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Mysterious America

In Search of H.P. Lovecraft

The writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), born in Providence, Rhode Island, had a huge indirect influence on my interests. His pulp-fiction horror and sci-fi stories, though obscure in his own time, subsequently inspired horror films, music, art, games, and other literature. H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 short story “The Call of Cthulhu” even inspired an instrumental on Metallica’s album Ride the Lightning (1984) called “The Call of Ktulu”. In fact, Lovecraft inspired so much derivative material, I’m familiar with much of his work without previously having read any of his original stories.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Lovecraft died in poverty and obscurity. He was an elitist and Anglophile who hated modernity. Never-the-less, by the late 20th Century his influence had grown so much that Brown University erected a small plaque in his honor in 1990. It sits outside John Hay Library at 20 Prospect Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Lovecraft is buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island. His name was originally inscribed on the Phillips family monument (his mother’s family) but in 1977 fans erected a separate headstone for him.

Categories
Historic America

Bunker Hill Monument

The Battle of Bunker Hill was one of the earliest engagements of the Revolutionary War, and the Bunker Hill Monument, a 221-foot granite obelisk, was one of our nation’s first monuments. Neither the battlefield nor the monument, however, are actually located on Bunker Hill. The monument sits atop Breed’s Hill, where most of the fighting occurred.

After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonial army besieged the City of Boston, which was held by the British. On the night of June 16, 1775, Colonel William Prescott led a force of 1,200 men onto the Charlestown Peninsula, across the Charles River from Boston, to fortify Breed’s Hill. They built a square earthen redoubt, from which they could fire artillery at British ships on the water and British forces in Boston.

On June 17, the British landed two columns on the peninsula, totaling 1,500 men, with 400 reinforcements joining the final attack, and stormed the colonists’ defenses. Though victorious, they suffered 226 dead and 828 wounded, the highest British casualty count of the war. The colonists lost 135 dead (including 20 prisoners) and 305 wounded.

Categories
Historic America

USS Constitution and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts

Compared to modern warships and aircraft carriers, the USS Constitution might not look like much, but it was once the most storied ship in the U.S. Navy. It was launched on October 21, 1797, and is still considered to be in active service.

The USS Constitution was originally a 44-gun frigate with a crew of 450 sailors, including 55 Marines. She earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812. Today, she is still crewed by 60 active duty U.S. Navy personnel, though she has been in dry dock at the former Charleston Navy Yard in Boston under restoration for the past three years.

The USS Constitution Museum is a private, nonprofit museum located in a restored shipyard building nearby. It is a first class effort at telling the USS Constitution’s history through art, models and dioramas, hands on displays, and volunteers.

Categories
Historic America

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida

In May 1668, Captain Robert Searle and 70 English buccaneers arrived at St. Augustine to sack the city. In the process, they freed Henry Woodward, first settler of South Carolina, from Spanish prison. In response to the daring raid, Governor Francisco de la Guerra y de la Vega ordered construction of a stone fort on the western shore of Matanzas Bay.

That fort was the Castillo de San Marcos, today the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It was built between 1672 and 1695, and changed hands five times between 1763 and 1862.

The Castillo de San Marcos was designated a national monument in 1924 and is currently managed by the National Park Service. In addition to preserving a rich historical legacy, the fort offers beautiful views of Matanzas Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Categories
Historic America

Petersburg National Battlefield

The Siege of Petersburg, encompassing several battles and smaller actions, was fought between June 9, 1864 and March 25, 1865, around Petersburg, Virginia, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The siege ended in a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 70,000 total casualties.

Today, only a small portion of the battlefield, mainly northeast of the city, has been preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield. It would be impossible to preserve all the extensive earthworks that ringed the city south of the Appomattox River, but many forts and landmarks have been turned into city parks. The battlefield has been divided into two fronts: Eastern and Western. The Eastern Front Driving Tour is four miles and the Western Front Driving Tour is 16 miles.

Categories
Mysterious America

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum

Lighthouses have long attracted strange tales. As guides for sailors weary of smashing against hidden rocks and shoals, they were a matter of life and death for centuries. Tragically, maritime accidents still occurred with frightening regularity. Nearly every lighthouse, like the one at Pensacola, is thought to have a ghost or two. The St. Augustine Light is probably the most famous haunted lighthouse in America.

Spanish conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city of St. Augustine in 1565, making it the oldest continuously-occupied European city in North America. In the eighteenth century, the Spanish built a lighthouse at the coast of St. Augustine to guide trade ships coming into port. The US government erected a lighthouse there in 1824, after the territory was ceded to the US in the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819. The current lighthouse was built on Anastasia Island in 1874 and is St. Augustine’s oldest surviving brick structure.

In 1970, the lighthouse keeper’s house, which by then was being rented to local residents, was gutted by fire. The lighthouse was boarded up and surrounded by a chain link fence. A decade passed, until a group of women in the Junior Service League of St. Augustine leased the property and began restoration. They raised $1.2 million for the effort. Sadly, in 1986 someone shot the light and damaged 19 original prisms, but that too was restored.