H.P. Lovecraft and Salem MA

HP Lovecraft and Salem MA

March 1931 H.P. Lovecraft of Providence Rhode Island will write At the Mountains of Madness. A story that is set inside the interior of Antarctica. One of the characters Frank H. Pabodie will be based on George Peabody’s family. It also mentions the Miskatonic Institute which is based on a Salem institute.

H.P. Lovecraft would travel to Salem, MA in 1923 and 1929. Salem and various surrounding towns will appear in his works. These trips to towns in Essex county would become the basis for the fictional towns in his narratives.

Arkham was from Salem to Ipswich. Innsmouth would be Gloucester and Ipswich. Kingsport would be the city of Marblehead. Many of the locations and buildings in these towns he used as settings for his town still exist. In Salem the Crowninshield-Bentley House would be the setting for the Thing on the Doorstep. People we have mentioned in my narrative, the Crowninshields and Derbys, would be characters in the story. The first story Arkham appears in is The Picture in the House.

The Thing on the Doorstep was set behind the Hawthorne Hotel when the doorstep faced the Common. A female cousin is talking to her male cousin of her possession by their ancestors, Derbys and Crowninshields, as she is shrinking into a dwarf. At the end of the narrative the thing on the doorstep goes running into the Common. The house is now next to the house Joseph White was murdered in.

Other locations include the Old Burying Point, Essex Institute, and Danvers State Hospital. The Old Burying Point appears in Pickman’s Model. Pickman was another smuggling family inside Salem. The Essex Institute, now part of the Peabody Essex Institute, becomes the Miskatonic Institute. It appears in At the Mountain of Madness, Shadow Out of Time, Dunwich Horror, Dreams in the Witch House, and Herbert West- Reanimator. The last story deals with a typhoid outbreak. The Essex Institute hosted the Salem Lyceum lectures in which John Quincy Adams spoke on politics, James Russell Lowell read parts of Dante’s Inferno, Longfellow would try out new pieces at, and Alexander Graham Bell would have his first public demonstration of the phone. Nathaniel Hawthorne was their secretary.

Arkham Sanitarium is Danver’s State Hospital. Danver’s State Hospital and it appears in Pickman’s Model and Shadow over Innsmouth. The real sanitarium was inspired by Thomas Story Kirkbride. He was the founder of the precursor to the American Psychiatric Association. Many hospitals would be based on his Kirkbride Plan, including Dr. Thomas Miller’s St. Elizabeth in Washington D.C. Kirkbride developed his requirements based on a philosophy of moral Treatment. The typical floor plan, with long rambling wings arranged en echelon (staggered, so each connected wing received sunlight and fresh air), was meant to promote privacy and comfort for patients. The building form itself was meant to have a curative effect, “a special apparatus for the care of lunacy, [whose grounds should be] highly improved and tastefully ornamented.” The idea of institutionalization was thus central to Kirkbride’s plan for effectively treating patients with mental illnesses.

The asylums tended to be large, imposing, Victorian-era institutional buildings within extensive surrounding grounds, which often included farmland, sometimes worked by patients as part of physical exercise and therapy.

Danvers State Hospital was built in 1878. Following Kirkbride’s direction it was a shining star, even though the first prefrontal lobotomy had happened here. By the time when the psychiatric field turned toward over predominance of pharmaceutical treatment it became hell on Earth. When I moved to Salem in 1992 the institute closed a day after my birthday on January 24th. For the most part they just opened their doors and let the patients walk out. Many would find their way to Salem where the Crombie Street Shelter was. Built behind Stephen White’ Barton Square Church.

These gentlemen provided lots of local color to Salem. There was Kevin and Ken always around. Then there was Dreadbeard. One was a millionaire who got weekly stipends. You would see him with a new laptop or digital camera at times. Many times he would sell them after and hour for $5 to a local merchant. Once he showed me pictures on his digital SLR camera of the view from an airplane of St. Thomas where he decided to be homeless for the winter.

Danvers State Hospital was left abandoned for years. Many would venture through the various tunnels on the property which were so scary that Hells Angels have been know to run out of it. If it is not haunted, it definitely is eerie with the scrawling of troubled minds on the walls. The tunnels connected the wings to a donkey engine rail to move carts of laundry and food.

My friend John Archer was one of thee main supporters of an effort to preserve the buildings from contractors in 2005. The center Kirkbride building was saved along with 4 apartment complexes, that would mysteriously burn down where they wanted a new parking lot. John Archer was able to salvage much of the interior and a cupola to be used in the construction of a new wing to his mansion. It has been written up in the New York Times Magazine and other periodicals. John was so kind to extend the use of his mansion for a group 40th birthday party for me and my friends catered by the great Boston catering company Brandi Foods.

Danvers State Hospital will appear in the film Session 9 and will inspire Batman authors to use it as Arkham Asylum in their DC universe. Lovecraft actively admired and supported authors who would develop stories based on his lexicon of mythology.

Other locations used in Lovecraft stories would include the Witch House and the Derby House. The Derby House is where Elias Hasket Derby Jr. grew up who extended the tunnels in 1801 in town. The Witch House was the residence of Roger Williams. Williams was a minister in the First Church in Salem before the Witch Trials. He was removed from town for his beliefs that Native Americans should be fairly compensated for their property and he believed in separation of church and state. In fact it was Thomas Jefferson’s studies on the trials which inspired him to include separation of church and state in the First Amendment. Williams would go on and become the founder of Rhode Island and the Baptist Church.
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For more tales like this about how Salem MA has shaped American History read Sub Rosa by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin available at Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com, and your favorite local independent book seller.
Ask for it by name!

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