My mother and stepfather were passing through New York on a trip to Croatia, and decided to stop over for a few days to visit my grandmother in Boston. I drove up with them, and mentioned, as we approached Providence, that I'd always been curious about the city because a favorite writer of mine had lived there and often praised it. My stepfather very kindly took the next exit so that we could have a look around.
The writer, of course, is H.P. Lovecraft, whose work continues to fascinate, despite the fact that I'd be hard-pressed to call it "good." (Here is a feature I wrote about him for Salon.) An indispensable part of the pleasure of being a Lovecraft fan is discussing his work with like-minded friends, and making protracted jokes in which the incomprehensible cosmic horrors he invented are combined with some mundane feature of everyday life. People make plush toys out of the mind-destroying "Elder Gods" he invented and buffs can milk endless hilarity out of such projects as "A Shuggoth on the Roof," a musical based on the story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," set to the music of "A Fiddler on the Roof."
Lovecraft, a sensitive soul, adored his hometown and fared poorly whenever he left it. He liked old buildings and streets, fancying himself an 18th-century gentleman who had been transported, by some cruel trick of fate, into the 1920s. Few writers, especially in the genres, have shown a greater fascination with architecture. His stories are full of "labyrinthine gables" and gambrels and peaked roofs. These, because of the nature of the tales, inevitably take on an "queer" and "unwholesome" aspect. Naturally, I was eager to see the city that inspired this peculiar vision, and no sooner had we arrived than I telephoned my friend Andrew, another fan, to tell him I was in Providence. "Is it eldritch?" was the first thing he asked, using one of HPL's favorite store-bought adjectives.
It wasn't, really. The houses in the oldest neighborhoods are now too well-kept to be sinister, but at least one building, the Fleur de Lys studios, where a character from "The Call of Cthulhu" lives, seemed to partake of the appropriate atmosphere. Here is a photograph of it. For more of Lovecraft's New England, see the website of the the H.P. Lovecraft Archive