I have never been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft but having spent most of my professional life in the company of 20-year-olds here in Salem I’ve definitely been exposed to the man and his works, especially as they (supposedly) relate to our gothic city. Many of my students believe that the Lovecraftian city of Arkham was modeled on Salem, and its Miskatonic University, our university. They might be right about the former, as the fictional Arkham does indeed have a lot of Salem features, but Lovecraft’s Miskatonic U. is a lot more ivy-covered than our concrete Salem State: most experts assert that is modeled after Bradford College, a now-defunct college up in Haverhill, or perhaps even Brown University, located in Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. We have a great nursing program but no medical school (to service our sanitarium) or Department of Medieval Metaphysics. Apart from the University, The Arkham/Salem connection seems so well-established that I’ve always been curious that Lovecraft has not been assimilated more comprehensively into the relentless Witch City campaign, but that seems to be changing now: I’ve seen Lovecraft walking tours and an exhibit over the past year, and for the next few weeks the Salem Theatre Company is staging an adaptation of The Thing on the Doorstep, the Lovecraft story most closely associated with Salem through its references to the old Derby house and the old Crowninshield place.

Thing on the Doorstep

One of my former students directed me to a site that really drives home the Salem/Arkham connection: The Miskatonic Railroad, 18821907. The centerpiece and absolute focus of this Arkham is Salem’s fortress-like train station, which was demolished in 1954. I don’t believe that Lovecraft ever mentioned the Salem Depot in his works, but it certainly appears Lovecraftian, both in photographs and as recreated for the model Miskatonic Railroad. Its creator, John Ott, doesn’t care much for the rest of Salem, but he is duly impressed by our long-gone station: “Salem today rates about a seven on the dreary scale—not much to see, despite its touristy cant. But up until about sixty years ago, Salem boasted the most spine-tingling eerie Gothic-Norman stone train station in North America”.  Apparently he doesn’t share Lovecraft’s affection for Federal architecture!

Salem Train Depot SSU

Salem Train Depot Razing SSU

Arkham Ott

Arkham Ott 2

Salem Train Depot side view LOC

Miskatonic RR Station

Photographs of the old Salem Train Depot from c. 1905, 1910 & 1954 (the razing!!!), from the Dionne Collection at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and the Library of Congress interspersed with John Ott’s model Miskatonic Railroad Station. Many more images (and stories) of the latter here.

7 responses to “Arkham/Salem

  • ggirlforevah

    When I saw these pictures I was immediately reminded of Nashville’s Union Station built in 1900 and now a grand hotel. On a recent visit to Nashvile while riding around in search of a restaurant I spied an amazing, vast and elaborately decorated building and was instantly smitten. It is closely related to the old Salem Train Depot.

  • Brian Bixby

    Just tell us, Donna, where is SSU hiding their copy of the Necronomicon?

    • daseger

      I’ll ask our archivist tomorrow–but I think it’s hidden in the basement of the long-shuttered Bradford College library! I’m reading a real grimoire this morning–Lovecraft couldn’t have made it up, or maybe he could have:

      • Brian Bixby

        Off on a time-travel trip to Bradford College, then! 😉

        Lovecraft had VERY little knowledge of traditional occultism when he began writing, and cribbed some of his material from encyclopedias. His early story “The Horror at Red Hook” demonstrates his low level of knowledge of such things.

        In his ignorance, he made up the Necronomicon, and even quotes from it extensively, most notably in “The Dunwich Horror.” On the other hand, he rejected actually writing the Necronomicon out, feeling that nothing he would write could compare to what readers could imagine. I suspect he was right.

        I dimly recall that he actually did get his hands on some early modern grimoire, maybe A.E. Waite’s edition of the Key of Solomon. And he found it hideously boring and incoherent.

        Which raises the question of how you find YOUR grimoire reading this morning?

      • daseger

        Slow—but I’m blaming it on the 3rd glass of wine last night……

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    […] Donna Seeger of the Salem State University history department comments, […]

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