As many people know, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was one of the world's most influential horror writers. Lovecraft spent most of his life in Providence, Rhode Island and loved New England deeply. He incorporated New England locations and folklore into stories like "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."
|Image from the H.P. Lovecraft archives.|
In early 1920 Lovecraft had a dream that he later referred to as the "Eben Spencer plot" because he hoped to use it as the basis for a story. He never did, but the dream is interesting on it's own. In the dream Lovecraft was an army lieutenant and surgeon named Eben Spencer. The year was 1864, and Spencer/Lovecraft was on furlough in his hometown in upstate New York after being injured in the Civil War. While out for a walk he meets a friend:
Soon a very young man of my acquaintance came up to me with an air of anxiety and began to speak in guarded accents. He wished me to go with him to his brother - my professional colleague Dr. Chester - whose actions were greatly alarming him.
... The doctor for the past two years had been conducting secret experiments in a laboratory in the attic of his home, and beyond that locked door he would admit no one but himself. Sickening odours were often detected near the door... and odd sounds were at times not absent.Eben Spencer is taken to Dr. Chester's laboratory, where the sinister Dr. Chester shows him something grotesque:
Soon he emerged, bearing on a large glass slab what appeared to be a human arm, neatly severed just below the elbow. It was damp, gelatinous and bluish-white, and the fingers were without nails.
'Well, Spencer,' said Dr. Chester sneeringly, 'I suppose you've had a good deal of amputation practice in the army. What do you think, professionally, of this job?'
I had seen clearly that this was not a human arm, and said sarcastically, 'You are a better sculptor than doctor, Chester. This is not the arm of any living thing.'
And Chester replied in a tone that made my blood congeal, 'Not yet, Spencer. Not yet!' (Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 1, Arkham House, Sauk City, Wisconsin, 1965, pages 100-102).From behind a curtain Dr. Chester then brings out another, even larger arm. Ominously, Dr. Chester tells Spencer to "Watch the curtain!" but here the dream begins to fade. Lovecraft awoke in his bed, noting "I have never seen Dr. Chester, or his young brother, or that village since. I do not know what village it was. I never heard the name of Eben Spencer before or since. Some dream!"
|Civil War surgical instructions from the Mutter Museum.|
I agree! That is some dream, but perhaps not an unprecedented one for a writer of horror stories. And since this post has the words "alien autopsy" in its title, what if anything does it have to do with aliens? It seems more like a rehash of Frankenstein than anything else.
In 1997 Joseph Trainor, editor of the now defunct UFO Roundup magazine, decided to investigate what inspired Lovecraft's dream. Trainor thought the severed arms sounded like they could have been from extraterrestrials, and he also knew there had been sightings of strange flying craft in upstate New York in the 1860s. Was there some hidden truth in Lovecraft's dream?
Trainor conducted research in New York and consulted with New York state historian Carol Maltby. He found the following:
- A young army surgeon and lieutenant named Elbridge Gerry Spencer lived in the New York village of Brockett's Bridge in the 1860s. He went by the nickname Gary. He was briefly furloughed with a minor injury around 1862.
- Nearby lived an herbalist, Dr. David Chester Smallwood. Smallwood had a younger brother, just like in Lovecraft's dream. Dr. Smallwood also owned a three-story house with an attic.
- Spencer left Brockett's Bridge in the late 1860s. His departure was sudden; his sister's obituary notes that he "disappeared from the area..." Searching through census records, Trainor found an E. Gary Spencer in Iowa working as a farmer. By 1880, Spencer was working as a "commercial traveler," or traveling salesman.
- Trainor could not ascertain what happened to Dr. Smallwood.
I can hear you asking, "Is any of this true?" I honestly can't say. It sounds like Trainor found some interesting information that is similar to Lovecraft's dream, although the names don't quite match entirely. I suppose your acceptance of this story hinges on your feelings about UFOs in general. I just find it fascinating whether or not the story is true.
What I find particularly interesting, though, is that this is another myth that's developed around H.P. Lovecraft's life. Although there are probably others this is the third one that I've encountered. The other myths are:
1. Lovecraft's stories contain real occult knowledge. In this myth, Lovecraft either consciously or unconsciously (through his dreams) incorporated actual magic and occult secrets into his stories. The Necrononmicon is real, entities like Cthulhu exist, and Lovecraft traveled to other dimensions in his sleep. This myth started to form while Lovecraft was still alive but was popularized by the British occultist Kenneth Grant. Thanks to Grant's influence, you can now buy many books about Lovecraftian ritual and magick online and in New Age bookstores.
2. The Necronomicon is hidden under the campus of Bradford College (now Northpoint Bible College) in Haverhill, Massachusetts. According to this legend, Lovecraft dated a co-ed at Bradford College and hid a copy of The Necronomicon, a book of blasphemous knowledge, in one of the tunnels underneath the school.I think the alien autopsy story fits in nicely with those other two, don't you?
I don't like to debunk stories on my blog. Instead I like to think about what they mean and what they say about New England. Myths are stories that people find meaningful and that are important, regardless of their literal truth. Why do people create these myths around H.P. Lovecraft and his fiction? Clearly people still find his stories to be powerful and convincing. And something so convincing can't just be fiction, can it?