From time to time, I must admit, I indulge myself by prattling on about various artists, writers, actors, and other celebrity types that have lived in or passed through our fair town. Let’s face it, we all like a little celebrity gossip now and again. So, that said, this week I’m going to indulge myself once again and talk about one of America’s “masters of the macabre,” Providence’s own Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft.
Now Lovecraft’s short life in and of itself is a bit on the macabre side. Both of his parents went insane and died in Butler Hospital. He was raised by grandparents and various spinster aunts, had one short failed marriage and lived a life focused almost completely on his writings. Additionally, thankfully for us, he was also a prolific letter writer; and through these letters we are able to see that old H.P. had a soft spot in his heart for South County.
He was attracted to the land of the Swamp Yankee due to the ancestry of his mother’s family. Through her, his family tree was full of Phillips, Rathbuns, Caseys, Dyers, Hazards, and Wilcox’s, and Lovecraft wished to commune with these departed souls via travel in their old haunts. Unfortunately for him, he did not own an automobile. His friends and fellow horror writers E. Hoffman Price, Edward H. Cole, and James F. Morton did however, and every time he would get together with one of them, a-traveling they would go. These visits to North Kingstown occurred during the first half of the 1930s and are detailed in his voluminous correspondence.
Lovecraft was particularly taken with Gilbert Stuart’s Birthplace, and actually visited it several times, bringing Cole and Price with him on separate occasions. He marveled at the “venerable old water mill” and enjoyed the “winding roads, stone walls, verdant slopes and meads, and shadowy woods” along the way there. Wickford itself, Lovecraft found “exquisite beyond words” with its “crumbling wharves, great elms, and centuried white houses.” He walked the village’s shady streets and lanes and paid homage to his family’s past at the Old Narragansett Church.
Lovecraft was also taken with the whole concept of the Narragansett Planter Society that existed here in South County in the 1700s. He wrote to many of his pen pals of the days of Narragansett Pacers, and vast dairy plantations run by fine gentlemen utilizing the labor of countless slaves. He compared the area at that time to Virginia and marveled at the similarities between the two places. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was often quotes as saying, as is written on his gravestone, “I am Providence,” but he also took a shine to our fair town as well.