In 1990 Mark and I traveled to Rhode Island and Massachusetts for Lovecraft’s centennial. In company with the redoubtable Keith Herber and his friend Rick we visited Salem, Providence, and several of the towns that inspired Kingsport and Arkham. Keith was at that time writing his landmark series of books on Lovecraft Country for Chaosium and we could not have wished for a more engaging travel companion; when we return to New England next month for NecronomiCon Providence we will miss his sly smile and ready laugh.
One goal of our trip in 1990 was to try to rediscover Lovecraft Country by visiting each of the towns he had used as the basis of his famous fictional versions. When we stayed in a low-ceilinged Salem guesthouse which had been continuously inhabited for 300 years we were half expecting to see Brown Jenkin scamper across the counterpane.
Most of Lovecraft’s invented towns were based on two or three actual towns, frequently combing the geographic location of one with the architecture or atmosphere of another.
Arkham is generally based on Salem, however Salem is a sea port and Arkham is inland. Lovecraft probably originally based Arkham on New Salem, a town in the Swift river valley, which became the Miskatonic. The nearby town of Oakham most likely contributed to the fictional name.
When proposals to dam the Swift river to create the Quabbin reservoir were proposed in the late 1920s, the ever-scrupulous Lovecraft felt forced to move his mythical town. Arkham became geographically identical to Salem.
The hamlet of Greenwich appears to be the inspiration for Dunwich, in terms of physical proximity to New Salem, although other, more rural towns were mentioned by Lovecraft as closer in spirit to its isolated “backwoods” atmosphere. Lovecraft, again for reasons of geographic accuracy, ceased to use Dunwich as a location once plans for the reservoir were mooted.
The Quabbin reservoir was eventually created several years after Lovecraft’s death in 1937, and Greenwich was indeed razed and drowned. The reservoir features, unnamed, in ‘The Color Out of Space’, where nothing will make the narrator drink the new town water of Arkham.
Kingsport is based on Marblehead and the nearby Rockport.
Innsmouth is inspired by Newburyport’s architecture, but geographically placed on the fishing village of Gloucester. Hence the narrator of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ gets on the bus at Newburyport and then travels to Innsmouth.
With thanks to the following eldritch tomes for refreshing my failing memory:
Eckhardt, Jason C. Off the Ancient Track: A Lovecraftian Guide to New England and Adjacent New York, Necronomicon Press 1987
Cooke, Jon. B. (ed.) H.P. Lovecraft Centennial Guidebook: A Handbook of the Weekend of Events Celebration the 100th Birthday of a Great Horror Writer. ‘Lovecraft’s New England: The Haunted Backwaters of HPL’, Murray, W. Montilla Publications 1990
At the time I took some notes of the epitaphs on the tombstones in the Salem and Newburyport graveyards. The notebook in which I recorded them is long lost, but these days we have Wikipedia to fill in the blanks. It is fitting, for this post, that the last words belong to the dead:
Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.
– Epitaph on a New England gravestone