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Innsmouth - Entry #17

August 18, 2018

Innsmouth, a most infamous name in the mind of the mind of the reader of cosmic horror- infamous, magnetic, and very real...

 

...sort of.

 

"It was a town of wide extent and dense construction, yet one with a portentous dearth of visible life. From the tangle of chimney-pots scarcely a wisp of smoke came, and the three tall steeples loomed stark and unpainted against the seaward horizon. One of them was crumbling down at the top, and in that and another there were only black gaping holes where clock-dials should have been. The vast huddle of sagging gambrel roofs and peaked gables conveyed with offensive clearness the idea of wormy decay,"

- The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft

 

An accurate description of Newburyport, Mass as H.P. Lovecraft would have seen it when he visited the tiny seaport village in 1923. Once the hub of shipbuilding in the Northeast, predating the revolution, rivaling even Boston. The greatest shipbuilders and engineers America has ever known once called Newbury port their home. It was a place of commerce, trade, and wonders. From its humble docks set sail great packet ships and into it they returned from Far-eastern travels baring mysterious treasures of jade, pearl, scrimshaw, jewelry, and exotic spices. Vestiges of these glorious times can be viewed today at the Newburyport Customs House, now a maritime museum. Behind glass cases you'll see Chinese shoes beaded in jade, massive oyster shells, brain coral cut with mesmerizing Cyclopean geometry. On its walls you'll see stoic portraits of fishy-looking beak nosed sea captains, paintings of massive seagoing vessels at full sail. And, in one corner of the downstairs gallery you'll see an inconspicuous black and white photograph. At first glance it appears to be of nothing more than a junk yard, heaped high with twisted metal, discarded and broken crates. Upon closer inspection, you'll notice something else, curious then shocking as you slowly recognize the large structure in the background. It is... the very customs house you're standing in.

 

This is the Newburyport that greeted Lovecraft in 1923. As commerce began to move to larger ports, industry went with it and by the turn of the century the city was largely abandoned. The great Georgian and Federalist estates that dominated High Street began to fall into disrepair. State Street became empty and desolate. The shipyard rotted away in the humid salt air, and Newburyport for all intents and purposes became Innsmouth.

 

As I wondered down State Street on my recent trip to New England, I spotted the vestiges of old Newburyport that has so inspired and unsettled Lovecraft- the brick paved roads, the cobblestone, the ancient spires of the old Unitarian churches jutting like white knife blades against the sky. However, Lovecraft would largely not recognize the Newburyport of today. A massive restoration on the old city that began in the 1970s has transformed the loathsome town of foetid rot and eldritch decay into a sparkling and idyllic New England town populated mostly by retired yuppies and rich Bostonians on holiday. It has returned, if only in image to its former glory. However, if one knows where to look, a lonely byway, an empty shipyard, a looming church house, the spirit of Innmouth still lurks- a shunned, nameless horror.

 

 An ancient brick industrial building on State Street and suspicious local keeping close watch on the snooping stranger from out of town.

 

 The looming tower and darkened entry of the Old Unitarian Church, occupied now perhaps by some Esoteric Order.

 

The Old Court House, built before the revolution, still used today for its original purpose. It looms over what the locals call the frog pond. Its unsettled, dark waters reminds one of Lovecraft's blasphemous chimeras.

 

A view across Newburyport Harbor - a lonely sailboat and abandoned Georgian estate home.

 

 Plum Island Light, across the salt marshes, overlooking the open sea to guide incoming ships past the perilous Devil's Reef.

 

 

 

 

 

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