October-ganza 29: St. John’s Cemetery, Providence

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October 29, 2014 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

Today we have a long-delayed entry in my catalog of New England graveyards – St. John’s Cemetery in Providence. I visited St. John’s as part of my research for my booklet The Graveyards of Providence for NecronomiCon 2013, taking photos of the site. I had meant to post these photos a long time, but they were forgotten in the post-con hubbub until now. The text below comes from Graveyards of Providence.

St. John’s Cemetery (1738)
This burying ground is surrounded by buildings and not immediately accessible from the street. There are several paths one might take to enter, including a footpath off of Church Street, a flight of stairs from Benefit Street, a footpath off the arcade along N. Main Street, and up a flight of stairs from the private parking lot off of Star Street.

Formerly called King’s Church (until 1794), the first burials occurred here in 1722, the last in the 1970s. The stone church on the east side of the lot actually dates to 1810 and replaced an earlier wooden structure. As for the burying ground, there are records of about 400 burials here with gravestones for just over three hundred of them.

The work of several carvers can be found here, including George Allen, Gabriel Allen, Stephen Hartshorn, and William Stevens. Most of the older stones are of the soul effigy style

This cemetery, more so than any other in Providence, captured Lovecraft’s imagination, inspiring the poem In a Sequestered Providence Churchyard Where Poe Once Walk’d. He enjoyed taking visiting friends to walk among the weathered stones here. A few relevant quotes:

About the hidden churchyard of St. John’s—there must be some unsuspected vampiric horror burrowing down there & emitting vague miasmatic influences, since you are the third person to receive a definite creep of fear from it . . . . the others being Samuel Loveman & H. Warner Munn. I took Loveman there at midnight, & when we got separated among the tombs he couldn’t be quite sure whether a faint luminosity bobbing above a distant nameless grave was my electric torch or a corpse-light of less describable origin! Munn was there with W. Paul Cook & me, & had an odd, unaccountable dislike of a certain unplaceable, deliberate scratching which recurred at intervals around 3 a.m. How superstitious some people are!

HPL, letter to Helen V. Sully, October 17, 1933.

Poe knew of this place, & is said to have wandered among its whispering willows during his visits here 90 years ago. Last August I shewed this place to two guests, & we all sat down on an altar-tomb & wrote rhymed acrostics on the name of Edgar Allan Poe…

HPL, letter to Frank Utpatel, February 15, 1937

In July of 1933, Lovecraft terrified Helen V. Sully there with a ghost story.

It was dark, and he began to tell me strange, weird stories in a sepulchral tone and, despite the fact that I am a very matter-of-fact person, something about his manner, the darkness, and a sort of eerie light that seemed to hover over the gravestones got me so wrought up that I began to run out of the cemetery with him close at my heels, with the one thought that I must get up to the street before he, or whatever it was, grabbed me. I reached a street lamp, trembling, panting, and almost in tears, and he had the strangest look on his face, almost of triumph. Nothing was said.

An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 255.

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