Category Archives: Boston

“The Thing on the Doorstep”: Lovecraft at the Salem Theatre Company

The Thing on the Doorstep, H.P. Lovecraft - 1920's Halloween costume

I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Thing on the Doorstep.” It’s not one of Lovecraft’s most recognized stories, nor is it one of his most critically acclaimed. It doesn’t feature Cthulhu, or ghouls, or the far-reaching cosmic terror that marks more famous works like “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Dunwich Horror.” What it does have, though, is a prominent female character–the only one found in any of Lovecraft’s fiction, unless you count Keziah Mason. (Okay, “The Curse of Yig” has a female protagonist, and “Medusa’s Coil” features a female baddie–but those were ghostwritten for Zealia Bishop.)

I don’t know if old H.P. hated women so much as he didn’t know what to do with them. The guy wasn’t exactly getting laid on the regular. Whatever the reason, Asenath Waite was the only woman he wrote.

The Thing on the Doorstep, H.P. Lovecraft

And what a woman. Asenath is not only a certified genius, she’s also forceful, strong-willed, and relentlessly menacing. Having seduced the bright but naive Edward Pickman Derby, she lures him into a marriage that shocks Arkham society. Poor, besotted Edward soon realizes that his bride only wants him for his body–literally. Asenath has the ability to exchange her soul with that of another, and it isn’t long before she’s slipping into her husband’s skin for extended jaunts into cursed, subterranean vaults. Edward, meanwhile, is repeatedly locked inside his wife’s form, helpless to keep her from trafficking with nameless horrors. Eventually, he fears, Asenath will make the switch permanent.

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Dreams in the Witch House: Five Things I Learned in Salem’s Oldest Home

Salem Witch House, Salem, Massachusetts

When Judge Jonathan Corwin moved into the big black house at the corner of North and Summer in Salem’s Chestnut Street District, I doubt he had any inkling of its future place in history.

“Now here’s a place that’ll never be associated with anything unsavory,” he probably said to himself.

“Especially not witch trials,” he likely added.

Three-hundred-fifty years later, we know just how wrong he was. The Witch House is the only extant building with a direct link to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a tragic bout of mass hysteria during which 19 people were killed and dozens more imprisoned. I visited the Witch House for the second time last weekend. Here are some of the things I learned. Continue reading

The Best Building at Harvard

After Monday’s post, some people asked me if there was anything I actually enjoyed at Harvard. The answer is a resounding yes.

I truly enjoyed the name of this building.

Wigglesworth Hall, Harvard

Wigglesworth Hall! Such a delightful name. Does it get any more cheery and whimsical than “Wigglesworth Hall”? It sounds like the name of a boarding school in a British children’s book from the 1950’s.

Wigglesworth.

Wigglesworth.

It’s so cute I’m actively blushing as I type it. You let me down in a lot of ways, Harvard–thank God Wigglesworth Hall was there to pick up the slack.

Forbidden Knowledge: The Necronomicon at Harvard

Harvard Yard

They’ve got some real sloppy security at Harvard University. I tried to visit the Widener Library this evening, and they wouldn’t let me in. Yet they had no problem admitting Wilbur Whateley.

Dean Stockwell, The Dunwich Horror

In fairness, he does look a lot more trustworthy than I do.

For years I’ve dreamed of visiting Harvard–not for its rarefied Ivy League atmosphere or its storied history, but for its card catalog. Harvard’s Widener Library, according to H.P. Lovecraft, is one of only five institutions possessing a copy of Abdul Alhazared’s The Necronomicon. Of the remaining four, three of them are in other countries and one of them is at Miskatonic University, which doesn’t exist. So Widener is really the only option for most enterprising students of forbidden lore.

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Memento Calvaria: Boston Burial Grounds and Puritan Death Obsession

The Granary Burying GroundTwo gravestones stand on a quiet hill.

Judy Brown, the first stone reads. Wife, mother, teacher, friend. Went home to the Lord September 13, 2010. ‘He maketh me lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters; He restoreth my soul.’ Above the epitaph sits a cherub, bright-eyed and gentle, reminding all passersby that the next life is a place of peaceful repose.

The stone next to it, by contrast, is a crooked slab bearing a grimacing skull. Its inscription is only two words: YOU’RE NEXT.

Here we see encapsulated the difference between modern and colonial attitudes toward death.

I won’t delve too deeply into the psychology of the colonial American death obsession. For a scholarly take on things, Jeffrey A. Hammond’s The Puritan Elegy and David E. Stannard’s The Puritan Way of Death are available on Google Books. Look there for analysis. I’m just here to show you some nifty pictures.

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Ghosts and Gravestones: The Macabre Side of Boston

Paul Revere was a busy man, and not just in professional terms. In addition to his work as a silversmith, iron caster, bell maker, naval ship sheather, and part-time dentist, he had two wives, sixteen kids, and a swarm of admirers to attend to. The man must have been surrounded by people every second of every day of his life. But there was one who stood out amid the throng: Dr Joseph Warren.

Dr Joseph Warren

Bromance incoming.

Warren was, by all accounts, Paul Revere’s BFF. The last and greatest testament to this fact was set down after Warren’s death at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Dr Warren was buried in a mass grave. It wasn’t a slight against his character: The American rebels who lost their lives in the sortie were simply too numerous to permit beleaguered Boston to bury them properly. Most of the newly bereaved accepted this and moved on. Most of them–but not Paul Revere.

Chaffing at the ignominious treatment of his bestie, Revere grabbed a shovel, marched out to Bunker Hill, and started digging. Hours slipped by as he sank deeper and deeper into a heap of muck and rotting corpses. Finally, he spotted a shirt that resembled one Warren had owned and pulled that body from the tangle, only to find that it was missing the top half of its head, rendering it impossible to identify.

But all was not lost! It transpired that, a few weeks prior to the battle, Revere had outfitted his friend with a porcelain tooth. In what Wikipedia calls “[maybe] the first recorded instance of post-mortem identification by forensic odontology,” Revere was able to make a positive identification based on said tooth. Lovingly, he carted Warren home and laid him to rest in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground.

So, yeah. What have you done for your friends lately?

Ghosts and Gravestones
The tale of Revere and Warren was just one of many macabre offerings from Ghosts and Gravestones, a horror-themed trolley tour of Boston. Some people think ghost tours are dorky. I am an absolute sucker for them. And this one was particularly entertaining.

Here are just a few of the unsettling things Ghosts and Gravestones taught me about my new hometown.

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Boston Underground

My apartment building was erected in 1890, which means it has some architectural idiosyncrasies. For one thing, there are no closets. Either Victorian Bostonians kept everything in wardrobes, or they just threw shit on the floor like animals. Also, there’s a bricked-up fireplace in my bedroom. I have nothing funny to say about that–it’s just really cool.

The most important feature, for the purposes of this post, is the basement. It’s creepy.

Actually, the whole back half of the building is a little off-putting. It’s completely cut off from the front half and hasn’t been updated in god knows how long. It consists of little more than a steep, curving staircase, a few dead cockroaches, and a miasmic cloud of unease. When you get to the bottom of the stairs, there’s a basement “storage area” that I swear must be haunted. The worst part of it is a massive hole in the drywall through which you can see decaying wooden framework–and beyond that, darkness. Part of me wants to look inside the hole, but I just know I’d see a ghost or a man-faced rat or something. I don’t have time for that noise. I’m a graduate student.

I’ll do a more detailed post on my spooky basement in the future. For now, let’s look at some of the graffiti I found down there.

Canadian nuts

“CANADIANS ARE IMMUNE to shots in the nuts!!!”

Gosh. You learn something new everyday. If I had to guess, I’d say that Canada’s intemperate clime causes her people’s testicles to withdraw into their abdomens. You can’t hit what you can’t see–thus, immunity. I’m submitting that theory to all the scientific journals, by the way, so please don’t snipe it.

IMPEACH HUSSEIN OBAMA

“I bet you vote for Donald Trump,” a commentator remarks, but I think that’s off base. This person won’t vote for Donald Trump–this person is Donald Trump.

fuck politics

This person, meanwhile, won’t be voting for Donald Trump or any other candidate. They’ll be far too busy fucking politics and/or burning shit down. Hopefully they start by burning my creepy basement.

I wanna be on you

Cheeky.

I assure you, anonymous vandal, you do not wanna be on me. It’s ninety-seven degrees outside, and I don’t have air conditioning. I stink worse than a charnel house right now. Hit me up in February, though, and we’ll see if we can arrange something.