Quest for Dunwich
By Adam Bolivar
Last year while sifting through the digital detritus of the world wide web, I happened upon this little gem:
The writer of the article speculates that the true location of H. P. Lovecraft’s haunted village of Dunwich was inspired by the area around Shutesbury, Massachusetts, which has many features in common with the ones mentioned in “The Dunwich Horror.” Being a native of Massachusetts myself (I currently reside in Portland, Oregon), I was quite familiar with the locations mentioned in the article. Indeed, I had recently visited my friend Dave in Shutesbury, and the woods behind his house struck me as so Lovecraftian, I was inspired to write a short story called “The Time Eater,” which was later published in the Lovecraft eZine. During my visit Dave had also showed me a house in nearby Leverett, where, according to the house’s owner, H. P. Lovecraft had once stayed. I pored over various biographies of the legendary weird fiction writer, but could find no mention of a stay in Leverett—although he had toured the general region in the company of his friend H. Warner Munn in the summer of 1928, just before writing “The Dunwich Horror.” Could whoever had lived in that house have been a friend of Munn’s? Could the master of tentacular horror really have stayed there back in ’28?
I wrote to Dave and showed him the article. A fellow Lovecraftian, he was as intrigued by it as I was, and soon paid a visit to the Temenos retreat in Shutesbury, the location of Mt. Mineral—the modern name for the “Horse Hill” mentioned in the article. Astonishingly, Temenos was only a stone’s throw from the house in Leverett. Upon Dave’s second visit to Temenos, he met with the caretaker, who had summoned a council meeting (I kid you not!) during which one of the old council members spoke up to say that he knew of some standing stones near Mt. Mineral, now toppled, but clearly once arranged in a circular shape! Could Mt. Mineral be the inspiration for Sentinel Hill in “The Dunwich Horror?” I was putting two and two together and it was adding up to Cthulhu. Flush with cash from a recent writing job, I wasted no time in booking a flight back east.
Upon my arrival, our first task was to track down the house’s owner and try to verify his claim that HPL had stayed there. A little gumshoeing turned up the owner’s phone number in a local white pages. We called him and left a message on his answering machine asking him to call us back. Dave had also learned another tidbit from a friend who had rented the house (the one who’d first heard the story from the owner): Lovecraft had said that Leverett reminded him of the “cold nothingness of space.” It definitely sounded like something Grandpa would say. The house itself was suitably creepy: dark and perched atop a high hill. It dated from 1790.
The big day came when I took my quest to Temenos itself, accompanied by a merry band of adventurers: Dave, his friend Steve, and our mutual friends Jay and Sue, who photographed the journey. Temenos was certainly not lacking in interesting features: we found an old Indian stone chamber built into a hill, a Buddhist shrine and a curious stone carving of some kind of god, which had mysterious origins.
At the site of the retreat itself was a water pump that dispensed the famous mineral water that gave Mt. Mineral its name—water once prized by Boston Brahmins and the New York elite, who flocked there for spa treatments in the 1800s. A local named Ephraim Pratt was said to have lived to 116 years drinking that water, with a life spanning from the colonial 17th century to an independent America in the early 19th. Could he have been the inspiration for the centuries-spanning Ephraim Waite in “The Thing on the Doorstep?” I tried the water myself; it was ghastly and tasted of sulphur. As for the stone circle, alas, we found nothing definite. There were certainly a lot of large stones around Mt. Mineral, arranged in strange formations by the glaciers that had plowed through that region 18,000 years ago. At one point I became lost in the woods and stumbled upon a secluded copse that appeared to be bounded by a series of stones. Had they been arranged deliberately? Maybe. But by whom?
I must end my weird tale without a satisfying conclusion, despite so many tantalizing clues that this place provided the inspiration for Dunwich, at least in part. We never did hear back from the owner of the house in Leverett, and Dave has yet to meet the “old council member” who knows the location of the toppled stone circle. One day I may go back. Or if not me, perhaps some other intrepid dream-quester will venture into dark woods of Shutesbury, Massachusetts and discover the true location of “The Dunwich Horror.” Maybe it will be you, if you dare…
Pictures courtesy of NewmanImage.
A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Adam Bolivar has lived in New Orleans, Berkeley, and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. He is a prolific marionette playwright, and has written nine plays performed by the Scratch Brothers’ Prestodigital Phantasmagoria and the CastIron Carousel. His fictional works have appeared in Nameless Magazine, the Lovecraft eZine, and in anthologies published by Eraserhead Press and Chaosium.