December 27, 2007

Finding Lovecraft: A Pilgrimage to Providence

As we'd hoped, we managed to locate H.P. Lovecraft's grave in Swan Point Cemetery. The easiest way to do this is to go to the cemetery office. Just inside the front door is a kiosk that allows you to select the name of the person you're looking for and then prints a map that gives the general vicinity of their grave. We had coordinates provided by a geocaching enthusiast but they turned out to be very inaccurate, placing Lovecraft's grave well outside the cemetery gate. The cemetery itself is about 200 square acres, so it's a bad gaffe. If you have a GPS unit, though, the correct coordinates are 41° 51.244N, 71°22.864W. That should put you within about 10 feet of the gravesite. The cemetery map you'll receive from the kiosk is a little confusing; it doesn't give street names, just lot numbers (Lovecraft is in lot 276), and these aren't in order. Bring the GPS and save yourself some time.

This image is looking back up the road from Lovecraft's grave; the street running across the foreground is Avenue B.

Street sign showing the number of the lot in which Lovecraft's grave is located. It's practically in a straight line across the road from this sign.

This shot shows the view of the area in which the grave is located as seen from the sign. Using these three images, you should have no problem finding the Lovecraft family plot.

One of the two obelisks from the previous shot in more detail. The plot belongs to Lovecraft's relatives, the Phillips.

Lovecraft's grave is located directly in front of that of Byron Whitford and just to the left of the Potter marker.

When you see this view, you've found H.P. Lovecraft and his parents, Winfield and Sarah. Congratulations, you've arrived. The stones are notably nondescript. There should be some squat alien Cthulhu-esque deity somewhere in the shot by now!

The above sequence of six photos, combined with the coordinates, should be enough for anyone to find the grave site. Just for the record, when I took the GPS reading while standing next to HPL's headstone, the screen on my unit turned half black. It has never done that before. It's coincidence, of course, but did add a tiny air of mystery to what was otherwise a pretty bland spot. Folks really need to chip in and buy some sort of marker for the grave that conveys something more about Lovecraft's work. As it is, even the Swan Point Cemetery website doesn't list Lovecraft as one of the noteworthy individuals interred there, and that's just wrong.

The headstone of HPL's father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft.

Lovecraft's mother, Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft. The resemblance between mother and son was quite striking.

At last, here's H.P. Lovecraft's headstone. Considering how much Lovecraft disliked anyone not of English ancestry (other than his Jewish wife, Sonia Greene, whom he probably wound up hating eventually), the irony of myself and LL standing there didn't escape us. We half-expected a skeletal hand to reach up from the grave and shoo us away.

Offerings left at the grave sometime before the last snowstorm. They include a plastic cartoon cat, a sketch advocating Cthulhu for president in 2008, and a large green translucent glass marble. I added my own as well:

LL snapped this photo of my offering with her cell phone. It's an expired Florida license plate with the words "That is not dead which can eternal lie..." written on the top in permanent marker. It seemed appropriate somehow.

A photo of myself with the headstone, the closest I'll ever get to being photographed with Lovecraft. Even were he still alive, he probably wouldn't have associated with the likes of me, anyhow. Still, I started reading his works when I was 8 years old and have almost certainly read nearly everything he ever wrote short of a shopping list. That includes not only his prose but also his dreadful poetry and most of his correspondence.

After the visit to the grave, we headed into Providence to find Lovecraft's home at 454 Angell Street. The address no longer exists.

The view up Angell Street from the corner at which Lovecraft's home once stood.

The corner of Angell and Elm Grove is now occupied by this multi-dwelling building, called 8 Elm Grove, on one side of Elm Grove. The house directly across from this, which looks like it may well have been standing long before HPL came along, is 453 Angell St., so the corner in this photo is the most likely site at which Lovecraft's childhood home once stood. However...

Directly across Elm Grove stands this Starbuck's outlet, and it's possible that HPL's house stood on this corner or straddled what is now Elm Grove and included both properties. I wonder what Lovecraft would have had to say about Starbuck's. It is a bit like one of the Great Old Ones, after all.

Finally, here's a shot of 453 Angell Street, the old house standing across from Lovecraft's former address. This is a bit more like what Lovecraft's house would have looked like. There are a few old houses like this in the vicinity, but there are also a good number of more recent buildings, particularly storefronts and apartment buildings.

I'm not sure why, but Providence doesn't seem to attach much significance to Lovecraft's heritage. I don't think there are any markers to his memory in the city, let alone a street named for him or some such thing. That's too bad considering how popular he is now. It's also a bit ironic considering the epitaph on his headstone.

Nevertheless, it seemed fitting to visit H.P. Lovecraft on a Squidmas Eve in New England. Next time, we'll try conjuring Cthulhu, or perhaps I'll stand on his grave and shout "Hastur" a few times to see what happens.

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