Lovecraft meets Atlas Obscura

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.


As one who answers the Call of Cthulhu, I have a special interest in locations that have to do with Lovecraft or the Cthulhu mythos. Risking my grasp on reality and sanity I have assembled three places that display the distinct geometry of evil that occurs when Lovecraft and the Atlas Obscura meet:

The Witch House, Salem

The home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges involved in the Salem Witch Trials, which sentenced nineteen "witches" to hang and crushed one man to death in an attempt to make him confess to witchery. It is the only structure left with direct ties to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and referenced in Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch House."

Danvers State Hospital for the Criminally Insane

The insane asylum was the basis for Arkham Sanatarium in H.P. Lovcraft's Horror stories and Batman's Arkham asylum but is now a horrifying condo. However a nearby cemetery where the residents of Danvers were buried went unmolested by the condo developers and is worth a visit. The hospital is referenced in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "Pickman's Model."

Atlantic Ave. Tunnel

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel was built in 1844, and is possibly the worlds oldest subway tunnel. The tunnel lay sealed and hidden under the busy Brooklyn street for almost 140 years until it was rediscovered by a twenty year old in 1980. One can take a tour of the site, which the discoverer of the tunnel still gives. Be prepared to enter via manhole in the middle of Atlantic Ave. Referenced (not by name, but Lovecraft was likely referring to it) as the location of devil worshippers in "The Horror at Redhook."

A much more detailed list of Lovecraftian sites can be found here at the HPLA , and great Lovecraftian travelogs here and here.


  1. I got arrested for tresspassing to take pictures at Danvers… it was so worth it, though. Would have been more worth it had they let me keep my film. SIGH.

  2. The best thing about Danvers State was all the “witchy” metalheads that would write satanic grafitti on the inside of the abandoned buildings. I once found a (sadly), what looked to be, ritually sacrificed raccoon. Given that they were most likely pot-addled stoners, I’m assuming they found the raccoon, and defiled him later. A friend of mine has an old log book describing the patients escape attempts. I had no idea it was the inspiration for Arkham!

    1. I remember being in the car with my father in the early 60s and driving by Danvers. It was the creepiest place you could possibly imagine. He told me that it was an insane asylum and tried to make it as horrifying and scary as possible. I asked if we could buy it and live there. They should have made condos out of it. It made the Dakota look positively cheerful.

  3. I meant that they couldn’t catch a fast-moving raccoon, and found a dead one instead. I am a beer -addled poster. Postee? Sorry…….Back to Lovecraft! Isn’t Gloucester supposed to be Innsmouth?

  4. For obscurer obscura: Kingsport, Tennessee. Only ‘Kingsport’ in the US as far as I can tell, other than in Lovecraft’s universe.

    King’s Port, named after a guy named King, not royalty.

    The Wiki for Kingsport (Lovecraft) says “It is based on Marblehead, Massachusetts” but urban legend/friend from there says Mr. Lovecraft visited the Tennessee location and used the name later. Not on the seacoast, of course.

    There is a church circle, and the fog is more evil than in the era he visited..
    More or less infused with Eastman Chemical’s exhaust fumes and the even-more-mysterious waters of the local river they put their other stuff in.

    Fictional places I can handle, the real one is a place I would not want to live in. Bring a gas mask if you visit, or you will be plagued with the Cough of Chemiculu.

  5. Holy moley – I’m from Marblehead and never knew the connection. I’m sure if I had known it would have made reading Lovecraft back around high school age all the more bizarre.

  6. Wasn’t the Danvers Asylum the building used in that sadly under-rated and really creepy movie “Session 9?”

    The building really became the main character in the film and imbued everything with a paint-peeling sense of dread and foreboding.

    I seem to remember that the headstones in the graveyard were particularly unsettling.

    (I would have preferred this entry to finish with the sound of Vincent Price laughing maniacally.)

  7. @FERGUS

    Yep that’s the same building.

    Also, In the Shadow Over Innsmouth the narrator spends some time in my hometown, Newburyport while investigating Innsmouth.

  8. “It is the only structure left with direct ties to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and referenced in Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House.”

    Um, why is the Witchhouse in Salem, MA when the trials actually took place in Danvers? It used to be known as Salem Town but the city fathers changed the name to Danvers due to the bad publicity. Salem, MA has been milking money from confused tourists ever since.,_Massachusetts

  9. There is a so-called “witches graveyard” from the Salem Witch Trials, and it’s also actually in Danvers (supposedly in the woods behind one of the malls in Danvers).

  10. In Danvers…Judge Holtens house is on Holten Street, the Rebecca Nurse farm is down the street a bit. There is a memorial to the people killed in the hysteria near the elementary school.

    One of the older graveyards for Danvers State Inmates is behind the industrial park on Electronics Ave (off route 1). Quite a creepy place. Also there are several little private/family graveyards peppered around town…in back-yards, the mall parking lot, near the highway. I’m not sure if these were witches though.

    For my nickel though, Dogtown in Gloucester and some of the old quarry sites in Rockport have the same vibe that I get when I read about Lovecraft’s “eldritch moors”.

  11. Well, everyone seems to have stole my thunder about nearly every single tidbit relating to Danvers State Hospital.

    I think it is still there, but now it’s luxury condo’s. panoramic views and electro-shock therapy. You can still see the steeples from I-95 i believe.

    and Session 9 is pretty underrated, especially the alternate endings, and especially when you know it’s a real place not all too far from where you were watching it.

  12. I see these lists every once in a while and wonder why Quabbin Reservoir never gets mentioned. They drowned four towns in the Swift River Valley to make a new water supply for Boston in 1939, inadvertently covering over the “blasted heath” that was once the Nahum Gardener farm from “The Colour Out of Space”.

    “Ammi would never go near the place again. It is forty-four years now since the horror happened, but he has never been there, and will be glad when the new reservoir blots it out. I shall be glad, too, for I do not like the way the sunlight changed colour around the mouth of that abandoned well I passed. I hope the water will always be very deep – but even so, I shall never drink it.”

  13. @#15

    I think Alan Moore may have been drawing on the Quabbin Reservoir as inspiration for his Swamp Thing story about a flooded town full of underwater vampires. Just speculation on my part, but he has used Atlas Obscura type locales before, (i.e. the Winchester House in CA).

  14. #4: Only if you’ve never Been to Oldbury on Severn (if you haven’t, don’t). Or, of course, Norfolk.

  15. I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft, apart from a story long ago (Dunwich Horror?) What do you recommend I start with?

  16. I’m guessing that the “found here at the HPLA” link should actually go here:

    Let me see if I can answer some of the questions here and make a few clarifications.

    The Witch House in Salem isn’t necessarily the basis for Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House”. The house in Lovecraft’s tale was owned by a witch, but Salem’s house was owned by a witch trial judge. And in Lovecraft’s time the building was an unimpressive-looking drug store. It’s also not “the only structure left with direct ties to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692” — there are at least a dozen extant buildings in Danvers and Salem that relate to the witch trials.

    Danvers State Hospital has not been entirely torn down. About two-thirds of the main Kirkbride building was demolished and the site is now a luxury apartment complex known as Avalon Danvers. Yes, it was the site of the film Session 9 — the featurette on the DVD has some great footage of the asylum.

    Lovecraftian Will Murray posited that Gloucester was Lovecraft’s inspiration for Innsmouth, but even a cursory study of Lovecraft’s letters indicate that it was actually Newburyport. Will also suggested that the Quabbin Reservoir was Lovecraft’s inspiration for “The Colour Out of Space”. However, Rhode Island’s Scituate Reservoir, which supplied water to Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, is a much more likely candidate.

    There’s no evidence to indicate that Lovecraft borrowed the name Kingsport from the town in Tennessee. Lovecraft’s first use of the name Kingsport was in 1920, but his first trip through Tennessee was in 1932. The Kingsport described in “The Festival” (1923) is unquestionably based on Marblehead.

    I’ll have to do some research on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue tunnel and see if it could’ve had any influence on Lovecraft’s writing of “The Horror at Red Hook”.

    Donovan K. Loucks
    Webmaster, The H. P. Lovecraft Archive

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