Washington itself—mostly the older Georgetown section—claimed considerable of my attention. Of the newer buildings I think I was most impressed by the imposing temple of the Scottish Rite Masons at 16th and S. Sts. I saw this first at night; and something about the Cyclopean windowless façade, with its guardian Sphinxes and cryptical twin braziers burning beside the great bronze door, gave me an ineffably poignant sense of brooding, transmitted mystery—of terrible secrets and obscure arcana of an elder earth, handed down in nocturnal incantations amongst the ancient and privileged group whose meeting-place the temple is. I could understand the sensation of awe, sometimes amounting to fear and aversion, with which the masonic fraternity was generally regarded by outsiders in naiver ages than the present.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Zealia Bishop, Lovecraft describes his impressions of the Masonic Hall in Georgetown.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Zealia Bishop.” 28 July 1928. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 241-3.
‘Tis a grove-circled dwelling
Set close to a hill,
Where the branches are telling
Strange legends of ill;
Over timbers so old
That they breathe of the dead,
Crawl the vines, green and cold,
By strange nourishment fed;
And no man knows the juices they suck from the depths of their dank slimy bed.
In the gardens are growing
Tall blossoms and far,
Each pallid bloom throwing
Perfume on the air;
But the afternoon sun
With its red slanting rays
Makes the picture loom dun
On the curious gaze,
And above the sweet scent of the blossoms rise odours of numberless days.
The rank grasses are waving
On terrace and lawn,
Dim memories sav’ring
Of things that have gone;
The stones of the walks
Are encrusted and wet,
And a strange spirit stalks
When the red sun has set,
And the soul of the watcher is fill’d with faint pictures he fain would forget.
It was in the hot Junetime
I stood by that scene,
When the gold rays of noontime
Beat bright on the green.
But I shiver’d with cold,
Groping feebly for light,
As a picture unroll’d—
And my age-spanning sight
Saw the time I had been there before flash like fulgury out of the night.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The House,” Lovecraft describes an ancient, sinister abode, which fills the speaker with a familiar sense of dread.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The House.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 64.
I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes—
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams.
Such treasures, left from times of cautious leaven,
Cannot but loose the hold of flimsier wraiths
That flit with shifting ways and muddled faiths
Across the changeless walls of earth and heaven.
They cut the moment’s thongs and leave me free
To stand alone before eternity.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Background,” Lovecraft celebrates Providence’s colonial architecture, which had captivated him since childhood.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Background.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 92.
Of all the distant objects on Federal Hill, a certain huge, dark church most fascinated Blake. It stood out with especial distinctness at certain hours of the day, and at sunset the great tower and tapering steeple loomed blackly against the flaming sky. It seemed to rest on especially high ground; for the grimy facade, and the obliquely seen north side with sloping roof and the tops of great pointed windows, rose boldly above the tangle of surrounding ridgepoles and chimney-pots. Peculiarly grim and austere, it appeared to be built of stone, stained and weathered with the smoke and storms of a century or more. The style, so far as the glass could shew, was the earliest experimental form of Gothic revival which preceded the stately Upjohn period and held over some of the outlines and proportions of the Georgian age. Perhaps it was reared around 1810 or 1815.
DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935), the narrator describes a “grim and austere” church on Federal Hill, which fascinates Robert Blake.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Haunter of the Dark.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 336-60.
The place was a four-story mansion of brownstone, dating apparently from the late forties, and fitted with woodwork and marble whose stained and sullied splendour argued a descent from high levels of tasteful opulence. In the rooms, large and lofty, and decorated with impossible paper and ridiculously ornate stucco cornices, there lingered a depressing mustiness and hint of obscure cookery; but the floors were clean, the linen tolerably regular, and the hot water not too often cold or turned off, so that I came to regard it as at least a bearable place to hibernate till one might really live again.
DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Cool Air” (1926), the narrator describes the rundown apartment building, in which he is living.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Cool Air.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 130-38.
On the 14th I visited Gen. Washington’s country-seat of Mt. Vernon, on the river below Alexandria, and left not a corner of house or grounds unexamin’d. It were trite to speak in detail of this well-known scene, but I may mention that the house was built in 1743 by Lawrence Washington, half-brother to the General, and that the latter inherited it in 1752, upon the death of Lawrence and his daughter. It was call’d Hunting Creek Estate till its builder renam’d it in honour of Admiral Vernon, the inventor of “grog”, under whom he had serv’d against Spain. The house is low and spacious, most of the rooms being rather smaller than one wou’d expect in an edifice of such pretensions. The grounds, sloping down from a high bluff to the river with many a wooded ravine and willow-lin’d path, display the finest taste in selection. Stables and other outbuildings comport with the mansion house in style and beauty; the whole forming as sightly a plantation as any gentleman in Virginia cou’d reasonably demand. The elegance of the lower rooms, in point of architectural ornament, is carry’d almost to excess; but the upper rooms are singularly austere. I beheld the bed upon which the General dy’d, together with innumerable other objects connected with him. In walking thro’ the grounds I came upon his tomb, and stood but a few feet from the body (in its sarcophagus beyond the grating) which even now must bear some resemblance to the living gentleman, so perfectly was it embalm’d. In the 1830’s, when it was transferr’d from its original resting-place on the river bluff to this mausoleum, a person who gaz’d upon the features declar’d them but little impaired by the more than three decades of internment. I descended to the river, view’d all the buildings, and in general familiaris’d myself with the whole estate. I cannot praise it too highly, or hope too strongly that it may always be preserv’d with unremitting diligence as a specimen of good architecture and ideal type of southern gentleman’s seat.
DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Observations on Several Parts of America,” Lovecraft describes his trip to Mount Vernon, one of many historic sites he visited during the summer of 1928.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Observations on Several Parts of America.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 16-30.