Providence in 1920

As automobiles became more common, the modern type of general outline map of a city became needed. Here’s an early one for Providence in 1920, which also now has its uses for orienting Lovecraftians. The dotted line in the harbour also indicates the sailing route of the ocean-going passenger ships from Fox Point.

A bit of a pickle…

New to me, the book Weird Chicago (2008), now on Archive.org.

My text searches, and a skim of the table-of-contents, suggest that the book somehow completely overlooked the fact that Chicago once housed Weird Tales magazine. But it does note in passing that 1930s/40s Weird Tales cover-artist Margaret Bundage’s husband worked as a bartender at the Dil Pickle bar.

Vamps in Whitby

The 13th century gothic Whitby Abbey in northern England plans to break… “the world record for the largest gathering of people dressed as a vampire”. Shoes are apparently vital. Past attempts in America have failed, due to too many turning up in training-shoes rather than black winkle-pickers. It’s hoped that some 1,200 vampires will be flitting around on the evening of 26th May 2022.

“The House and the Shadows”

I find that J. Vernon Shea’s late memoir of Lovecraft is online, as printed in Fantasy & Science Fiction (May 1966). It can thus be seen in context. The magazine’s editor thinks, for instance, Lovecraft’s entire work to be “entirely unwholesome” and has “great reservations”. Elsewhere in the issue Fritz Leiber reviews the first book of the Selected Letters.

In I Am Providence Joshi much later remarked…

Some of his essays on Lovecraft — especially “H. P. Lovecraft: The House and the Shadows” (1966) — are quite notable.

Shea’s memoir runs to 7,700 words and seems more of an early attempt at a short biography than a memoir, and as such has largely been overtaken. But it’s an interesting snapshot of Lovecraft ‘as known’ among the science-fiction crowd in the summer of 1966. At that time the counter-culture was incipient but also still somewhat ahead in time. There was great disdain among the science-fiction gate-keepers for genre-mixing (fantasy/sci-fi, sci-fi/horror), allied to a huge concern for ‘respectability’ amid the ever-present thought of ‘what will the mainstream culture think of us?’.

‘Picture Postals’ from Lovecraft, 9 Canal St., Providence

Hurrah, persistence pays off. Friday the 13th might be unlucky for some, but it’s lucky for Lovecraftians. Because here at last is a picture of Lovecraft’s favourite Jacques Lunch, and at the 9 Canal Street address too. Aka “Jake’s”.

From the budget bundle-o’-local-photos book Rhode Island: Unforgettable Vintage Images of the Ocean State, published 2000 and now long out of print. Here cleaned, rectified and colorised.

The date is uncertain. The caption has it that Hugues Jacques and Pierre ‘Leo’ Jacques are seen behind the counter, and we know from Ken Faig Jr. that they took over the former bar in 1923. So it is probably at about that date or a little later. One can see a docks-worker and probably at least one docks foreman or truck-driver eating at the counter. As well as several old gents who might be of limited means, perhaps the “Salvation Army derelicts” as Lovecraft once referred to them in a letter. A certain ‘Domingo’, not seen, also regularly served behind the counter…

Toward Domingo, an olive-skinned, behind-the-counter servitor at Jacques’, his favorite eating place in Providence, he was as affable as a courtier in a drawing room.” (Talman, on Lovecraft)

Lovecraft had discovered this cheap and abundantly sustaining eatery via Talman in 1926, and from then on he regularly enjoyed its man-sized portions of cheap food. He does not appear to have been a daily or even a weekly customer, but he dropped in and was well known to the place and its people — especially in the summer “visiting season”. The place seems to have slowly slid downmarket over the years. From late summer 1933, and as the Great Depression deepened, Jake’s began to tolerate what Lovecraft called “extremes in the matter of clientele”. He sought out other nearby options, and came to patronise a nearby Al’s Lunch. However, perhaps the “clientele” situation eased. Since Ken Faig Jr. has established he was still eating at Jake’s in August 1934 and March 1935. One day in mid September 1935 Lovecraft found Jacques abruptly closed, the business having failed at last. Lovecraft looked forlornly in the windows again at various times, but found it always “still vacant”.

Also newly discovered, as seen in my earlier post, the opening times as they stood in April 1933…

It’s a gas…

I’ve updated Monday’s 132 Wickenden Street post. I had mis-typed “Jack’s” instead of “Jake’s” a couple of times. Corrected now. I’ve also re-thought what Faig’s “one door east” means in the context of this new-found picture. It now looks to me like “Jake’s” had been on the opposite corner (i.e. the open forecourt seen here), and had moved across to the other corner at 132 when the Shell gas-station forecourt was built on the site of 126.

In which case this is it before the Shell station, albeit as a small picture…

* Opening times, April 1933 ad…

Both are closed from 8pm to 4am.

* March 1934 ad…

126 was now only in open in the afternoon and early evenings, perhaps a sign of staff problems. Canal St. was still only closed from midnight to 4am, with the expanded opening hours possibly a sign of needing the income.

* Late September 1935 ad…

The ad has No. 126 open 24 hours a day except Sundays, and no mention of Canal St. Which had closed down that same month.

The Lovecraft Geek returns

I’m pleased to see that Lovecraft scholar Robert Price has re-animated his The Lovecraft Geek podcast, now the pandemic is effectively over. To the extent that there are three new episodes available. Before this, the last episode had been 31st March 2020. Then there was a long hiatus.

The new episodes can download to .MP3 from the show’s Podbay listing. Episode 22-001 is a 56-minute regular Lovecraft Geek, and one of the best I’ve heard. This is followed by two with Price’s new readings of Lovecraft’s “Dagon” and “The Temple” respectively.

It thus looks like there’s a good chance of another The Lovecraft Geek or two during 2022, so send in your questions to help encourage the next one.

I also took a look to see if more Lovecraft-related episodes had popped up over on the Christian MythVision YouTube channel, but no… they still only have his short 18 minute-one on “Lovecraft and the Origins of Religion” (June 2020). The rest of his podcasts over there appear to be about Biblical historicity and suchlike, and are thus not likely to be of interest to Lovecraftians. But there’s plenty to dig into in the back-catalogue of The Lovecraft Geek, linked above.

There’s also his The Bible Geek Show, and he mentioned on the new Lovecraft Geek that he recently did a complete Clark Ashton Smith reading there. Though he doesn’t say which episode.

Also mentioned in the new Lovecraft Geek are Lovecraft’s Dreamlands tales and two of the best emulators of these are named… Myers for his The House of the Worm / Country of the Worm, but also the “early Kuttner”. And Price should know on that point, since he was the editor for Kuttner’s The Book of Iod: The Eater of Souls and other Tales (1995, Chaosium) collection. A quick perusal of Price’s Introduction in that book reveals the two stories he must be thinking of…

Kuttner penned a pair of pastiches of Lovecraft’s Dunsanian tales. These are “The Jest of Droom Avista” and “The Eater of Souls”.

Both short tales were in Weird Tales in 1937 and can thus now be found online as originally printed…

“The Eater of Souls”. (Plain text).

“The Jest of Droom Avista”. (Plain text).

132 Wickenden Street, Providence

Fox Point Photo History has placed online a post-1938 photo of “Jacques Lunch” courtesy of Lou Costa. To Lovecraft this was “Jake’s”. The date looks to be the early-mid 1950s, though I’m no expert on American cars and it might be later.

Jacques Lunch, [1]32 Wickenden Street. Looking north on Wickenden Street.

The photo has the “1” in 132 Wickenden Street cut off by the scanner. It had formerly been at No. 126, and moved to No. 132 in 1938. So this is the later site that Lovecraft would not have known, but it indicates the situation. Since Ken Faig Jr.’s Moshassuck Monograph Series No. 18 (2019) has scrutinised the maps and puts the move from 126 to 132 as only “one door east”. In which case, as the picture looks north, the old location known to Lovecraft was very near if not adjacent to the above cafe. I wonder if it had perhaps been where the Shell garage forecourt is, as seen on the picture?

“Jake’s” as Lovecraft called it was a key local haunt of Lovecraft’s from 1926. There were however two branches for Lovecraft’s fave Providence eatery, a cheap “stevedore restaurant” which he had discovered in 1926 via Talman. “Stevedores” being burly dockworkers. In October 1929, in a letter to Wandrei (p. 171) he give a tantalising flavour of the place. Lovecraft records that he had recently enjoyed a visit to Jake’s with Talman. But he also recalls that the nervous Cook, visiting Lovecraft in Providence a short while later…

somehow harboured the least bit of reluctance toward lining up to the counter [at Jake’s, Canal St.] betwixt [black] stevedores and Salvation Army derelicts

This more central Canal St. Jake’s (formally “Jacques”) closed during the Great Depression, in September 1935. But a little later Lovecraft was pleased to discover that the other Wickenden Street branch of his favourite cafe was still open down on the even rougher waterfront at Fox Point…

I have discovered the slum branch of Jake’s is still open, so that if the call of old times is sufficiently strong, we can plunge down South Main St. & tank up with the familiar overdoses in a hardy waterfront section where the sparrows chirp in bass & the policemen go in carbine-bearing squads.” (November 1935, the volume of Wandrei letters, page 345). [carbine-bearing = bearing rifles].

However in July 1936 he told Talman in a letter that he had not recently visited the Wickenden Street branch on Fox Point, to confirm that the surviving waterfront branch was still open. It is of course possible he did visit Wickenden Street with Wandrei in November 1935, but his comment to Talman shows he was not sure if it had survived into the late summer of 1936. My thanks to Ken Faig Jr. for the 1936 letter data.

Here we see Fox Point and the docks in the distance, looking across to it from the Market Place district. The New York passenger boats arrived and departed there (see the pair of far white boats), and Morton and Loveman and possibly others used this method rather than the railway. I seem to recall that Sonia also travelled by boat. Thus Lovecraft would have walked up to the Point to meet them or see them off.

Wickenden Street was on the edge of the Fox Point ‘wedge’, and it does not seem impossible that this cafe would have been a natural destination with a friend fresh-off-the-boat and hungry for hot cheap food. The anarchist Morton being the most likely candidate to eat in a cheap “slum” cafe catering to stevedores and merchant sailors. As evidence of his venturesome-ness one can point to the time that he and Lovecraft clandestinely snuck into the adjacent rail-freight yards, then puzzled their way through a maze of sinister box-cars to reach a good shore view.

Here we look down on Fox Point, and the cafe appear to be more or less in the centre of the picture. Though I think it must be obscured by other buildings. The New York Boat docks are off camera on the right. The rail-freight yards are too low down along the shoreline to be seen.

The river Seekonk can however be seen in the distance, and perhaps a line that indicates one of the Twin Islands. The young Lovecraft used to land on these with his rowing boat, when he was a sturdy lad.