Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Simulacrum Lives!

Figures fill our worlds. Shop front dummies.  Statues in public places. Images on screens. What do these figures want? What do they mean? Do their eyes follow us when we’re not looking back at them?

When we visited the United States recently for GenCon Indy and Necronomicon Providence we were thinking of Horror on the Orient Express as it steamed inexorably towards its publication date. However we were not dwelling on a certain arcane artifact that features within it. My mind was running mainly on proof reading and header styles.  And on that note, if you plan to play in Horror on the Orient Express, please stop reading as I am about to offer certain insights into said artifact that may or may not be involved in the investigators’ continent-spanning quest.

In San Francisco I pointed out a shopfront dummy to Mark. ‘why, I said, gaily, ‘That looks just like You-Know-What.’  Chuckling at the coincidence we took a photograph.

The First Simulacrum

The First Simulacrum

Shortly afterwards we saw another figure. This time the coincidence seemed slightly less amusing. Was it because the figure was now, how can put this, unnervingly incomplete? Was it because that this was when we felt the first, haunting sense, of being followed? Nevertheless we were tourists. It was broad daylight. What could go wrong? We do what tourists do. We took a photograph.

The Second Simulacrum

The Second Simulacrum

We left San Francisco without further sightings of any mysterious figures. Surely, even if we were being – followed –  we could easily elude our follower in the crowds of GenCon Indy? So it proved, for the first few days.

On the third day I was fool enough to leave the convention, and venture down the quiet mall next door. It was a bright, sunny day. Little did I think to discover the horror…oh the horror…

The Third Simulacrum

The Third Simulacrum

Who as this good doctor, and why was he being threatened by a crowd of amputated legs? I looked closer.

The Right and Left Legs

The Right and Left Legs

I hurried back to the convention center and mingled gratefully with the happy, oblivious crowds. I hoped I might forget. But it was not to be.  We found nowhere to hide in New York. It tracked us down, even in broad daylight and amid the bustling crowds of Times Square. Look – up there! On the Times Square Screens!

The Fourth Simulacrum

The Fourth Simulacrum

It was too much. We fled New York for the peace of Providence, Rhode Island. Surely in this quiet university town we could lose this sense of being followed by an implacable and vindictive force?  What harm could come from browsing in the hallowed and venerable precincts of the Brown university bookshop?

The Fifth Simulacrum

The Fifth Simulacrum

Averting our eyes from that dreadful, insensate, blank visage we fled the bookshop, seeking the peace of the dreaming, pristine lawns of the university. Surely no horror would dare set foot upon this sacred turf – ARRRRGGGGHH!

The Sixth Simulacrum

The Sixth Simulacrum

Has anyone seen Mark? It’s been a few weeks now and I’m starting to get quite worried.

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Walking College Hill

During Necronomicon Providence we walked the streets of Lovecraft’s beloved College Hill and surrounds. In those few days we toiled up and down and all around a remarkably steep hill, both by ourselves and with a Lovecraft’s College Hill Walking Tour led by the inimitable Rory Raven. Under Rory’s able guidance we toured the favorite haunts of Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. We learned a little of the colorful history of Providence, whose founding fathers were a lively collection of privateers, slave traders and determined defenders of religious and personal liberty.

Rory Raven's College Hill Walking Tour

Rory Raven’s College Hill Walking Tour

Highlights of the tour included houses mentioned in Lovecraft’s tales. The Fleur de Lys Studios housed the studio of that dreaming artist Henry Wilcox whose work made such an impression in The Call of Cthulhu. Mark was suitably horrified.

Fleur de Lys Studio

Fleur de Lys Studio

The Studio also has a connection to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of that superb weird tale, The Yellow Wallpaper. Her artist husband had a studio in the building. Lovecraft hated the Fleur de Lys building, considering it horrible Victorian pastiche, all the more insulting because it was across the street from the First Baptist Church, which he considered a near perfect example of American Georgian architecture. For art enthusiasts, I need to point out that the Providence Art Club, mentioned in my previous post, is on the same street and just up the hill. College Hill is a compact place.

First Baptist Church, Providence

First Baptist Church, Providence

The church is a beautiful building, and its dreaming white steeple could be glimpsed from many parts of Providence. Lovecraft attended the church a few times with his mother and aunts, however he early confessed atheism. Rumor has it that he was expelled from Sunday school after taking the side of the lions against the Christians. However much he disdained organised religion, Lovecraft loved the building and brought all his friends here. He even once sneaked in and tried to play ‘Yes we have no bananas’ on the church organ.

Considering Lovecraft’s early lapse, the church elders were remarkably tolerant of the Lovecraft enthusiasts, and allowed Neconomicon Providence to hold its opening address in the church. This splendid occasion, complete with opening speech by renowned Lovecraft scholar, S.T. Joshi, was spookily interrupted midway through by a ghostly rendition of ‘Yes we have no bananas’.

We visited the H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square. It was more a memorial crossing, but the thought was there. The sign certainly stood at a suitably non-Euclidian angle.

H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square

Rory Raven proved so able a guide, both in his literary enthusiasm and love for his town, that on the last night of our stay I led my own, slightly inebriated, ghost tour of College Hill a for some friends, shamelessly poaching from Rory’s excellent Haunted Providence. Touring College Hill in the dark was a perfect farewell.

Haunted College Hill

Haunted College Hill

We visited an authentically hollowed graveyard, shunned the Shunned House, and viewed Charles Dexter Ward’s mansion from a safe distance.

Looking Down Angell Street

Looking Down Angell Street towards the Arts Club

At one stage I was convinced we were being followed by Brown Jenkins. That is, until our American friends assured me the animal skulking along behind us was a skunk. This was hardly reassuring to an Australian.

As you can see from this final picture, once again returning to Lovecraft’s beloved Prospect Terrace, I think our ghostly homage to Lovecraft and Raven formed a fitting finale.

Haunted Lovecraft Tour

Haunted Lovecraft Tour

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Necronomicon Providence

Necronomicon Providence has come and gone, but it has taken a fortnight for the experience to settle into a stream of coherent images and sentences rather than a series of random thoughts and experiences that trail off into ranting and disconnected gibberish. Visiting Lovecraft’s town, walking his streets, and  standing on Prospect Terrace and seeing the view he loved so much, was unexpectedly moving and oddly profound.

Prospect Terrace Park

Prospect Terrace Park 2013

On the first night of the convention we attended a talk given by Henry Beckwith, author of Lovecraft’s Providence and Adjacent Parts. This was held at the Providence Art Club. Beckwith gave a very personal talk on Lovecraft and  his own memories of Providence. He, like Lovecraft, had rarely moved from College Hill. He concluded with a simple yet profound comment: ‘A man can only ever be born in one place at one time.’ What a lucky man to have been born in that time and this place.

Providence Arts Club

Providence Arts Club

The Providence Art Club, besides hosting Beckwith’s illuminating talk, also hosted one of three art exhibits of the convention. The art ranged from loving homage to skull-searingly weird and one of the paintings, in the  Brown University art exhibition, Grey. Brittle. haunts me still. The title, and subject matter, were taken from The Color Out of Space and for me represented the most unsettling of all the art on display in portraying Lovecraft’s unearthly vision. Meanwhile, back at the Providence Art Club, Lovecraft enthusiasts may recognize the star of the HPLHS’s immortal silent movie, Call of Cthulhu.

HPLHS Cthulhu model

HPLHS Cthulhu model

We also visited  the Providence Athenaeum, the most delightful library I have ever seen. Beloved by both Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft, the Athenaeum was holding a Lovecraft exhibit to coincide with Neconomicon Providence, and the unveiling of Bryan Moore’s H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust project. Among the papers, books, busts and postcards I was moved to see Lovecraft’s letter which he wrote on his return to Providence from his “exile” in New York.

Lovecraft's Providence homecoming letter

Lovecraft’s Providence homecoming letter

Meanwhile Mark was delighted to find his own work among the items collected for the Lovecraft exhibit.

Mark at the Athaneaeum with a Spanish copy of Call of Cthulhu.

Mark at the Athaneaeum with a Spanish copy of Call of Cthulhu.

At the unveiling we were lucky enough to meet Bryan  Moore, the exceptionally talented and loquacious bust sculptor, who adopted Mark as “Mark, from Australia!’ and later introduced him to one of Mark’s favorite musicians, Lustmord, who playing at a gig in Providence in Lovecraft’s honor.

H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust sculpted by Btyan Moore

H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust sculpted by Bryan Moore

As a surprise for all the backers at the unveiling, the organizers produced an  excerpt from Brett Rutherford’s play Nightgaunts, a play based on the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft. This wonderful performance was made even more memorable as the actor Carl Johnson, who played H.P. Lovecraft, had played the same role in the original production in 1988, and he spoke of his feelings at meeting the man again after all those years.

Mark with Carl Johnson, as H.P. Lovecraft

Mark with Carl Johnson as H.P. Lovecraft

For me the most spine tingling  lines, a congruent mix of fact and fiction, were given to Susan Lovecraft as she descended into madness at Providence’s Butler hospital, based on excerpts from her diary: “Something about corners? Well, you wouldn’t know, of course. It took me years to understand. Not just any corners, mind you. Only perfectly square corners where the walls meet the ceiling… an intersection of three planes. A mathematician could explain it… my son Howard could explain it. Such corners are weak places, like little mouse holes. They see us through them. They watch us. If it’s dark enough, they come out.”

The Phillips family plot, Swan Point Cemetery Providence

The Phillips family plot, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence

As a fitting tribute to the Horror on the Orient Express,  we were delighted to discover that Providence boasted a bar called the Red Fez, where the special guests were feted. Providence also had a district called the Turk’s Head, in honor of a wooden statue of a Turk’s Head that a local merchant used to keep outside his shop.The Turk was washed away in the Providence hurricane of 1938, but was fortunately found floating in the harbor. Unfortunately it was then placed for safekeeping in a warehouse, which several years later burned down. Rumor has it that the Turk’s Head escaped this final conflagration and became the idol of a tribe of Cherokee Indians. However, unless it bobs up once more, we sadly we must consider it gone. Its likeness was created more durably in stone, when the Turk’s Head building was erected in Providence downtown.

The Turk's Head

The Turk’s Head

Necronomicon Providence was an amazing confluence of art and ideas. So many people, so much passion, so much creativity and so many different artistic interpretations of the work of that one awkward, gregarious lonely visionary who must he believed, when he lay dying, that his work would die with him. Thankfully, Time has proved him wrong.

On the last day of the convention we walked to Lovecraft’s grave in the family plot in Swan Point cemetery. When we visited, the gravesite was quiet. Someone had left Lovecraft a picture, and some sheet music that we can dream was in the style of Erich Zann. The only other visitor was Carl Johnson, sitting quietly nearby and, I like to think, meditating on on his old friend. It was a fitting farewell.

Lovecraft's Grave

Lovecraft’s Grave

We all owe a great debt of thanks to organizer Neils Hobbs and his capable and amazing crew, who dreamed an insane dream and worked so hard to see the vision realized. Another Necronomicon is being promised for 2015. We can only hope that the stars will once again be right.

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