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. 


Anonymous said...

Where to start? The failure to examine the purported witness to the alleged manifestation? The misrepresentation of HPL’s stories? Or the glib rationale for this article?

In short, it is little more than an attempt at self promotion, playing on the popularity of NecronomiCon.

Gordo said...

I agree with the "he was really racist"part, but there the hell you saw bestiality in his stories?

Joe Citro said...

Interesting bit of speculation, but one wonders if that is the only reported sighting of Lovecraft's ghost? If the visitation was about unfinished business, maybe HPL finished it an moved on. Would love to see a detailed description of the encounter, and of more encounters if they occurred ...

Peter Muise said...

Hi Gordo! Thanks for your comment. To clarify, bestiality appears in at least two Lovecraft stories. SPOILERS FOLLOW!!

In "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family," the title character discovers that his great-great-great grandfather fell in love with, married, and had half-human offspring with a gorilla. In "The Unnamable," an old house is haunted by a monster which is the child of a Puritan farmer and a barnyard animal (probably a cow). Lovecraft got the idea from an actual account by Cotton Mather.

In "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," the citizens of Innsmouth breed with the Deep Ones, fishy humanoids from the ocean. Maybe that counts as bestiality, but I think of it as sex with monsters myself?

Peter Muise said...

Hi Joe!

Thanks for the comment. I thought it was interesting too. Sadly L. Sprague de Camp doesn't include any more information in his Lovecraft biography because I would like to know more. Was the ghost happy? Angry? Mournful?

I've heard that Lovecraft's ghost was also sighted at Brown's Ladd Observatory, which makes sense since he loved astronomy. I don't have any more details about that visitation yet!

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post Peter! I wouldn't be surprised if more Lovecraft ghost sightings will appear in the years to come, too good a story for the area.

Rich Clabaugh said...
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