To the right, do you see that dusty rose house overlooking the gravestones? From 1816-1863, that was the home of Sarah Helen Whitman, the poet and spiritualist with whom Edgar Allan Poe was enamored. In a 1934 letter, H.P. Lovecraft wrote: "The rear of this house overlooks the hidden churchyard of St. John's, where Poe used to wander on moonlight nights."
Lovecraft also described the cemetery in his story "The Shunned House": "I have reared a marble urn to his memory in St. John's churchyard - the place that Poe loved - the hidden grove of giant willows on the hill, where tombs and headstones huddle quietly between the hoary bulk of the church and the houses and bank walls of Benefit Street."
According to More Annotated Lovecraft (edited by S.T. Joshi and Peter Cannon), "Lovecraft liked to take visitors to St. John's churchyard at night, one of whom, an attractive young woman named Helen Sully, because so frightened when Lovecraft started to tell her ghostly stories that she fled from the place."
The graveyard also inspired Lovecraft's poem "In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d." Be sure to note out the first letter of each line of the poem.
Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arched high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.
Lonely and sad, a specter glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, though his song
Peals down through time with a mysterious spell.
Only the few who sorcery's secret know,
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.
(Note: For additional pictures of St. John's and related spooky sites, visit my virtual walking tour of Lovecraftian Providence.)
Audio Recommendations: If you happened to be walking through St. John's churchyard, you might yearn for some eerie listening to keep you company. Here would be some of my recommendations:
** My latest discovery is The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. Each episode discusses a specific Lovecraft story: what it's about, how it reads, why it may have been written, and what other works of art it's influenced. It's fun, thoughtful, and yes, a little creepy. What's not to love?
** There are many podcasts of old-time radio, but Vintage Horror Radio Podcast is the best in my opinion. This podcast shares the best of vintage radio programs that dramatized classic horror literature. This month the show is focusing on explorations of Edgar Allan Poe. Very appropriate!
** The Classic Tales is one of my very favorite podcasts. To celebrate Halloween, host B.J. Harrison is currently running some extra-spooky ghost stories by the likes of M.R. James and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
** The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company Podcast is always fun, and ARTC's most recent episode is their Halloween-friendly adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu!
** The Cthulhu Podcast, a terrific podcast that highlights stories written and inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, is currently producing an unabridged reading of H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Spooky Text of the Day: Today's reading is short but chilling, ideal after a stroll in a graveyard: "The Vampire" (1920) by Jan Neruda, translated by Sarka B. Hrbkova.
We breakfasted together and when the noon heat had abated somewhat we all betook ourselves to the heights, where in the grove of Siberian stone-pines we could refresh ourselves with the view. Hardly had we found a suitable spot and settled ourselves when the Greek appeared again. He greeted us lightly, looked about and seated himself only a few steps from us. He opened his portfolio and began to sketch.
"I think he purposely sits with his back to the rocks so that we can't look at his sketch," I said.
Read the complete story here.