In addition to his classics of horror fiction, it is estimated that Lovecraft wrote 100,000 letters — or roughly 15 every day of his adult life — ranging from one-page diaries to seventy-page diatribes. Perhaps 20,000 of those letters have survived, in the hands of private collectors and at the John Hay Library in Providence.
In each episode of this podcast, we'll read one of these letters (or part of it) and then discuss it. In his letters HPL reveals an amazing breadth of knowledge of philosophy, science, history, literature, art and many other subjects, and forcefully asserts some highly considered opinions (some of which can be upsetting).
And of course his letters offer a fascinating window into his personal life and times. Although we've been working with Lovecraftian material for over 30 years, we still find interesting new things in his letters, and while we don't claim to be experts we look forward to sharing them with a wider audience.
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In this letter to his new friend Bernard Austin Dwyer from March 26, 1927, almost one year after moving back to Providence, HPL recalls the dreadful year he spent living alone in Red Hook, New York City. While we're on the subject, we also touch on "The Curse of Race Prejudice" by HPL's friend James Ferdinand Morton, Jr.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz for their Letters to Maurice Moe and Others, published by Hippocampus Press. Thanks again to Rebecca Paiva for returning to the library microfilm of the Providence newspapers.
Lovecraft and Dwyer traded some newspaper clippings about gang crime in Red Hook. We haven't been able to conclusively identify which ones, but there were lots to choose from! In the week that HPL wrote this letter, there were several stories published in the New York Times (and picked up by other papers) about both the New York State Crime Commission's report about youth crime in Red Hook, and a deadly flare-up of gang warfare among Chinese immigrants in NYC and other large cities. Rebecca Paiva did find an article about the crime report in the Providence Journal, but because Red Hook is not mentioned by name it seems quite possible this is not actually the clipping HPL mentions in this letter.
If you'd like to read the Times articles in their entirety, click on any of the links below to open a PDF.
Crime Board Tells: March 20
Red Hook Resents: March 21
Chinese Shot Dead: March 24
Tongmen Kill Nine: March 25
Here is the map of racial/ethnic distribution in Red Hook from the Crime Commission's report, laid over a current map of Red Hook. The ethnic breakdown comes from the 1920 census, which was the most recent data available.
You can see that HPL's Brooklyn address was at the very northern edge of the area studied in the report, adjacent to what is marked as a predominantly Syrian neighborhood.
You can read the actual 1927 report of the Crime Commission of New York State which describes youth "gang crime" in Red Hook in tremendous detail. This report was abundantly quoted in the NY Times coverage.
Here is one of the photos of the juvenile delinquents studied by the NY State Crime Commission. Maybe it's just bad digitization, but it seems their faces have been scratched out to make them unidentifiable, which just makes them look creepier and more menacing. Or maybe that's what their faces were like and that's why HPL was so afraid of them! You can see several more photos along with numerous charts and tables and graphs in the 1928 report on juvenile delinquency, with lots of additional information about what young hooligans in New York City did with their time. Below is an excerpt from the Red Hook report, with a table and a map showing rates of delinquency in the neighborhood.
HPL placed the ad seen at left in the New York Times on Sunday, August 10, 1924, seeking any kind of respectable job. In the magazine section of that very same issue, the profile of Arthur Machen seen at right was published.
You can read the entire profile in this PDF!
If you would like to read James F. Morton's pamphlet "The Curse of Race Prejudice", you can get a copy for the original price of 25¢ in the HPLHS online store.
The Kickstarter for Miskatonic Missives ends on November 12. We've been extremely gratified by the support it has gotten and are excited about all the stretch goals unlocked: since recording this episode we already unlocked the postage stamp stretch goal! If you haven't already checked it out, go HERE!