Friday, September 20, 2013

A Picnic with Wilum Pugmire, part I

When the NecronomiCon Kickstarter launched in early December 2012, devoted fans able to make the trip to Providence, Rhode Island, considered at which reward level to pledge. Once I'd decided how early I could be in town, I committed to "the Keepers of the Crypt," which was described as follows: "Enjoy a cozy picnic (we'll provide the food) the afternoon of Thursday, August 22nd, with our Poet Laureate, Wilum H. Pugmire, alongside ye ancient graves at St. John's Episcopal Church - where you'll pen and recite Poe-inspired poetry and rhymed acrostics, just like Lovecraft loved to do at this very site!" I've been a fan of Pugmire's weird fiction since his first chapbook, Tales of Sesqua Valley, was published by Necropolitan Press in 1997, and leapt at the opportunity to spend an hour with one of the most unique voices in today's mythos fiction, and how weirdly appropriate it was to have our meeting in a graveyard!

Rhode Island is a four hour drive from my house in northern New Jersey, so I left the morning's light drizzle behind with time to make our group's noon appointment that had been co-ordinated via emails by Pugmire and the convention's generous organizer Niels Hobbs. A small group gathered in the Biltmore Hotel's lobby at 11am, and I was surprised to recognize familiar faces from Facebook groups, Google + circles, and the Lovecraft eZine's video chats, and we fell into easy conversation about the convention weekend ahead. Mr. Pugmire gathered the half-dozen of us and led us on a short walk across Kennedy Plaza and the Providence River to locations of Lovecraftian interest, pointing out the Fleur de Lys house described in "The Call of Cthulhu," the Providence Art Club (where the convention's art exhibit was held), and we stopped at at 135 Benefit Street, notoriously known as "the Shunned House." Next to that old fungi-ridden building there was a small hosta garden that we recognized as the setting of one of Pugmire's tales in his recent Enoch Coffin book. As we continued down the street, I asked our author if he'd mind if I photographed and recorded him. "NecronomiCon is an important occasion and it should be documented as throughly as possible," he said, and, in hindsight, it was- there are enough photos on Facebook and videos on YouTube to make all absentee Lovecraftians feel as if they were present. 

St. John's Churchyard, our destination, was described in Lovecraft's "The Shunned House:" ""I have reared a marble urn to his memory in St. John's churchyard - the place that Poe loved - the hidden grove of giant willows on the hill, where tombs and headstones huddle quietly between the hoary bulk of the church and the houses and bank walls of Benefit Street." The spot was a favorite destination for Lovecraft to bring friends he hoped to frighten, as he mentioned in a letter to Helen V. Sully in October 1933: "About the hidden churchyard of St. John's - there must be some unsuspected vampiric horror burrowing down there & emitting vague miasmatic influences, since you are the third person to receive a definite creep of fear from it ... the others being Samuel Loveman and H. Warner Munn. I took Loveman there at midnight, & when we got separated among the tombs he couldn't be quite sure whether a faint luminosity bobbing above a distant nameless grave was my electric torch or a corpse-light of less describable origin."

As the group settled around a picnic basket of crackers, cheeses, sparkling cider, and a variety of ice cream (coffee ice cream, we were told, was Lovecraft's favorite), our host spoke of Lovecraft's and Poe's association with the churchyard, and he read David E. Schultz's "In a Sequester'd Churchyard" from Crypt of Cthulhu #57 which tells Helen Scully's version of her visit to the graves with Lovecraft. 

“It was dark, and he began to tell me strange weird stories, and despite the fact that I am a very matter-of-fact person, something about his manner, the darkness, and a sort of eerie light that seemed to hover over the gravestones got me so wrought up that I began to run out of the cemetery with him close at my heels, with the one thought that I must get up to the streets before he or whatever it was grabbed me. I reached the streetlamp trembling, panting, and almost in tears, and he had the strangest look on his face… almost of triumph. Nothing was said.” 

"When ST Joshi recounted that, he added, 'What a lady’s man!'" Pugmire laughed. "I think that’s a very appropriate way for Lovecraft to date; I highly approve."

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