The Scottish Rite

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.

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The Sights That Shaped My Childhood Dreams

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.

A Great Tower Looming Blackly

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.

Stained and Sullied Splendour

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.