Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Providence Athenaeum

Arriving in Providence early afforded me time to explore the city before the convention monopolized my time and attention, and I set out on a brief walking tour with my sketchbook to capture some key sites of Lovecraftian interest.

The drawing above is of the Providence Athenaeum, the oldest member-supported library in the United States and the site of Edgar Allan Poe's courtship of Sarah Helen Whitman. As I sketched the library standing on the city courthouse's steps across the street, a sheriff came out, locking up for the day. Instead of chasing me off the steps, he shared with me some local history and invited me back the following day for a tour of the courthouse. He told me that College Hill was riddled with tunnels from Colonial days when the wealthy Brown family secretly imported slaves. I'd read about the fabled tunnels and the ghost stories around them, but he insisted on their existence, for how else to explain the numerous residential complaints and police reports he'd taken over the years of sounds and criminal mischief in the area? (I wonder if the legend of tunnels in the neighborhood fired Lovecraft's imagination and influenced his writing- there are many stories of his that involve tunnels and subterranean cities.)

A postcard of the Athenaeum, 1906

 In front of the Athenaeum is a water fountain that Rory Raven mentioned in his book Haunted Providence: Strange Tales from the Smallest State. Apparently, there are some who say that to drink from this fountain "condemns the drinker to be forever trapped, unable to leave the city," and I thought, what an excuse that would be to stay in Providence! Though I'm not sure my wife would be convinced of the curse... Upon closer examination, I was disappointed to find the water fountain dry and in apparent disuse.

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