been the one of the sources of his most famous
creation Servisss The Second Deluge
such a creature as no words could depict [] furnished with three
burning eyes The Second Deluge, Chapter 25.

Whatever the case for the various origins of the idea of the city of Rlyeh, and
the exact nature of those who preside over it, the story The Call of Cthulhu
was finally published in print in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales. In
its published form it was clearly Lovecrafts genius alone that had found a
way to transmute New York and his many other sources not simply into a
conventionally Atlantean ruined city, or even into a conventional octopus-
haunted sunken city but instead into the utterly alien and geometrically
bizarre city of Rlyeh, the aeon-old tomb of a truly cosmic deity, brooding at
the heart of a complex mythos which still lives and grows today.

164
See my appendix immediately following this essay, for an exploration of the
possibility that Lovecraft saw the concluding chapters of The Second Deluge
again in February 1927.

Illustration from the 1912 book edition of The Second Deluge.

This really bad scan goes to show why mass-scanned books should never be
discarded from libraries after scanning.

165
An autogiro flight over New York City.

The Autogiro had been invented in the 1920s, and had caught the imagination
enough to be featured heavily in the New York science fiction film Just Imagine
released in 1930. Possibly this is what Lovecraft was vaguely thinking of when
writing of the sky over the city as verminous with strange flying things?

Photo: Library of Congress.

166
10a: APPENDIX

his appendix follows on from Chapter 10 and assumes that Lovecraft


T somehow completely missed reading Servisss The Second Deluge in
1912 in either magazine or book form, or had somehow managed to forget
about such a vivid and terror-filled dive to a sunken New York full of the
repulsive creatures he had a deep phobia about. Thus these four pages are
really only of interest to Lovecraft devotees who then ask: How might such
a volume have then come to the notice of Lovecraft?
I will outline one additional possibility that may have brought the book to
the attention of Lovecraft in the mid 1920s. I will do this largely in order to
discount it, since it seems an unlikely late influence. Yet it may be useful for
later scholars seeking to follow the same track.
Lovecraft scholars will know that Donald Wandrei had a huge collection of
early science fiction. By early I mean from the mid 1890s to 1914. This was
in use by Wandrei who was, at around 1926/7 engaged in
compiling a comprehensive bibliography in the field [of such early
science fiction] 36
Lovecraft and Wandrei first started corresponding in December 1926 37
and each listed their book collection in their letters, finding that there was
not a great deal of similarity. Lovecraft liked Dunsany style fantasies, and
Wandrei liked and collected early scientific romances as they were then
called. Wandrei specifically listed Garrett P. Serviss 38 along with H.G.
Wells and
naturally enough Lovecraft and Wandrei began lending their
choice volumes to each other, with mutually beneficial results. In the

36 S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz. The Lovecraft Letters: Mysteries of Time and Spirit v.1:
Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Night Shade Book, 2002. Introduction, p.xi.
37 Ibid, p.ix.
38 Ibid.
167
short term, however, the benefit was far more on Lovecrafts side
than Wandreis. 39
It seems highly likely that an expert like Wandrei would have pointed to
the marvelously horrific chapter 25 near the end of The Second Deluge. In
terms of dates, Wandreis lending of books that might place Lovecrafts
reading of Garrett P. Servisss The Second Deluge at around Spring or early
Summer 1927, although I know of no letter in which he might have recorded
his response to the book (I only have partial access to the letters via Google
Books and Amazon Look Inside, although I have the New York period
letters in print). Scholars will point out that Lovecraft had already submitted
The Call of Cthulhu to Weird Tales in October 1926, from which it had
been rejected apparently simply because it was slow (all we know about
the reasons for its rejection). In May 1927 it was also rejected from Mystery
Stories 40 . In the summer of 1927 Wandrei visited Chicago, where he told
the Weird Tales editor
41
That Lovecraft was revising and finishing [The Call of Cthulhu]
Revising is Wandreis own choice of word and it rather an interesting
one. Possibly he was just provoking Wright to take a second look at the
story. That is the accepted interpretation. But revising and finishing does
seem to be very specific. Could Lovecraft have really revised it?
Scholars will also object that Lovecraft had, by his own account got the
basic plot of Cthulhu down on paper by August 1925, as given in his diary
Wrote out story plotThe Call of Cthulhu 42

39 S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz. The Lovecraft Letters: Mysteries of Time and Spirit v.1:
Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Night Shade Book, 2002. Introduction, p.xii.
40 S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. 2001. p.30.
41 S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz. The Lovecraft Letters: Mysteries of Time and Spirit v.1:
Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Night Shade Book, 2002. Introduction, p.xii.
42 Diary entry for 12th-13th August 1925. Given in S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence.
Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.636.
168
This was possibly a chronology of the events, and a sketch of how they
could be made more interesting by presenting them out of chronological
order.
The story itself was written in the summer of 1926 and Lovecraft wrote to
Clark Ashton Smith on 12th October 1926
I've written two new tales, one of which is the sunken-land thing I
described in advance last year 43
So it is clear that he had the conception of a sunken land at that time and
he had had it since 1925/6. But this should not be surprising, as the story
clearly originates with his earlier tale Dagon (1917) which features the
rising of a sunken land from the seabed. One wonders, though, if Lovecraft
had the central conception of the sunken city of Rlyeh. It seems he did,
since he also wrote to Lillian D. Clarke on 14th-19th November 1925 of his
new submerged Pacific city 44
But then did he have the nature of the creature that presided over it and
whose dreams spoke to the sensitive around the world, before the Spring of
1927? He certainly had the name Cthulhu, since he gives it in his 1925
diary when he tells of writing the plot outline. He also had the idea of a bas-
relief 45 early, as given by his famous Commonplace Book entry No.25
25. Man visits museum of antiquities asks that it accept a bas-
relief he has just madeold and learned curator laughs and says he
cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that dreams are older
than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled
Babylonia and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams.
Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator

43 Brown University, Lovecraft Collection listing, accessed online 9th August 2011.
44 Given in Steven J. Mariconda. The Emergence of Cthulhu. Lovecraft Studies 15
(Fall 1987). p.57.
45 At some unspecified later time this became a small statuette, probably under the

influence of Lovecrafts seeing Ancient Egyptian sculptures of Bas in the New York
museums in the mid 1920s. Bas has a beard that closely resembles octopus tentacles.
169
shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name.
No before that says curator. Man does not remember except in
dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to
destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price curator will consult
directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.
But it is obvious Lovecraft was then unsure of the nature of the bas-relief.
Indeed, a letter by Lovecraft to Galpin and Moe recounting the dream said
that the sculpture in the dream was
apparently portraying priests of Ra in procession 46

So although it is interesting to speculate that Lovecraft may have only had a


final piece of the jigsaw for Cthulhu from reading The Second Deluge the
exact nature of the creature that presided over the city and called the
dreamers it seems there is no actual evidence for the late arrival of this
concept. We simply dont know exactly when Cthulhu arrived in
Lovecrafts head. As I have said in the main essay, both the genesis of and
revisions of The Call of Cthulhu are rather sparsely documented. We may
never know. But Wandreis use of the words revising and finishing, in
talking to Wright about the tale in the Spring/Summer of 1927 certainly
intrigue.

46 Given in Steven J. Mariconda. The Emergence of Cthulhu. Lovecraft Studies 15


(Fall 1987). p.54.
170
NYARLATHOTEP
By H. P. Lovecraft

Annotated by David Haden.

Prepared for Mr. H.P. Lovecrafts 121st birthday, 20th August 2011.

Nyarlathotep (1920) is a dreamlike prose-poem that moves seamlessly


from Providence, New England, via Egypt to a modern quack magic or
spiritualist show in a large city, then passes out into a moonlit night-walk in
that same city, encountering aspects of the post-apocalyptic and the
alienage of modern life. It then moves to a moor, which becomes a trackless
immensity, and finally ends amid a horror-haunted void. Through all this
threads the magician-like character of Nyarlathotep.

The leading Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi suggests the work was probably
written in December of 1920, and possibly it helped to fill an overdue
edition of the Lovecraft-edited amateur journalism publication The United
Amateur that appeared in early 1921 1 .

Nyarlathotep appears as a character several times in Lovecrafts later


fiction. See Robert M. Waughs excellent and nuanced discussion of the
subsequent appearances of Nyarlathotep in Lovecrafts works 2 . For the use
of Nyarlathotep by other authors, see Robert M. Prices Chaosium
anthology 3 , and S.T. Joshis The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos 4 .

1 S.T. Joshi (Ed.), The Call of Chthulu and other weird stories. Penguin Modern Classics.
p.369.
2 See Part III of Landscapes, Selves and Others in David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi

(Eds.), An Epicure in the terrible: a centennial anthology of essays in honor of H.P Lovecraft.
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991.
3 R.M. Price, The Nyarlathotep Cycle: Stories about the God of a Thousand Forms. Chaosium,
2006.
171
yarlathotep 5 . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will
N tell the audient 6 void . . . .

I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago.


The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social
7
upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous

4 S.T. Joshi,The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos. Mythos Books, 2008. Also Daniel

Harms, The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, Elder Signs Press (3rd Edition, 2008) for
appearances in games, etc.
5 An Egyptomaniac like Lovecraft had surely read William Wilshire Myerss Hotep: a
dream of the Nile (1905) and must have known that Hotep was a common appended
name for ancient Pharaohs. Dunsany also used it in The Gods of Pegana (1905) for his
false prophet Alhireth-Hotep. Hotep appears to have meant united with the gods (the
latter meaning given in Heinrich Karl Brugschs A History of Egypt under the Pharaohs,
1881).
Nyar is Hebrew for letter (paper), which would also fit with the general later idea of
Nyarlathotep as a messenger or faceless blank page upon which the other gods can
write (this meaning is given in Colloquial Hebrew, Routledge, 2004). The word nyar was
in current use in the 1920s, since it was used in the title of at least one US-published
Hebrew novel of the time. Possibly this meaning of letter was what Lovecrafts mind
was playing on when he dreamed that he had a letter from Loveman telling him to go
and see Nyarlathotep, which S.T. Joshi gives as the genesis of the story perhaps
Loveman or some other Jewish acquaintance had told Lovecraft that Nyar was Hebrew
for letter (paper).
Lath is very ancient Hebrew and seems to have meant something like trust for
example in the Akkadian tukult which in its ancient Hebrew form became the first part
of the name of the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser whose name meant my trust (is) the
heir of Esharra (see John Huehnergard, The Appendix of Semitic Roots, Appendix II).
Nyar-lath-hotep would thus mean something like letter/message that is trusted of the
gods. It is also interesting to note how close tukult is to Cthulhu. There has been
some scholarly debate about the extent Lovecraft may have raided dictionaries of
ancient languages, possibly those such as Akkadian, for the names of his deities.
6 Audient is a word that implied attentive listening and was used in connection with
a young boy preparing for baptism. Its use here sets the tone for the contrasting uses of
noise and silence.
7 This perhaps reflects the end of what was then called The Great War, later called the

First World War or World War One. The lost men marching in narrow columns later
in the story also seem to reflect something of the popular imagery of the war.
172
physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing 8 , such a
danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the
9
night . I recall that the people went about with pale and worried
faces, and whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared
consciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A
10
sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land , and out of the abysses
between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark
and lonely places 11 . There was a daemoniac alteration 12 in the
13 14
sequence of the seasons the autumn heat lingered fearsomely ,

8 The winter of 1918/9 was that of the dreadful Influenza Epidemic, which swept the

world and seemed to have especially claimed the young of about Lovecrafts age. The
disease infected 28% of all Americans, killing over 25 million people worldwide.
9 Lovecraft vividly remembered his childhood nightmares, in which he had been

tormented by the horrifying night-gaunts. See S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence.


Hippocampus, 2010. p.34.
10 Those who could not serve in the military (Lovecraft tried to enlist, passed, but then
was failed via his family) often felt guilt after the war. So did some of those who fought
and survived, while their fellow soldiers had died.
11 Lovecraft the keen amateur astronomer, fascinated by the silent immensities of
space, would have been aware of the raging scientific debate about the aether vs.
relativity which would overturn millennia of set beliefs about the heavens. This debate
was stirred up particularly by reports of Einsteins paper Ether and the Theory of
Relativity (1920). The undermining of aether theory began at the turn of the century
with the experiments of MichelsonMorley, but acceptance then took decades, coming
first in the USA. It is also relevant to the auditory and audient nature of
Nyarlathotep since Spiritualists were upset by the new ideas. Relativity threatened to
erase the long-standing idea of an invisible aether which was deemed by Spiritualists to
aid transmission of spirit voices / sounds to the living in their seances.
12 i.e.: an alteration inspired by demonic supernatural forces.
13 For a similar alteration of the seasons, see William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Nights
Dream...
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts / Far in the fresh lap of the crimson
rose, / And on old Hiems thin and icy crown / An odorous chaplet of sweet
summer buds / Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer, / The childing
autumn, angry winter, change / Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world, /
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
173
and everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed
from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces
which were unknown 15 .
16
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt . Who he
was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like
17 18
a Pharaoh . The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not
say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven
19
centuries , and that he had heard messages from places not on this

The human agricultural and seasonal calendar had long been shaped and punctuated by
the movements of the heavens, and so to disturb this could only be the work of
malevolent gods.
14 Autumn is the British word for the American fall, and was then in common use in

New England. In July 1911 a deadly eleven-day heat-wave struck New England and
killed 380 people. Temperatures were up to 106 degrees F., and New York City
reported another 211 people dead. The summer of 1919 had also been very hot
(brutally hot) and trying.
15 Much of the scientific orthodoxy on space and time was beginning to be seriously

overturned in the late 1910s. See note 35 for a fuller discussion.


16 Lovecraft had a life-long passion for all things Ancient Egyptian, and read widely on
the topic.
17 The name for the class of divine rulers of Ancient Egypt.
18 Fellahin common peasants, also sometimes claimed as the hidden Jews of

Egypt. See Gil Eyal ,The Disenchantment of the Orient. Stanford University Press, 2006.
p.54.
19 This seems to imply that he arose in Ancient Egypt, but being immortal he survived
to the present day. S.T. Joshi suggests this would place Nyarlathotep at around the 22nd
Dynasty.
See also Robert Buchanans magnificent The Devil's Case (1896), in which he
describes the Devil giving his account of his work as a teacher and builder in Ancient
Egypt...
Then I taught them hieroglyphics, / Mystic shapes and signs and letters, /
Where the story of the Ages / Written was on brass and stone; / Then the
busy Ants of Egypt / Raised the Pyramids around them / Shaping colonnades
and pylons / For the sepulchres of Kings. / Thus I taught them architecture,
/ How to hew the rocks and fashion / Monuments that stand for ever In
despite of God and Time. / Nay, to mock the mute Almighty, / the mystic
Sphynx invented, / Silent, impotent, impassive. / Gazing on a million graves!
174
20
planet . Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy,
slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and
21
metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger . He
spoke much of the sciences 22 of electricity and psychology 23

and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away
24
speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude .
Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And
where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent
with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of

/ Numbers, too, I taught the people, / How to measure Earth and Water,
/ By the stars and their progressions / Guide the floods and count the
seasons.
20 See William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice...
Theres not the smallest orb which thou beholdst / But in his motion like an
angel sings, / Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins; / Such harmony is in
immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close
it in, we cannot hear it.
This references the then-common concept of the music of the spheres. It recalls
Pythagoras and the belief in the mystical relation between mathematics and music and
planets in their motions. Also the astronomer/astrologer Ptolemy of Alexandria, who
closely related the harmonies of the spheres with the states of thought in man.
21 Perhaps symbolic of the ways in which alchemy, astrology, astronomy, mysticism
and early science were all co-mingled together in the early modern period. They only
really separated toward the end of the period of the Enlightenment in the 18th century.
22 Again, see Robert Buchanan, The Devils Case (1896)...
Im the father of all Science [...] / I, the Devil, am transcendental / Wise
in all the ways of knowledge / Even down to metaphysics.
23 The use of science here is probably meant to be read with irony. Electricity was

still seen by many as semi-magical and dangerous. Psychology was a very new science
and with a shaky claim to be such. Both were then associated in the common mind
with charlatans and quackery.
24 Will Murray has suggested the electrical showmanship of Nikola Tesla as an
inspiration here, as explained in Lovecraft Studies No. 25, Fall 1991. pp.25-29. S.T. Joshi
calls this a plausible conjecture, although it seems Lovecraft never saw Tesla in
person. Given the earlier allusion to Shakespeare, one might also suggest a vague
dream-merging of Oberon and Prospero?
175
nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost
wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of
cities 25 might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it
glimmered on green waters 26 gliding under bridges, and old steeples
crumbling against a sickly sky 27 .

I remember when Nyarlathotep came to my city 28 the great, the


old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes 29 . My friend had told me
of him 30 , and of the impelling fascination and allurement of his

25 Lovecraft here introduces the first of the sounds associated with cities. Possibly this
relates to the screams of shell-shocked soldiers, returned from the First World War?
But then it is elided into the more general alienage of the lived experience of the
modern large industrial city.
26 The moon methinks looks with a watery eye also salt green streams A
Midsummer Nights Dream. Green is the colour associated with the Moon by astrologers,
in the sign of Cancer. The Moon also has obvious control over water, in the form of
the tides.
27 It was at around this time that a combination of light pollution and airborne

particulates meant that the starry sky could no longer be seen clearly in most cities and
large towns. There is also an obvious crumbling of religion symbolism here, in... old
steeples crumbling.
28 Edison was commonly referred to as The Wizard of Menlo Park, and his
Vitascope presentation had come to Providence when Lovecraft was six years old. It
played to virtually the entire town for a month, twelve hours a day. See Charles Musser,
The Emergence of Cinema: the American screen to 1907. University of California Press, 1994.
p.125.
Yet a subway entrance is mentioned later in the story. Lovecraft knew Boston, which
from 1901 had the first active subway in the United States, and. But Boston had only a
basic three-station subway. For this reason I am inclined to think that Nyarlathotep
reflects more of Lovecrafts dream New York, a great city he had not yet visited but
whose subways he would certainly have read about. Loveman, whose letter apparently
inspired the story, was based in New York.
29 On 9th September 1919 the whole of the Boston police force deserted their posts,

leaving the city virtually defenceless. See: Francis Russell. A City in Terror: Calvin
Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. There had also been
vicious and sustained race riots in 1919. See Jan Voogd. Race riots and resistance: the Red
Summer of 1919. Peter Lang, 2008.
30 S.T. Joshi states that this refers to Samuel Loveman, Lovecrafts friend, giving a

letter in which Lovecraft says the story came to him a dream of receiving a letter from
176
revelations, and I burned with eagerness to explore his uttermost
mysteries 31 . My friend said they were horrible and impressive beyond
my most fevered imaginings; that what was thrown on a screen in the
darkened room 32 prophesied things none but Nyarlathotep dared
prophesy, and that in the sputter of his sparks 33 there was taken from
men that which had never been taken before yet which shewed only in
the eyes 34 . And I heard it hinted abroad that those who knew
Nyarlathotep looked on sights which others saw not 35 .

It was in the hot autumn that I went through the night with the
restless crowds to see Nyarlathotep; through the stifling night and up
the endless stairs into the choking room. And shadowed on a screen, I

Samuel Loveman telling him to go and see Nyarlathotep. See S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence.
Hippocampus, 2010. p.370.
31 Curiosity and its fatal or maddening consequences is one of Lovecrafts key fictional

themes.
32 The adolescent Lovecraft was an avid visitor to the early silent cinema. Possibly he
saw films such as Edisons 1910 one-reel adaptation of Frankenstein.
33 Brander Matthews short story The Kinetoscope of Time (1895) suggests seeing

sparks may have been a part of the early experience of looking into early peephole film
machines
infinitesimal sparks darted hither and thither, and there was a slight crackling
sound. I concentrated my attention on what I was about to see ...
34 Again, this may relate to the male viewing of erotic pornography in coin-operated
peephole kinetoscopes. Manhattan was the location for the first peepshow
kinetoscope parlor in 1894, set up by the showman and inventor Thomas Edison.
35 Unlocalised and chaotic, and ultimately ungraspable by the rational mind,

Nyarlathotep might almost be the very god of the theory of Relativity. Einsteins book
Relativity, the special and the general theory; a popular exposition had been published in 1920,
with good reviews in the major publications such as Nature. Corpuscular structures of
matter and the unknowable intersections of their outlines with spacetime geometry
were then really hot topics, as was the ability (or not) of the rational mathematical mind
to grasp the fundamental structure of the external world. All these are actual phrases
that appeared in discussions of the time.
177
saw hooded forms amidst ruins 36 , and yellow evil faces 37
peering
from behind fallen monuments. And I saw the world battling against
blackness; against the waves of destruction from ultimate space; 38
whirling, churning; struggling around the dimming, cooling sun 39 .
Then the sparks played amazingly around the heads of the spectators,
and hair stood up on end 40 whilst shadows more grotesque than I can
tell came out and squatted on the heads. And when I, who was colder
and more scientific than the rest, mumbled a trembling protest about
imposture and static electricity 41 , Nyarlathotep drave 42 us all out,
down the dizzy stairs 43 into the damp, hot, deserted midnight streets.
I screamed aloud that I was not afraid; that I never could be afraid; and

36Lovecraft seems to imply that evil occultists lurk behind superficially harmless
mysticism.
37 The late 1900s were the high point of non-white immigration to America, and a

vigorous and sustained public debate about illegal immigration was going on at the time
Lovecraft was writing. See Joel S. Fetzer, Public attitudes toward immigration in the United
States, France, and Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Lovecraft was especially
concerned about the yellow Asiatic races. For the assumed links between race and the
occult in America, see Susan Kay Gillman, Blood talk: American race melodrama and the
culture of the occult. University of Chicago Press, 2003.
38 General relativity theory had long predicted the existence of gravitational waves in
space.
39 Scientists did not yet know of nuclear energy and at that time they believed that the

Sun was gradually cooling. This led to the sort of pessimism for the future that can be
seen in the early scientific romances of H.G. Wells, among many others.
40 Spiritualism was largely predicated on the new discovery of electricity
Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Volume 2, 1990. p.770.
41 Houdini was back in the USA by July of 1920 and had set up home in New York
City. He quickly announced his desire to stop performing for a year, and to devote
himself instead to exposing the fraudulent nature of spiritualism. This was widely
reported and would have presumably greatly endeared the man to Lovecraft. Lovecraft
later met him and worked with him in exposing astrologers and spiritualist charlatans.
42 Archaic 18th Century spelling of swear.
43 Lovecrafts fear of fainting must have led him to be very wary of long flights of

steep and dimly-lit stairs, such as those found at subway entrances or in cinemas.
178
others screamed with me for solace 44 . We sware 45 to one another
that the city was exactly the same, and still alive 46 ; and when the
electric lights began to fade 47 we cursed the company over and over
again, and laughed at the queer faces we made.

I believe we felt something coming down from the greenish


moon48 , for when we began to depend on its light 49 we drifted into
curious involuntary formations 50 and seemed to know our destinations
51
though we dared not think of them. Once we looked at the
pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced by grass, with
scarce a line of rusted metal to shew 52 where the tramways had run 53 .

44 Hillel Schwartz states that To be spiritual around 1900 was, in the most

nondenominational of senses, to be receptive, contemplative, inwardly quiet. It was, in


the most nonscientific of senses, to be attentive to vibrations emanating from other
hearts, other beings, other times. In: Noise and Silence: the soundscape and
spirituality (paper given at the Realizing the Ideal conference, Korea, 1995). The bodily
loss of control of sound here thus seems to indicate a loss of spiritual communion as
well as simple mass panic.
45 Archaic 18th Century spelling of drove.
46 For Lovecraft on a dead New York, see the New York short story He (1925):

this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as
London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its
sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and infested with queer animate things which
have nothing to do with it as it was in life.
47 Lovecraft would have read of the frequent large-scale electrical power failures that
affected Philadelphia in 1919 and 1920. David E. Nye, When the Lights Went Out: A
History of Blackouts in America. MIT Press, 2010. p.19.
48 See my earlier note for a discussion of green moons.
49 Green is the colour of the moon in astrology, in the sign of Cancer. Possibly the
following phrase curious involuntary formations might then indicate the houses of
the zodiac?
50 Again, this evokes the astrological signs of the zodiac, which one is born into

without choice.
51 Again, this hint of predestinations seems to indicate being duped into believing in

astrology.
52 Archaic 18th Century spelling of show.
179
And again we saw a tram-car 54 , lone, windowless, dilapidated, and
almost on its side. When we gazed around the horizon, we could not
find the third tower by the river, and noticed that the silhouette of the
second tower was ragged at the top 55 . Then we split up into narrow
columns, each of which seemed drawn in a different direction 56 . One
disappeared in a narrow alley to the left, leaving only the echo of a
shocking moan. Another filed down a weed-choked subway entrance,
57
howling with a laughter that was mad 58. My own column was

53 The recalls a string of early British science fiction after civilisation poems and
stories, which show ruined cities in great detail.. For more information see my
anthology: London Reimagined: an Anthology of Visions of the Future City (2010). For the
American experience see George Allan Englands The Vacant World (1912), and chapter
6 of Nick Yablons Untimely ruins: an archaeology of American urban modernity, 1819-1919.
University of Chicago Press, 2010.
54 An early form of bus on rails set into the street, which was then transitioning from

steam and horse-drawn power to overhead electricity cables.


55 Boston has a river outlet to the sea, the River Charles. Possibly the three towers,
one ragged, reflects something of a real place? I know of no scholarship on the matter,
but I do not have access to sets of Lovecraft Studies, Lovecraft Annual, Crypt of Cthulhu, etc.
56 In Robert Buchanans magnificent The Devils Case (1896) the narrator is flown
by the Devil... Oer the silent lamplit City...
Over plains where ghostly armies / Came and went, and smote each other,
[] / Over silent legions waiting / For the nod of moon-struck rulers; [] /
Shrieks of men and wails of women / Filld the air with lamentation [...] / Like
strange forms reflected darkly / In the glass of a Magician
57 I cannot see a well or a subway entrance without shuddering. H.P. Lovecraft,

The Lurking Fear (1922).


58 On 1st August 1918 a then-new subway shuttle system opened in New York, and
there was a violent riot and stampede to get out of the new station. See Meyer Berger &
Pete Hamill, Meyer Berger's New York. Fordham University Press, 2004. p.102.
On the opening of the subway system in New York: Indescribable scenes of crowding
and confusion, never paralleled in this city. [] a deadly, suffocating, rib-smashing
subway rush which began at 7 oclock tonight. Men fought, kicked and pummeled one
another [] grey haired men pleaded for mercy, boys were knocked down and only
escaped by a miracle from being trampled underfoot. The presence of the police alone
averted what would undoubtedly have been panic after panic, with wholesale loss of
life. New York Tribune, 28th October 1904.
180
sucked toward the open country, and presently felt a chill which was
not of the hot autumn; for as we stalked out on the dark moor 59 , we
beheld around us the hellish moon-glitter of evil snows 60 . Trackless,
inexplicable snows, swept asunder in one direction only, where lay a
gulf all the blacker for its glittering walls. The column seemed very
thin indeed as it plodded dreamily into the gulf. I lingered behind, for
the black rift in the green-litten 61 snow was frightful, and I thought I
had heard the reverberations of a disquieting wail as my companions
vanished; but my power to linger was slight. As if beckoned by those
who had gone before 62 , I half floated between the titanic snowdrifts 63
, quivering and afraid, into the sightless vortex of the unimaginable.

Screamingly sentient, dumbly delirious, only the gods that were


can tell. A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not

59 Again, Robert Buchanans The Devil's Case (1896)... On the lonely Heath of
Hampstead I awakend. A heath is sort of moorland, like the heath where Macbeth
met the witches.
60 Lovecraft grew faint in low temperatures, and as a consequence feared the ice and
cold. In 1918... Climatic conditions during the winter were more severe than had been
experienced in New England for many years Annual Reports of the Department of
Agriculture 1918 (1919).
61 The green moon was adopted as a symbol by poets such as Lorca and Al-Bayati in
the 1930s and 40s, although they cannot have influenced Lovecraft nor were they
influenced by him. Such green and blue moons are associated with volcanic eruptions,
caused by dust in the atmosphere, and were especially noted in the Autumn after
Krakatoa erupted in 1883. Their rarity presumably gave rise to the popular saying
Once in a blue moon. It is possible that green moons had a similar saying in the
America of the 1910s, as in this comment from Furniture World magazine (Vol. 50, 1919)
talking of post-war shortages... In other words furniture is just about as obtainable as
green moons as we all know.
62 Lovecraft must have commonly heard or read such phrases immediately after the
Great War.
63 New England had especially deep and heavy snowfall of the winter 1915-16... The

heavy snowfall of the winter 1915-16 in New England has occasioned renewed interest
in the subject of previous snowy winters. Snowdrifts with a maximum depth of 15 to
40 feet were reported. Monthly Weather Review, Vol. 45, 1918.
181
hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights 64 of rotting
65
creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel
winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low 66 .
Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen
columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath
space and reach up to dizzy vacua 67 above the spheres of light and
darkness 68 . And through this revolting graveyard of the universe 69
the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous
whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers
beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping 70 whereunto dance

64 Robert Buchanan, The Devil's Case (1896), which features the Devil as a scientist-
magician in Egypt, has... Everywhere Disease and Famine / Held their ghastly
midnight revel
65 Charnel house a place or crypt for the storing of bones from dead bodies.
66 See my earlier note on the light and atmospheric pollution which dimmed the night
stars.
67 Vacua space completely devoid of any matter.
68 Classical antiquity believed in rings of mixed light and darkness between the earth
and the heavenly aether above, colour being formed as a secondary quality from the
interaction of these.
69 The whole story seems to be Lovecrafts prescient anticipation of the

disenchantment in the face of scientific advances in astronomy and astrophysics, and


the collapse of religion.
70 Commercial radio broadcasting of music and voice had begun in America in 1920.
The same year saw a public battle between competing commercial systems RCA and
General Electric, for patents to transmit signals into homes. On 20th November 1920
Westinghouse began a general radio broadcasting service. No doubt some of
Lovecrafts correspondents experimented at this time with home-made crystal radio
sets. Lovecraft would later enjoy twiddling the knobs to seeing how distant an overseas
station he could pick up. Soon the homes and hearths of America would be filled with
new types of spirit voices from their radios, and would increasingly pass
from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which
were unknown.
with the consequent move away from the skeptical fact-checking print-based
culture, to the believing huckster-credulous aural and visual mass cultures that existed
from the 1920s to the arrival of the mass Internet around at the end of 1995. The
182
slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods
71
the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is
Nyarlathotep.

contrast of noise and silence in Nyarlathotep seem to me to be very prescient (albeit


in a dream-like manner) of this fundamental shift in the culture from around 1920
onwards, and the dangers it presented in terms of the rise of demagogues. This is linked
in the story with the rise of the mob mind, those urban masses who act in a semi-
hypnotised manner. The mob mind was a popular concept and talking point around
1919-1920. E.A. Ross's best-selling book Social Control (1901) had suggested that people
were increasingly subject to a primitive suggestibility in crowded modern cities. In
1919 Rosss student Robert Gault published The Psychology of Suggestion, drawing heavily
on Ross's ideas and the concept of the mob mind, and this was no doubt reviewed in
publications Lovecraft might have read. One might also point to Gustave le Bons The
Crowd (published in America in 1896) which had argued that an individual who is too
long in a crowd... finds himself in a special state, which much resembles the state of
fascination in which the hypnotized individual finds himself in the hands of the
hypnotizer.
71 ultimate gods. Here Lovecraft anticipates his mythos of cosmic gods and beings
other than those of Earth. They appear again in his The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
(1927)
that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and
bubbles at the centre of all infinitythe boundless daemon sultan Azathoth,
whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in
inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled,
maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed
flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and
absurdly the gigantic Ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless
Other gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.
183
BIBLIOGRAPHY
This final bibliography is a core one. Books referenced in the footnotes for some
incidental facts or asides have not been included here. All footnotes try to give full
references where possible, to save a lot of tedious page-flipping or scrolling, and thus
there is no loss to the reader in terms of locating texts for further reading.

1) Walking as a practice

Joseph A. Amato. On Foot: A History of Walking. New York University


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Hakim Bey. For and Against Interpretation. In: Millennium.


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Francesco Careri. Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice (Land &


Scape). Gustavo Gili, 2001.

Michel De Certeau (trans. by Steven Rendall). Walking in the City, The


Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, 2006.

Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography. (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010.

Tim Cresswell. The Tramp in America. Reaktion Books, 2001.

Renia Ehrenfeucht and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Walking on the


Pavement: A Pre-Automobile History of Sidewalks, 18801920,
presentation to the Society for American City and Regional Planning
History, St. Louis, November 2003.

Irena Ehrenfeucht and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. Sidewalks: conflict and


negotiation over public space. The MIT Press, 2009.

184
Roger Farr. The Chronotype of the Derive: Notes Towards a Generic Description
of the Psychogeographical Novel. Online, no date.

Roger Gilbert. Walks in the World: Representation and Experience in Modern


American Poetry. Princeton University Press, 1991. [Surveys the walk poem
in American literature.]

Stephen Graham. The Gentle Art of Tramping. Ernest Benn, 1926.

Anke Gleber. Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, Literature, and Film in Weimar
Culture. Princeton University Press, 1998.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. The Enchanted City: Arthur Machen and


Locality Scenes from his Early London years. Durham University
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Neil Harris. Urban Tourism and the Commercial City. In: Taylor,
Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Martha J. Hoppin. Country paths and city sidewalks: the art of J.G. Brown.
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Tim Ingold. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot


(Anthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception). Ashgate, 2008.

Knabb, K. (Ed. and trans.). Situationist International Anthology. Bureau of


Public Secrets, 1981.

Arthur Machen. The London Adventure or The Art of Wandering. Martin


Secker, 1924.

Geoff Nicholson. The Lost Art Of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy,
Literature, Theory And Practice Of Pedestrianism. Harbour Books, 2010.

Kerry Segrave. America on Foot: Walking and Pedestrianism in the 20th


Century. McFarland & Co., 2006.

Edwin Valentine Mitchell, ed. The Art of Walking. Loring & Mussey, 1934.

185
Jeffrey C. Robinson. The Walk: Notes on a Romantic Image (Dalkey Archive
Scholarly). Dalkey Archive Press, 2007.

Sadie Plant. The Most Radical Gesture. Routledge, 1992.

Andrea Phillips. Walking and Looking. Cultural Geographers. No 12,


2005, pp. 507-513.

Rebecca Solnit. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Verso Books, 2006.

John Stilgoe. Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in


Everyday Places. Walker, 1998.

Nick Wagstaff. A Patchwork of Digressions: Arthur Machen and The


London Adventure. Faunus 22, 2011.

Anne D. Wallace. Walking, literature, and English culture: the origins and uses
of peripatetic in the nineteenth century. Clarendon Press, 1993. [On the early
origins of literary walking as an oppositional practice.]

Yi-Fu Tuan. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and


Values. Columbia University Press, 1990.

Donald Zochert. Walking in America. Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

The Philosophy of the Overlooked: Walking. June 19th, 2006. The


London Consortium / ICA. [Symposium]

2) The night and night walking

Christopher Dewdney. Acquainted with the night: excursions through the world
after dark. Harper Collins, 2005.

Mark Caldwell. New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. Simon and
Schuster, 2005.

A. Roger Ekirch. At Days Close: Night in Times Past. W.W. Norton, 2006.

186
Edward Harrison. Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe. Harvard
University Press, 1987. [History of science book, on the riddle of why the
sky is dark at night]

John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins
University Press, 2001.

Kerry Segrave. America on Foot: Walking and Pedestrianism in the 20th


Century. McFarland & Co., 2006.

William Chapman Sharpe. New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in
Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950. Princeton University
Press, 2008.

Joachim Schlor. Nights in the big city: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930.
Reaktion, 1998.

David Pike. Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban


Culture, 18002001. Cornell University Press, 2007.

Bryan D. Palmer. Cultures of Darkness : night travels in the histories of


transgression. Monthly Review Press, 2000.

3) The modern city

Karin Bijsterveld. Mechanical Sound: technology, culture, and public problems of


noise in the city. MIT Press, 2008.

Nicholas Blomley. Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public


Flow. Routledge, 2010.

Paul S. Boyer. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920.


Harvard University Press, 1992.

Neil Harris. Urban Tourism and the Commercial City. In: Taylor,
Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

187
John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins
University Press, 2001.

Clay McShane, and Joel Arthur Tarr. The Horse in the City: living machines
in the nineteenth century. JHU Press, 2007.

Rob Lapsley. Mainly in Cities and at Night: Some Notes on Cities and
Film, in Clarke, Cinematic City, pp. 186-208.

Alex Marshall. Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities. Running
Press, 2007.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in


the Nineteenth Century. University of California Press, 1995. [History of
street-lighting]

Peter D. Norton. Fighting Traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American
city. MIT Press, 2008.

David Pike. Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban


Culture, 18002001. Cornell University Press, 2007.

Jonathan Raban. Soft City. The Harvill Press, 1974.

4) Cities and writers

Dana Brand. The Spectator and the City in Nineteenth-Century American


Literature. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Mary Ann Caws. City Images: perspectives from literature, philosophy, and film.
Routledge, 1991.

Joanna Levin. Bohemia in America, 1858-1920. Stanford University Press,


2010.

188
Philippe Laplace and Eric Tabuteau. Cities on the margin, on the margin of
cities : representations of urban space in contemporary Irish and British fiction.
Presses universitaires franc-comtoises, 2003.

Robert Mighall. A Geography of Victorian Gothic fiction: mapping historys


nightmares. Oxford University Press, 1999.

William Chapman Sharpe. New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in
Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950. Princeton University
Press, 2008.

Andrew Levy. The culture and commerce of the American short story.
Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Edward J. OBrien. The Dance of the Machines: The American Short Story and
the Industrial Age. MacCaulay, 1929.

David Pike. Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban


Culture, 18002001. Cornell University Press, 2007.

Michael Sheringham. City Space, Mental Space, Poetic Space: Paris in


Breton, Benjamin and Rda. In: Parisian Fields. Reaktion Books, 1996.

Bryan D. Palmer. Cultures of Darkness : night travels in the histories of


transgression. Monthly Review Press, 2000.

Lawrence Phillips, Anne Witchard (Eds.). London Gothic: Place, Space and
the Gothic Imagination. Continuum, 2010.

Yi-Fu Tuan. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and


Values. Columbia University Press, 1990.

Peter Turchi. Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. Trinity


University Press, 2009.

189
5) New York in the 1920s

Michael W. Brooks. Subway city: riding the trains, reading New York.
Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Mark Caldwell. New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. Simon and
Schuster, 2005.

George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of
the Gay Male World 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1995.

Joel S. Fetzer. Public attitudes toward immigration in the United States, France,
and Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Jennifer Fronc. New York undercover: private surveillance in the Progressive


Era. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Jay A. Gertzman. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-


1940. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Neil Harris. Urban Tourism and the Commercial City. In: Taylor,
Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Michael A. Lerner. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Harvard


University Press, 2008.

Joanna Levin. Bohemia in America, 1858-1920. Stanford University Press,


2010.

James Nevius. Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. James
Nevius, 2009.

Julia Solis. New York Underground: the anatomy of a city. Routledge, 2004.

Douglas Tallack. New York sights: visualizing old and new New York. Berg,
2005.

Caroline Farrar Ware. Greenwich Village, 1920-1930. University of


California Press, 1994.

190
6) Urban America in the 1920s

Susan Kay Gillman. Blood talk: American race melodrama and the culture of the
occult. University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Andrew P. Haley. Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American
Middle Class, 1880-1920. University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Neil Harris. Urban Tourism and the Commercial City. In: Taylor,
Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins
University Press, 2001.

Eric H. Monkkonen. Police in urban America, 1860-1920. Cambridge


University Press, 2004.

Mae M. Ngai. Impossible subjects: illegal aliens and the making of modern
America. Princeton University Press, 2005.

7) H.P. Lovecraft.

Mara Kirk Hart and S. T. Joshi (eds.). Lovecrafts New York Circle: The
Kalem Club, 1924-1927. Hippocampus Press, 2006.

S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 vols.).


Hippocampus Press, 2010.

S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade,
2005.

S.T. Joshi. Lovecrafts Library: A Catalogue (2nd revised edition).


Hippocampus Press, 2002.

Maurice Lvy. H.P. Lovecraft and Surrealism. Books At Brown, No 38/39.


1991/1992. pp.101-109. [H.P. Lovecraft special issue, apparently not
published until 1995.]

191
H.P. Lovecraft, with David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (eds.) Lord of a Visible
World: An Autobiography in Letters. Ohio University Press, 2000.

H.P. Lovecraft. Collected Essays 4: Travel. Hippocampus Press, 2006.

David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia.


Hippocampus Press, 2004.

Cat and typical New York all-night caf of the period, seen at night, of the sort
Lovecraft and his circle would have patronized in the city.

Picture: Mark Sebastian, Creative Commons.

192
INDEX
Bronx, 63, 154
A Brooklyn, 7, 36, 53, 56, 61, 80, 81,
All-Story, The, 160, 162 89, 99, 101, 115, 135
anarchists, 14, 54, 95
C
Angell, Professor, 132, 133, 141
anthropology, 129, 130, 131, 133, Call of Cthulhu, The, 7, 12, 30, 37,
135, 136, 139, 145, 146, 147 60, 111, 123, 132, 133, 134, 135,
Aragon, 12, 30, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38, 136, 138, 139, 141, 153, 159, 161,
44, 51, 62 162, 163, 167, 169
artists, 50, 78, 79, 109, 126, 137 canes, walking, 24, 25, 49
Asiatic, 75, 177 Castaneda, 130
astrology, 119, 140, 141, 174, 178 Catholics, 24, 73, 112, 113, 115, 116,
astronomy, 12, 135, 140, 150, 151, 126
161, 162, 174, 181 catnip, 17, 48
autumn, 48, 173, 180 cats, 14, 17, 38, 47, 48
Azathoth, 182 cemetery, 10, 36
censorship, 113, 115
B Chicago, 63, 107, 111, 136, 167, 177,
Baudelaire, 33 179, 189, 190
Belknap, 46, 74 Chinatown, 57, 74, 96, 103
Bergson, 138 cinema, 10, 152, 176
Berlin, 38, 62, 186 Clinton Street, 7, 24, 49, 81, 101
bicycles, 9 cobblestones, 52
Blake, William, 24 COBRA, 40
bohemianism, 109, 137, 141, 187, Coleridge, 22, 24, 28
189 communism, 95
bomb, 54, 95 Coney Island, 13, 81, 82, 122, 123
Borges, 68 cosmicism, 35, 42
Boston, 88, 90, 92, 95, 97, 99, 175, craniometry, 131
179 crowds, 89, 93, 94, 101, 176
Bowery, 53, 58

193
D Franz Boas, 6, 129, 130, 131, 133,
135, 136, 139, 142, 145, 146, 147,
Dagognet, 39
159
Dagon, short story, 12, 168
Freud, 10, 126, 137, 138, 140, 141
Dante, 98
Fu Manchu, 96
De Quincey, 22, 23, 24, 26, 32, 33,
40
G
Debord, 12, 39, 42
Galpin, 29, 30, 169
DeJean, 39
Devetsil, 32 gargoyles, 123, 182
gaslight, 62, 65
Dickens, 61
George Kirk, 11, 24, 64, 74, 78, 113,
Doc Savage, 104, 127
Double-R Coffee House, 76, 77, 78, 114, 150
Germany, 72, 177, 189
79, 80, 109, 141
Gernsback, 99, 103, 162
Dowson, 24
ghastly, 158, 181
E Golem, 32
gothic, 10, 23, 32, 35, 36, 37, 42, 94
Edison, 63, 175, 176
Greenland, 134, 135
Egypt, 124, 144, 168, 170, 171, 173,
Greenwich Village, 79, 109, 126,
181
141, 189
Egyptian, 123, 124, 144, 168, 173
Einstein, 150, 151, 161, 172, 176
H
Encylopeadia Britannica, 57, 117,
Hart Crane, 37, 78, 97
119
Haunter of The Dark, 163
Eskimo, 129, 130, 133, 134, 137, 159
ethnography, 16, 130, 132, 133, 136, heroin in NYC, 59
Horror At Red Hook, short story,
137, 138, 139, 140, 145
114, 117
F horses in the city, 53, 56, 57, 58, 66,
69
Fishhead, short story, 160
Houdini, 7, 119, 120, 135, 141, 177
folklore, 10, 117, 118, 136, 145, 146
Francis Thompson, 24
Frankenstein, 104, 176

194
I M

ice-cream, 6, 13, 62, 76, 82, 83, 84 Machen, 4, 23, 26, 33, 46, 184, 185
immigration, 54, 72, 75, 131, 177, magic, 28, 111, 118, 120, 122, 127,
189 170
Innsmouth, 160 Malinowski, 130
Irish, 73, 111, 113, 115, 188 manikins, 33, 62
Italian, 81, 111, 112, 115, 145 maps, 4, 27, 41, 67, 69
Marcellin, 146, 147
J Margaret Mead, 130
Jamaica, NYC, 64 Masonic, 110, 123
jazz, 10, 73 Masons, belief group, 110
Jews, 32, 73, 74, 116, 117, 173 Maxfield, 83, 84
Jung, 10, 72, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141 Maze, see labyrinth
McNeil, 10, 78
K Minotaur, 68
Kabbalah, 116, 117, 118, 119 Morton, 9, 49, 75, 85, 132, 136, 147,
Kadath, 182 150, 152
Kafka, 68 Munsey, 159, 160, 161
Kalem Club, 11, 24, 30, 49, 60, 64,
N
74, 76, 78, 113, 132, 136, 147,
150, 190 Nadja, 32, 51
Kipling, 44
O
Kleiner, 24, 49
Oberon, 174
L
Oscar Wilde, 24
labyrinths, 67, 68, 97, 108
P
lanterns, 62, 65, 97
Leeds, 79, 150 Paris, 12, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38,
Lefebvre, 39, 40 39, 42, 43, 51, 52, 62, 108, 153,
Lilith, 117, 129 156, 178, 186, 188
Loveman, 10, 17, 48, 57, 65, 76, 78, Paris Peasant, novel, 12, 30, 32, 33,
153, 171, 175 34, 51

195
Plato, 93 Russia, 75, 110
Plotto, book, 126
Poe, 24, 25, 33, 97, 98, 159 S

Poughkeepsie, 150 Samael, 117


Providence, 7, 9, 15, 32, 66, 73, 74, Schivelbusch, 61, 187
75, 95, 121, 132, 136, 141, 149, Segrave, 184, 186
150, 160, 161, 167, 170, 172, 175, Serviss, 154, 161, 162, 163, 166, 167
176, 190 Shakespeare, 77, 172, 174
psychoanalysis, 133, 136, 137, 138, shamans, 134, 135
139, 140, 145 shoggoth, 96, 101
psychogeography, 12, 14, 22, 31, 41, Situationist, 12, 29, 39, 40, 42, 44,
42, 44 184
psychology, 136, 138, 139, 140, 141, skyscrapers, 101, 149, 152, 156
174 slums, 11, 36, 67
Ptolemy, 174 smell, 28, 57, 67
Spider, The, 103, 127
Q
spiritualism, 110, 122, 125, 141, 172,
Quatrefages, 146, 147 177
queer, 11, 25, 36, 59, 78, 79, 97, 109, Stopes trial, 116
134, 141, 153, 178 Subways, 107
Surrealism, 29, 30, 31, 35, 37, 39, 40,
R 41, 42, 47, 49, 51, 62, 190
radio, 10, 66, 126, 181 Suydam, 36, 99, 117, 129, 135, 137
Reich, 136
T
Relativity, 161, 172, 176
Rhode Island, 83, 84, 141 Taormina, 81
Roerich, 110 terrorism, 54, 55, 95
Rosemont, 31, 49 Tesla, 174
Rosicrucians, 110 The Hound, short story, 10, 51
Rosner, 58 The Mound, short story, 115, 116
Ross, 40, 93, 95, 182 The Street, short story, 15, 43, 54,
Ruskin, 35, 54, 68 67, 73, 95

196
Theosophists, 109, 110 Wandrei, 84, 166, 167, 169
Thoreau, 25 Warren, NYC, 83, 84
Weird Tales, 99, 102, 103, 114, 115,
U
161, 163, 167
urbanism, 40, 42 Wilmarth, 146
Wisconsin, 66, 130, 139, 142
V
Y
Verne, 156
VVV, magazine, 31 Yiddish, 57, 66, 74, 110, 117
Yog-Sothoth, 163
W Yonkers, 55, 149, 150
Walpole, 35, 36

197
Selected books by the same author, in paperback at
Lulu.com or for the Kindle ereader.

Books on H.P. Lovecraft:


Ice Cores : essays on Lovecrafts novella At the Mountains of Madness.
Lovecraft in Historical Context: Essays.
Lovecraft in Historical Context : Further Essays and Notes.
Lovecraft in Historical Context: a Third Collection of Essays and Notes.

Fiction:
The Time Machine: a sequel. (For the Kindle in the USA only)

Anthologies:
Werewolves in Literature: Vol.1.
Werewolves in Literature: Vol.2.
London Reimagined : an anthology of visions of the future city. (Free)

198
Published in the United Kingdom, 31st August 2011.

Subsequent revisions for minor typing errors.

A Kindle ebook edition is also available on Amazon.

199
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