Pulp-fiction writer Howard Phillips "H.P." Lovecraft has for decades terrified an underground following of readers with horror stories about monsters and aliens. He's known to some as a bad writer, and to many as a racist. Even during the author's lifetime, his readership was limited.
But now, thanks mostly to social media, this old name in sci-fi horror is getting new attention from a growing fan base. Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, R.I., is trying to capitalize on this rising star.
Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth
The short stories of H.P. Lovecraft are filled with monsters and mysterious creatures from outer space. They have names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.
"You almost feel like you're reading someone's diary entries from their horrible experiences exploring some forgotten backwater of New England," says Niels Hobbs.
In August, Hobbs revived the dormant H.P. Lovecraft literary conference. He called it "NecronomiCon," a name he hoped would signal to fans that this was no Lovecraft-pah-loozah — this was a serious literary conference. It worked. Hobbs estimates 1,200 people from around the globe converged on Providence, identifiable by their black T-shirts with obscure science-fiction references.
They came from Europe, Central America and even as far as New Zealand, and they got down on the dance floor at the Lovecraft Ball wearing masks, horns and hoods as an organist cranked out creepy tunes.
"I've read a lot of the books, but I've never been to Providence, so it's kind of amazing to see all the sites ... he wrote about and the different places he visited," says Vic Cabal, who came from Pennsylvania.
Providence, A Lovecraft Haven
Local businesses latched on to the theme and held their own events. Officials say the Lovecraft convention pumped some $600,000 into the local economy.
Now that Providence is catering to Lovecraft fans, there's an official H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square, the historical society is working on markers for walking tours, and there's even an app that provides a virtual tour of H.P. Lovecraft sights.
A new exhibit at the Providence Athenaeum features a silent movie based on a Lovecraft story, and a new bronze bust of the author. Athenaeum librarian Kate Woodhouse says ever since the bust appeared, so too have Lovecraft fans who are making the pilgrimage almost every day.
"We knew that the event would attract a lot of people and a lot of attention but didn't realize how much we would become associated with Lovecraft by taking the bust," Woodhouse says. "It's great."
Conference organizer Hobbs says this is just the beginning. He's already planning for another conference in 2015, tied into Lovecraft's 125th birthday. For that one, he's preparing for an even bigger crowd.
In the meantime, the craze continues elsewhere — Portland, Ore., will host a CthulhuCon and film festival in April 2014.