This is a quick and brief historical summary note in response to a Facebook query by David Milano, who is set to visit New Orleans and has an interest in Lovecraft’s time spent in the city:
H.P. Lovecraft paid a brief one-week visit to New Orleans in June 1932. He was there ‘taken under the wing’ of local resident and fellow Weird Tales writer E. Hoffman Price, who wrote a memoir of the visit (“The Man Who Was Lovecraft” in Something about Cats, and other pieces, Arkham House, 1949). At some point during these several meetings with Price, Lovecraft was apparently given the city tour — although Price missed out the city’s brothels due to Lovecraft’s conservative sensibilities — “I skipped concubines entirely” wrote Price. Lovecraft stayed at “a third class hotel on Charles Street” according to Price. Price’s apartment was at 305 Royal Street, and they had several epic discussion sessions there. Apparently the older French Quarter was a special hit with Lovecraft’s antiquarian architectural sensibility, and this area was also where Price’s apartment was located. Lovecraft later collaborated with Price on “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, which opens in a New Orleans setting…
“For here, in the New Orleans home of this continent’s greatest mystic, mathematician, and orientalist, there was being settled at last the estate of a scarcely less great mystic, scholar, author, and dreamer who had vanished from the face of the earth four years before.”
Of course, a more substantial use of the locale came earlier. In “the wooded swamps south of New Orleans”, which was one of the key settings in the famous story “The Call of Cthulhu”. The story features an Inspector of Police for the city of New Orleans, who investigates idol worship in the swamps. In real life by 1925 these swamps were apparently threatened by 560 miles of drainage canals, a system which was at that time were increasing and would be increase again under the 1930s work schemes. One of the side effects of draining and logging the swamps would be to cut one of the main arteries by which illegal hard drugs were then entering the USA — the area was reported by police to be one of two main conduits in the 1920s for morphine/opium and cocaine entering the USA. Today, though much depleted by drainage and the heavy logging of the 1930s, some of the swamps are preserved, such as the Barataria Swamp and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Preserve south of New Orleans.
Key Lovecraft locations in New Orleans thus seem to be: 305 Royal Street and the French Quarter; the hotels on Charles Street; and places such as the Barataria Swamp and the Jean Lafitte Preserve.
Incidentally, a gruesome Mary Pickford movie Sparrows was released in May 1926, and is set in the swamps of New Orleans. The movie was possibly seen by Lovecraft in New York, since he wrote “The Call of Cthulhu” in the summer of 1926 and he may have visited the movie in order to give him a good visual idea of the swamps? Pickford was a major star of the time, and the movie saw a wide release.
“Sparrows‘ elaborate sets and magnificent cinematography create a nightmare world that later inspired the classic film Night of the Hunter.”
“Sparrows is horrifically good — a bad dream that wakens to a happy ending, a fairy tale told with brilliant style, a comedy, a Grand Guignol, an expressionist thriller” — Eileen Whitfield.
“The “look” of the film reflects the German expressionist style and should delight Lemony Snicket fans and anyone who gets off on creepy-strange beauty.” — Amazon review.
“Art director Harry Oliver transformed 3 acres (12,000 m2) of the [studio] back lot between Willoughby Avenue and Alta Vista Street into a stylized Gothic swamp. The ground was scraped bare in places, 600 trees were carted in, and pits dug and filled with a mixture of burned cork, sawdust and muddy water.”
The Library of Congress apparently has a beautifully restored 2006 print of the movie, but this has yet to be released on DVD. The currently available DVD is not the restored version, it seems.