August 28, 2019

H.P. Lovecraft's Ghost Appeared at This House

In 1971 the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft appeared to a Brown University undergraduate living in an apartment at 10 Barnes Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Lovecraft, a well-known author of horror and weird fiction, lived in this building from 1926 until 1933. He died in 1937 from intestinal cancer exacerbated by malnutrition.

The appearance of Lovecraft's ghost is briefly mentioned, as if it were no big deal, on page 441 of L. Sprague de Camp's H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975). No big deal?! It's the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft!

10 Barnes Street, Providence, Rhode Island.
I'm assuming that de Camp didn't believe the story, and probably no one else did since it doesn't appear in many places. Lovecraft himself was a staunch materialist and didn't believe in the human soul so he wouldn't believe this story either. But let's suppose for a moment this story is true and that Lovecraft's ghost really did manifest to a Brown student in 1971. Why would he appear at 10 Barnes Street and in that particular year?

Ghosts allegedly appear in places to which they have strong emotional connections. We've all heard stories about ghosts appearing in the places where they were murdered, but ghosts also appear at locations where they had positive emotional experiences. That might be the case here. Lovecraft spent his most productive and successful years as a writer at 10 Barnes Street. While living there he wrote some of his most famous stories, including "Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror," and "At The Mountains of Madness." Perhaps his spirit had fond memories and didn't want to leave.

Ghosts are also said to appear when they have unfinished business. They show up when they want someone to bury their undiscovered body or send a message to their surviving loved ones. I don't think Lovecraft's ghost appeared in 1971 to reveal any dark secrets, but he probably had a lot of unresolved issues. His childhood and adolescence were like something from a Gothic novel: both parents dying in an insane asylum, the slow dissipation of his family's wealth, his mother telling him he was too hideous to be seen publicly, and a nervous breakdown in his teenage years.

A statue of Lovecraft at the Providence Art Club.
His adult life was also quite complicated and full of contradctions. Here a few examples:

  • Lovecraft was a racist and an anti-Semite, yet he married the Jewish immigrant Sonia Greene and was best friends with Samuel Loveman, a gay Jewish poet to whom he dedicated the homo-erotic short story "Hypnos."
  • Lovecraft seemed to have little interest in sex but his stories are full of bestiality, incest and intercourse with monsters.
  • Lovecraft lived most of his life in poverty but thought full-time work was beneath him. Towards the end of his life he survived on a near-starvation diet but spent his meager income on postage answering letters from anyone who wrote to him. According to one estimate he wrote up to 100,000 letters.
  • Lovecraft didn't believe in the supernatural, but based many of his stories on dreams and nightmares so vivid that some occultists are convinced he really had access to occult secrets. 

So, I think it's very likely that Lovecraft's ghost (if it exists) has some unfinished business.

Ghosts may also be vengeful, appearing because they are angry at the living. But why would Lovecraft be angry at a Brown undergrad? Maybe because Lovecraft always wanted to attend Brown University and study astronomy but couldn't even finish high school due to his fragile mental state. Perhaps after death his ghost appeared to berate whichever poor Brown student was living at 10 Barnes Street in 1971. I can also imagine that a student at that time could be a long-haired hippie, something that might also anger the conservative author. 

Of course this is all just speculation on my part. Lovecraft's ghost probably didn't even appear at Barnes Street. However, if you want to find out, you can rent an apartment there. Nothing is available right now, but it looks like they rent for around $1,200/month.  Maybe the next time one comes on the market someone will find out for sure if the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft is still lingering around Providence. 

I was inspired to write this because this past weekend was I attending NecronomiCon 2019, the bi-annual H.P. Lovecraft convention in Providence. I was browsing through Rory Raven's Haunted Providence: Strange Tales From The Smallest State (2008) to prepare for my trip and read the story about 10 Barnes Street. Raven's book directed me back to the original source, de Camp's biography of Lovecraft. 

August 21, 2019

Dining at A Haunted Restaurant

A few years ago we were in Provincetown for the annual Tennessee Williams Festival. We met a group of friends for brunch at Local 186 and, since it was a sunny September day, decided to eat outside. Little did we know what that brunch would bring...

One of my friends ordered a Belgian waffle, and when it arrived it came topped with a mountain of whipped cream and an enormous dusting of powdered sugar. It looked very tasty, but just as we were about to eat a gusty breeze blew in from the harbor. The powdered sugar blew off the waffle and all over the person who ordered it. To make matters worse he was wearing a black shirt.

He wiped off the sugar, ordered another Bloody Mary, and moved on. We all assumed the mishap was just caused by a random seaside breeze - but we may have been wrong. Local 186 is supposed to be haunted. Perhaps a ghost had caused the sugar incident?

Many restaurants, hotels and guest houses are allegedly haunted these days. I think in the more superstitious past people would be afraid to patronize a haunted establishment but now having a resident ghost is considered an extra attraction for a business. An establishment needs good food, attentive service, and preferably an undead entity. Owners publicize their ghosts in an attempt to entice customers. Modern capitalism can absorb everything, even the restless dead.

The ghost who supposedly haunts Local 186 was a businesswoman herself so she may not mind. Her name is Esther Chamberlain, and for many years she ran the restaurant and the guest house above it when it was called Esther's Inn. She was a formidable and driven entrepreneur, and even after death she is said to be interested in how the business is run. 

For example, several staff have said the ghost has rearranged silverware when they weren't looking. Here's a quote about Esther's ghost from Sam Baltrusis's book Paranormal Provincetown:
Jeffrey Doucette, a veteran ghost tour guide, said he's heard stories of table settings being rearranged and objects moving at Local 186 if guests or employees don't adhere to basic rules of etiquette. "I ran into one woman while I was giving the tour and she confirmed that the restaurant and inn's namesake was a bit of a stickler... The spirit seems to be interested in table manners..."
Esther's ghost is apparently polite and there aren't any particularly horrific stories about her. She doesn't sound sinister, just stern. 

We had dinner at Local 186 just a couple weeks ago. Our meal passed without incident (and was quite tasty) but I noticed the Ouija board that had been in the bar on past visits was gone. Paranormal investigator Joni Mayhan told Baltrusis that sometimes people playing with Ouija boards can accidentally summon sinister entities. I think that would be doubly the case for drunk folks at a bar. Maybe the ghost haunting Local 186 isn't really Esther at all? 

Perhaps the owner removed the Ouija board for psychic safety but there may be another reason. Baltrusis notes in Paranormal Provincetown that the website Building Provincetown claimed Local 186 was reputedly haunted. That has been taken down since Baltrusis's book was published in 2016 and there's no mention of it. I wonder if the new owner is downplaying the ghost angle? If so maybe that's why they removed the Ouija board as well. 

It's their business and they can market it however they please. But if Esther's ghost really does haunt Local 186 I am sure she will stick around to make sure patrons use the right fork and place their napkins in their laps. 

August 12, 2019

Abducted by Aliens on Cape Cod: Robert Matthews

I just came back from spending some time in Truro on Cape Cod. Truro is on the Outer Cape and there are a lot of woods and undeveloped beaches out there. I'm a city person and I am always impressed by how dark it gets at night when you're away from the urban light pollution. Out in Truro we could see hundreds of stars after sunset. It was amazing!

Of course, as a city person I also get a little freaked out by how dark it gets. I won't deny it. Driving down a road with no streetlights or walking down an unlit path at night can be scary. Who knows what you might encounter? There are lots of coyotes and foxes on the Cape, and those are just things you might meet on land. Who knows what lurks in the dark water, or even in the dark skies? Lots of strange things can happen at night on the Outer Cape. 

For example, take the case of Robert Matthews. In 1966 Matthews was 19 years old and newly inducted into the United States Air Force. His first assignment as an airman was to the North Truro Air Force Station. Following instructions, Matthews took a bus on October 1 to Dutra's Market* in Truro and then used a payphone to call the Station. He told them he had arrived in Truro; the airman on the other end told Matthews a truck would come pick him up. The time was 8:45 pm.

Salty Market in Truro (formerly Dutra's Market)
North Truro Air Force Station was only a couple miles from Dutra's Market so Matthews didn't think it would take long for the truck to arrive. But as he waited by the side of the road he noticed something unusual above him. There were lights moving back and forth across the night sky. They weren't like anything he had seen before in his life. They certainly didn't look like they belonged to an airplane. As he watched them he was filled with a strange fear.

Only a few minutes had passed but he called the station again and told them something weird was happening. Could they please hurry and pick him up? Matthews was surprised when the airman on the other end said they had already dispatched a truck for him nearly an hour ago. When it arrived at Dutra's Market the driver couldn't find Matthews and had returned to the station. Matthews was confused - only a few minutes had passed, not an hour, and he hadn't moved from in front of the market. There was no way he could have missed the bus. But when he looked at his watch he saw it was 9:45 pm. Somehow he had missed an hour of his life.

The bus stop across from the market.
This was not the first unusual occurrence in Matthews's life. When he was five or six years old he woke up one night to see a glowing green figure standing next to his bed. He tried to scream but was unable to make a sound or move. The luminous green entity pulled up his pajama top and proceeded to do something - Matthews wasn't sure what - to his chest. In the morning he told his mother that he had seen a ghost in his room. She reassured him he had just had a nightmare but Matthews remembered the experience for years afterwards, unsure if it had been real or just a dream.

It wasn't until 1984 when he was an adult that he received confirmation his experience might have been real. But this time Matthews was out of the Air Force and no longer on Cape Cod. While on vacation and looking for some light reading he saw the cover of Budd Hopkins's book Missing Time:

The creature on the book's cover looked just like the entity which had appeared in his room when he was a child.

Matthews contacted Budd Hopkins who quickly answered his letter. They had something in common: they had both seen strange things in the sky over Truro. Before writing about UFOs Hopkins was best known as a painter and sculptor and had a studio on Cape Cod. His interest in UFOs had first been kindled by seeing an object in the sky off the coast of Truro in 1964. Only later did he come to write about alien abductions and missing time, the phenomena where abductees forget their experiences at the hands of alien abductors. 

When Matthews met Hopkins in person Hopkins facilitated a hypnotic regression session for him. Matthews was brought back to that hour in Truro he couldn't remember. While in a trance he described how the lights he had seen that night came down from the sky and landed near the market. They belonged to a flying craft of some kind. Matthews entered the craft and encountered four alien beings. Much as they did when he was a child, the creatures examined his chest before putting him back on the street. The creatures had been studying him for years. 

Robert Matthews was the subject of an episode of Unsolved Mysteries - you can watch it here. Did he really encounter alien creatures outside a convenience store on Cape Cod? It sounds bizarre and unbelievable, but I think lots of strange things happen on the Outer Cape at night. 

As I researched Matthews's story I was reminded of two old stories from Truro. In one, Captain Sylvanus Rich is abducted every night by a witch who rides him like a horse, leaving him exhausted until the spell is broken. In another tale, a sailor who steals donuts from a witch is also haunted and ridden each night. While these stories aren't identical to Matthews's account they do have similarities: strange entities who come at night, men who are powerless to resist them, and Truro. 

I don't think the explanation is as easy as either witches or extraterrestrials. Maybe these stories are all just attempts to explain the phenomenon called sleep paralysis, but maybe there's something else going on here. Either way, a lot of strange things happen on the Outer Cape at night. 


One of my main sources for this week's story was Paranormal Provincetown: Legends and Lore of the Outer Cape by my friend Sam Baltrusis. Lots of good spooky stories are in it plus a photo of yours truly. 

*Dutra's Market is now Salty Market.

August 06, 2019

Visiting Strange Graves: A Scary Encounter with the Countess

It was a November night in 1984, and we had just seen A Nightmare on Elm Street in my hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts. The "we" in this case were me, my friend Christine, and Cesar, an exchange student from Mexico spending the year at our high school. We had screamed and been appropriately terrified during the movie, and we were in the mood for more scary stuff after it ended. We had watched teenagers encounter terror and death. Maybe we wanted to encounter them ourselves?

"Let's go to the Countess's grave," Christine suggested in the parking lot.

"Yes!" I said. I knew about the grave but never been there myself.

"What is the Countess's grave?" Cesar asked.

We tried to explain. I had first heard about the grave when I was in fourth grade. Some kids from Haverhill's Rocks Village neighborhood told me what they were doing on Halloween night. They were going to wait outside an old cemetery to see if the Countess emerged from her grave. I'm not sure what would happen next, but having seen old Dracula movies I assumed that a countess must also be a vampire. They seemed to feel the same way too.

As a teenager I knew the vampire legend probably wasn't true but the grave still had a reputation as being spooky and somehow supernatural. Perhaps it was haunted, or possibly cursed. It was the perfect place to visit after seeing a horror movie so we got in Christine's car and followed the river until we reached Rocks Village. The old Colonial homes of Rocks Village are charming during the day but they were pretty spooky that night. The Greenwood Cemetery was even spookier, surrounded as it was by a black iron fence.

The Countess's Grave. Photo from Haverhill Public Library.

We drove into the cemetery. Spookiest of all was the Countess's grave. Her gravestone was surrounded by a black iron cage. What supernatural evil had it been built to contain? What horror was trapped within? What...

Suddenly we heard something scratching on the roof of the car.

"Oh my God!" Christine said. "Did you hear that?!"

Conversation came to a stop as we listened intently. Then we heard it again. Something scratching on the roof. It sounded like fingernails, or maybe knives. We had just seen Freddie Kruger terrorize teenagers with his knife-fingered glove...

Then we heard laughter from the back seat. Christine and I turned around to see Cesar with his hand out an open window, scratching his fingers along the car's roof.


We didn't know it at the time, but the Countess's gravestone had originally been enclosed in the iron cage to keep tourists from chipping pieces off as souvenirs. Mary Ingalls (1786 - 1807) was apparently the United States's first countess, a title she assumed after marrying Count Francois de Vipart when she was only 21. Count de Vipart had wound up in Rocks Village after fleeing a rebellion in Guadaloupe and he supposedly fell in love with Ingalls at first sight. Their marriage was passionate but unfortunately short-lived. Mary died a few years later after they wed and her husband returned to France. 

Their doomed romance was immortalized by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier in his 1863 poem "The Countess." The poem was quite popular in the 19th and early 20th century and Mary's grave became a tourist attraction. Fans of the poem who visited the grave chipped off small pieces as souvenirs until an iron cage was put up around it. 

I say Whittier "immortalized" the Countess but none of my friends knew anything about his poem or the Countess's real life. They certainly weren't taught to us in high school literature or history courses. We just knew that it was a strange grave, and a strange grave must have a strange story attached to it. Not knowing the real story we just made one up that seemed appropriate.

This is actually pretty common in New England. There are lots of strange-looking graves that are perfectly innocuous, but strange legends arise because of the grave's unusual appearance. Here are just a few I know about:

Midnight Mary's Grave, New Haven, Connecticut. Mary Hart's epitaph describes how she died at midnight on October 15, 1872 and contains this ominous quote from the Book of Job: "The people shall be troubled at midnight and pass away." Because of that ominous quote, legends have developed claiming that Mary was buried alive, was an evil witch, and/or that she kills anyone who visits her grave at midnight.

Black Agnes, Montpelier, Vermont. This large sculpture of a robed figure is actually titled Thanatos (death in Greek) and marks the grave of a wealthy businessman. Most graves in the Green Mount cemetery are much more modest, and so folklore has transformed Thanatos into Black Agnes, a statue that kills anyone who sits on it.

The Witch's Grave, York Maine. Mary Nasson's grave in York's Old Burying Ground is covered with a huge stone slab. A plaque nearby explains that the slab was placed there to keep animals from digging up her body but local legends claim Mary was a witch. The slab keeps her restless soul from rising out of her grave.

Colonel Buck's Monument, Bucksport, Maine. The large funerary monument erected to honor the founder of Bucksport has a strange stain on it shaped like a boot. The stain is probably caused by iron in the stone. Legends claim that it was placed there as a curse by a witch the Colonel executed.

You get the idea and may even know of some similar graves yourself. These legends may not be historically accurate but they definitely are psychologically powerful. Cemeteries remind us of our own mortality and these strange graves speak to us with particularly loud voices. 

Like a good horror movie they tell us the scary things we secretly long to hear. They tell us about the thin line between the living and the dead, about our darkest fears, and about the inescapable power of death itself. But also like a horror movie, our encounters with these strange graves are voluntary. We choose to visit them and (possibly) experience frightening things, but (usually) escape intact in the end. 

The Countess's gravestone was removed for repairs and sadly no longer stands in the Greenwood cemetery. I haven't seen Christine or Cesar in many, many years but I still fondly remember that night we visited a haunted grave.