Category Archives: Travel

Posts about our own travels along the Orient Express route.

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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A Visit to Chaosium

chaosium-cthulhu

Stained-glass Cthulhu at Chaosium

Penny and I have arrived in America on the first stop of our 2013 GenCon Horror on the Orient Express tour. We have even taken our first train, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). It did not have  a salon car where white-clad waiters served champagne, but it did get us out to Charlie Krank’s place in Hayward from the airport. We’ve since been recovering from our jet lag, eating some amazing vegetarian food in the Bay Area and playing some games.

mark-at-chaosium

Back in the office at Chaosium, 2013

On Monday we visited the Chaosium offices, and for the first time saw a printout of the complete layout of Horror on the Orient Express, which Meghan has prepared to show everyone who comes to the Chaosium booth (#501) at GenCon Indy. It’s amazing to see the book printed out: a huge stack of paper larger than Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Meghan has done a fantastic job with the layout, and it was great to see the new art, particularly the new version of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, which is so blasphemous we can’t show you yet. We also met Nick, who showed us the Traveler’s Companion bound and printed up as a sample GenCon preview edition. We hope this little book that will be a useful player aid at the gaming table. It has a guide for each city on the route, accompanied by wonderful city maps by Steff Worthington.

We also got to go to the all-new expanded wing of the Chaosium warehouse to see boxes and boxes of Orient Express loot: T-shirts, medallions, commemorative coins, placemats, matchboxes, mugs, coasters and more. Chaosium have been sending out photos of all the merchandise as part of the Kickstarter updates, but it’s another thing again to see a massive wall of boxes. There’s so much stuff there you have to scale the front stack to get to the stack behind it.

OE-boxes

Boxes and boxes and boxes of Orient Express swag

The nearby row of mi-go brain cases made me wonder what if that’s what happened to previous writers who missed their deadlines, because I flubbed a few.

Assuming the vacant space on the bottom right is not reserved for me, we leave on Tuesday for the real world gibbering madness that is GenCon…

migo

Mi-go brain cases

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Capturing Lovecraft Country

This week, I’m featuring some atmospheric photographs from our 1990 New England trip, accompanied by quotations from the Lovecraft  stories in which the location appears. So get ready to snuggle in and enjoy the scenes with a cup of cocoa, and do make sure the door is closed, and locked, behind you. It was closed, wasn’t it, a moment ago?

The Haunter of the Dark 

Of all the distant objects on Federal Hill, a certain huge, dark church most fascinated Blake. It stood out with especial distinctness at certain hours of the day, and at sunset the great tower and tapering steeple loomed blackly against the flaming sky. – The Haunter of the Dark

Haunter-of-the-dark

St John’s Church, Providence (Starry Wisdom Church)

St John’s was demolished in 1992. Although I quite like the out of focus photograph, as if a  pictorial hint that all is not well, I regret that I’ll never be able to take a better photograph of it now.

The Shunned House

The house was – and for that matter still is – of a kind to attract the attention of the curious…Benefit Street…was laid out as a lane winding amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut through the old family plots – The Shunned House

Shunned-house

135 Benefit Street, Providence

The house, as a matter of fact, still stands. I understand it recently sold. I hope the new owner  takes a genial view of curious Lovecraft enthusiasts peering in through the ground floor window in the hope of catching sight of a giant, pallid elbow.

Old Burial Ground, Kingsport

Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and wind-swept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse. – The Festival

Kingsport-graveyard

Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1990

Though it pleased me, I would have relished it better if there had been footprints in the snow, and people in the streets, and a few windows without drawn curtains – The Festival

The photograph does not do justice to the  eerie subsidence in these New England graveyards, as though something was tunneling diligently beneath – but perhaps it is best if what this is remains something we must not and cannot recall.

And finally a last word from Lovecraft in a more reflective mood, writing of his beloved Providence:

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes –
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams.
– Background 

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Visiting Lovecraft Country

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.

Arkham cemetery

Arkham cemetery (Salem cemetery, Massachusetts, 1990)

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.

Arkham

Arkham (Salem, Massachusetts 1990)

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.

Dunwich

Dunwich (New England backwoods 1990)

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.

Kingsport-houses

Kingsport (Marblehead, 1990)

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.

Innsmouth

Innsmouth (Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1990)

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

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A Provençal Dragon

Horror on the Orient Express placemat [Source: Chaosium]

The Wagons-Lit logo is two rampart lions. For Horror on the Orient Express merchandise Chaosium under Meghan’s sterling art direction has created a new and unique logo, putting a fantastical spin on the traditional image and updated the two lions to a tarasque and a manticore.  The tarasque is a Provençal dragon and thus an authentic European monster.

According to my handy  Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts (Walker & Co. 1971) the tarasque lived on the banks of the Rhone near the town of Tarascon. It was “bigger than an ox…with a lion’s head and mouth; its jaws contained vast teeth, it had six bear’s paws, a carapace studied with spikes and a viper’s tail.”   The redoubtable St Martha, yet another Biblical figure who somehow found her way to Europe, tamed it by drenching it with holy water.

In case the description is not vivid enough a delightful Tarascon statue  gives a presumably authentic view of the monster, given that it is located near St Martha’s tomb. To my eye, it looks a little worried. We can assume that the statue depicts the moment after St Martha tamed it when the monster noticed the approach of the good townsfolk of Tarascon, who failed to trust in its wholehearted conversion and stoned it to death.

Tarasque statue [Source: Tarascon website]

This week we were briefly excited when the pelaton in the Tour de France sped through Tarascon, but try as we might we could not catch a glimpse of the tarasque.

The manticore has an interesting lineage, born in Persia and making its way by rumor to Europe.  My Dictionary quotes Aristotle, quoting Ctesias (Alexander the Great’s personal physician, whose works are now lost): “the Indian wild beast called the ‘marticoras’ has a triple row of teeth in both upper and lower jaw; that it is as big as a lion and equally hairy, and that its feet resemble those of the lion; that it resembles man in its face and ears; that its eyes are blue, and its color vermilion; and has the faculty of shooting off arrow-wise the spines that are attached to its tail.” The same source notes that it can run as swiftly as a deer, no bad image for train. It is thought to born of garbled travelers’ tales of tigers.

Manticore [Source:

Manticore [Source: A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts]

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Train of the Dead

There was once a dedicated funeral train which traveled between London and the Brookwood Necropolis, Surrey. Brookwood was created in the 1850s. Its designers envisaged it as a garden ‘City of the Dead’ where London’s dead could rest in peace far from the overcrowded cemeteries of the city.

The train carriages were constructed and the branch line was laid out with all due consideration to Victorian notions of dignity and propriety.  The train carried mourners and coffined corpses. First, second and third class carriages were built for both the living and the dead, and nonconformists were carried in separate carriages to Anglicans. First class mourners and corpses paid a steeper price but their carriages were magnificently decorated. Conversely, one pictures poor corpses, like the recipient of this third class coffin ticket below, being laid out in something like a horse stall. 

Brookwood coffin ticket [Source: Wikipedia]

Brookwood was a cemetery built for profit, but the fares were fixed as a concession  for the poorer mourners and were never raised during the life of the train.  Sadly for the directors the Necropolis never received as many burials as the prospectus rosily prophesied. Towards the end of its life it seems that a fair percentage of its profits came from golfers, who disguised themselves as mourners in order to take advantage of the fixed fares to reach the nearby golf course.

The end of the line came, literally and figuratively, on the night of 16th November 1941, when one of the last raids of the Blitz destroyed the Necropolis station terminus at Waterloo. The station was never rebuilt, and the line closed.

The crest of the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company [Source: Wikipedia]

The  Latin motto translates as ‘a good life and a restful death’.

Brookwood Necropolis remains, overgrown and dismal. The rail lines and sleepers are long gone. A sad end to a good and useful train.

The Necropolis Railway does not feature in Horror on the Orient Express, but we wish it had. The idea of a train of the dead is irresistible to the thinking Keeper. Thanks to Dick, one of our fearless playtesters, for telling us about this extraordinary service.

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