A modified version of this article first appeared in Rue Morgue magazine.
Since horror is so much about the unknown, it’s fitting that Rhode Island’s greatest horror writer isn’t well known outside of genre circles. But Providence grew from its ocean-salted soil a horror titan. Providence was the home of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
Lovecraft, author of influential tales of madness and monstrous creatures from beyond space and time, lived in Providence for 42 of his 47 years and though some of what he saw on his frequent walks through the city is gone now, his life lingers here if you know where to look.
Lovecraft's grave is less than three miles from the house where he was born. In fact, he lived most of his life within a 5-mile radius, making walking your way through Lovecraft's Providence a day's entertainment.
There is no ideal map to guide you through these sites, though a few extensive specimens are available online. Your best bet is to use the addresses listed here and chart your own journey.
Lovecraftian Providence starts at 598 Angell St. (Lovecraft was born at 454 Angell St. and lived there briefly, but that house was torn down in 1961).
Young Howard and his mother moved to this boxy house on the city’s East Side when he was four, after his father’s entrance into the hospital where he eventually died. The inheritance left to them couldn’t sustain their standard of living and so they moved into this two-family home.
Lovecraft penned early stories under this roof during a 20-year stay - including "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" and "Herbert West - Reanimator" – only leaving it behind when he married and moved to New York.
Lovecraft’s marriage failed after two years and upon his return he took up residence at 10 Barnes St., near the Brown University campus. Lovecraft wrote some of his most famous stories here, including "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror." He evidently liked this house, situating one of the characters in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” here.
A five-block walk around the outskirts of Brown brings you to Lovecraft’s last home: 66 College St. (since moved to 65 Prospect St.). This clapboard house, which belonged to his aunt, bears a historic marker declaring it the Samuel Mumford House.
After his death in 1937, Lovecraft’s papers were donated to Brown University. Brown’s John Hay Library (20 Prospect St.), which sat in front of College St. in Lovecraft’s day, houses a large collection of his manuscripts and letters (HPL is thought to have penned over 100,000 letters).
The collection is open 9-5, Monday through Friday, with one caveat: The public can only view copies, a provision taken to maintain the documents’ quality. Researchers and those with special permission can view the originals.
A memorial plaque sits just north of the entrance when you leave the library. It bears a few verses from an uninspired Lovecraft poem mythologizing his Providence youth. If you're at the Hay, walk the extra 20 feet to see it.
The stones you can’t miss, though, are Lovecraft’s graves. Yes, that’s graves plural.
There are two markers bearing Lovecraft’s name in Swan Point Cemetery (585 Blackstone Blvd.), a rolling, 200-acre cemetery on a leisurely, curving street featuring a wide, tree-lined park and walking path down its center.
The larger of the graves is a modest obelisk, bearing the family name Phillips. Located at Avenue B, Group 276, this marker can be found, roughly, by heading into the cemetery, bearing around curves, and ending at a T intersection.
This stone seemed too humble to some fans, who placed a second marker next to it in 1977. That small slab, its face angled towards the sky, bears a portentous quote from one of Lovecraft's letters: "I am Providence."
The area around the graves is a ragged, with graffiti carved into nearby trees, quotes from Lovecraft’s stories sometimes written on the headstones, letters left to HPL.
The man himself, of course, is buried beneath only one marker — his family's — knowledge lost on some visitors. In 1996, cemetery attendants found a three-foot hole and footprints in front of the false gravestone. Confusion may have foiled grave robbers!
If you're in Providence in March or April, you may want to attend one of the nearly annual “Services of Tribute” held by devotees at the graves. The services, organized by the H. P. Lovecraft Commemorative Activities Committee (401-732-4870), include readings of his work.
And, before you depart, treat yourself to some of Rhode Island’s famous frozen lemonade. It wasn’t around in Lovecraft’s day, but this unofficial state drink is just the thing to cool off with after a hot afternoon’s hike through Lovecraft’s Providence.