T. Peter Park

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937)is widely recognized as one of the great classic American masters of the macabre supernatural tale, in the tradition of Edgar Al1an Poe and Ambrose Bierce. His blending of an extensive, intimate knowledge of the history, geography, landscape, and folklore of his native New England with his own elaborate mythology of extra-terrestrial and other-dimensional beings, prehistoric alien civilizations, and quaint and curious invented volumes of forbidden lore like the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred gave Lovecraft's fiction a verisimilitude rare in fantasy literature. His stories originally appeared in the 1920's and 1930's in cheap "pulp" magazines with lurid covers like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, but since his death in 1937 he has won a solid, respectable minor niche in American literature. Lovecraft was a scholarly, lonely, semi-reclusive youth who later blossomed into one of the twentieth century's great letter-writers and a warm, encouraging friend of many neophyte authors. 1

The son of parents who both died in a mental institution -- a syphilitic father and a neurotic, over-protective, increasingly unstable mother -- Lovecraft always saw himself as an outsider, and was obsessed in his tales with tainted heredity -- both from miscegenation with alien creatures and from inbreeding. Many of his protagonists are offspring or descendants of humans who have crossbred with demon-like other-dimensional entities summoned in magical rituals ("The Dunwich Horror"), fish-like or frog-like ocean-dwelling "Deep Ones" ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth"), or apes ("Arthur Jermyn"). In "The Lurking Fear", his monsters are descendants of inbred Dutch Colonial landowners who have literally de-evolved into cannibalistic apes. Lovecraft thus anticipated contemporary "abductees" who claim to have been used in reproductive experiments to create human-alien hybrids. This obsession with hereditary taints, unholy cross-breeding, and incestuous inbreeding can of course be explained by Lovecraft's own troubled family history and the prevailing hereditarian, racialist, and eugenicist social discourse of the early 20th century. However, the curious parallels with later abduction lore should not be ignored! 2

Was the American fantasy, horror, and science-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft an abductee? Did his lifelong obsession with writing tales about encounters with weird, horrifying entities from distant planets, alien dimensions, and the depths of the sea reflect repressed memories of real-life encounters with such beings? Despite the weird themes of his fiction, Lovecraft was for most of his life a staunch atheist, a thorough-going scientific materialist, and a total skeptic about the supernatural. He abandoned his family's Baptist faith during his childhood, passed through childish phases of flirtation with Islam and Greek paganism through enchantment with opulent Near Eastern splendor and harmonious Hellenic beauty, and by his teens had settled firmly into his lifelong agnosticism and materialism. Yet, there are hints of uncanny personal experiences belying the dogmatic Enlightenment rationalism of his adult life. He was a dreamy, imaginative child prone to vivid visualization and suffering from nightmares, and frequently experienced vivid, bizarre dreams in his adult life. His conscious world-view of hard-headed hard-line Enlightenment materialism may have partly been a defense against the eerie terrors haunting his subconscious and expressed in his fiction. 3

In his childhood, Lovecraft suffered recurrent nightmares of being snatched away by bat-winged, black, rubbery flying demons. He also went through a period of intense childhood obsession with ancient Greece, when he once actually "saw" a satyr or dryad. He described his nightmares, noting that at age 6 or 7 he was "tormented constantly" by dreams of a "monstrous race of entities" he called "Night-Gaunts" who "used to snatch me up by the stomach [bad digestion] & carry me off through infinite leagues of black air over the towers of dead & horrible cities." They carried him into a "gray void ... where I could see the needle-like pinnacles of enormous mountains miles below. Then they would let me drop -- & as I gained momentum in my Icarus-like plunge I would start awake in such a panic that I hated to think of sleeping again. The 'night-gaunts' were black, lean, rubbery things with horns, barbed tails, bat-wings, and no faces at all."

Undoubtedly, Lovecraft believed, he "derived the image from the jumbled memory of Doré drawings (largely the illustrations to Paradise Lost)" which had "fascinated" him in his waking hours. "They had no voices," he continued, "& their only form of real torture was their habit of tickling my stomach [digestion again] before snatching me up & swooping away with me. I somehow had the vague notion that they lived in the black burrows honey-combing the pinnacle of some incredibly high mountain somewhere. They seemed to come in flocks of 25 or 50, & would sometimes fling me one to the other. Night after night, I dreamed the same horror with only minor variants -- but I never struck these hideous mountain peaks before waking." 4

This was probably just a recurrent bad dream, perhaps stimulated by indigestion as Lovecraft thought. However, it might also have been an incipient form of the psychological phenomenon sometimes manifested as a fu1l-fledged abduction. A year or two later, little Howard's passion for Greece led to a hallucinatory (as he later saw it) "close encounter" with Pan and woodland nymphs. He had already abandoned his Protestant faith, but had not yet fully adopted his Enlightenment scientific rationalism: "When about seven or eight I was a genuine pagan, so intoxicated with the beauty of Greece that I acquired a belief in the old gods and nature sprits. I have in literal truth built altars to Pan, Apollo, and Athena, and have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk. Once I firmly thought I beheld some kind of sylvan creatures dancing under autumnal oaks; a kind of 'religious experience' as true in its way as the subjective ecstasies of a Christian. If a Christian tells me he has felt the reality of his Jesus or Jahveh, I can reply that I have seen hoofed Pan and the sisters of the Hesperian Phaethusa." 5

A talent for "seeing things" seems to have run in Lovecraft's family. His mother, Susan Lovecraft, became increasingly mentally unstable in the 1910s, and was confined to a mental institution in 1919, where she died in 1921. Clara Hess, a Providence neighbor of the Lovecrafts who visited them in the 1910s, recalled Mrs. Lovecraft's hallucinations of monsters around 1915 or 1916: "I remember the aunts who came to the little house on Angell Street often, as I recollect, quiet, determined little New England women, quite different from Mrs. Lovecraft, although Mrs. Lovecraft was a very determined person herself. I remember Mrs. Lovecraft spoke to me about weird and fantastic creatures that rushed out from behind buildings and from corners at dark, and that she shivered and looked about apprehensively as she told her story." 6

His biographer, L. Sprague DeCamp, felt that it was "not surprising" that Lovecraft "should write about 'shunned houses' with spooky atmospheres, when he himself had so long lived in one." Likewise, DeCamp saw Mrs. Lovecraft's hallucinations of "weird and fantastic creatures" as the obvious "source of Lovecraft's malign alien entities, waiting to snatch the earth from the rule of man." 7 Neither Mrs. Hess nor DeCamp, however, described Mrs. Lovecraft's "weird and fantastic" creatures, so we do not know if they resembled the "Grays" described by modern abductees. Likewise, we do not know if Lovecraft himself ever shared his mother's hallucinations (or visions) at this period of his life. The adult Lovecraft reported an "odd dream" in 1920 that might be interpreted (if one so likes) as both a "past life" memory and a "Roswell"-type autopsy of a weird creature. He wrote his associates in the small "Gallomo" literary club of dreaming that he was First Lieutenant Eben Spencer, a physician and Union Army surgeon in the Civil War, home on a furlough on July 8, 1864 in his unnamed native village in northern New York state. In the dream, a distraught friend begged him to visit his older brother, Spencer's close friend and medical colleague, Dr. Chester, who had been acting strangely and "conducting secret experiments in a laboratory" in his attic for two years, creating "sickening odours" and "odd sounds." The secretive, bad-tempered Dr. Chester reluctantly admitted his brother and Spencer to his laboratory, proudly showing them two neatly severed left arms that he successively brought in on a large glass slab. Sneering at Spencer's "amputation practice in the army," Dr. Chester asked what he thought "professionally" of the first arm, which was "damp, gelatinous and bluish-white," its "fingers ... without nails." Spencer saw that it "clearly ... was not a human arm," and told Dr. Chester, "This is not the arm of any living thing," to which the experimenter replied, "Not yet, Spencer." The Army surgeon's "sinister colleague" then announced, "This is only the beginning, Spencer." At this point, however, the "whole scene began to fade," and he awoke in 1920 with his normal Lovecraft self. "I have never seen Dr. Chester, or his young brother, or that village since," Lovecraft concluded, adding "I do not know what village it was. I never heard the name Eben Spencer before or since." 8

Lovecraft's dream intrigued UFO Roundup editor Joseph Trainor, who did some historical investigation on "Dr. Eben Spencer" and "Dr. Chester" in 1997. Research in various libraries showed that the "dream" actually had "roots in reality." There had indeed been a First Lieutenant Elbridge Gerry Spencer, surgeon, of the 94th New York Regiment, U.S. Army, from the small northern New York town of Brockett's Bridge, now called Dolgeville, near Herkimer. Elbridge Gerry Spencer was born in Brockett's Bridge in March 1839, and enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. "Dr. Chester" was "Doc" Chester, a local herbalist with a younger brother (as in Lovecraft's dream). Curiously enough, neither Spencer, "Doc Chester," or the "Doc's" younger brother were listed in the 1870 Census and the 1881 town directory, as if they had all "up and left town" before 1870. Even stranger: the 1889 Herkimer Democrat obituary of Spencer's sister stated that he had "vanished twenty years ago," i.e., around 1869. A German-born New York businessman, Alfred Dolge, came to Brockett's Bridge in 1874, introducing various industries and many German immigrants, turning the community into a "company town," renamed Dolgeville in 1881. Trainor saw the whole mystery as a Roswell-like 19th century UFO crash cover-up: "Doc" Chester, he speculated, found a crashed spaceship and badly injured alien in the woods near Brockett's Bridge, nursed the alien back to health without however being able to save its two left arms, and showed it to his brother and Lieutenant Spencer. As a dutiful Army officer, Spencer reported it to his military superiors, who informed the ruthless Union spymaster Lafayette C. Baker, head of the National Detective Police, a Civil War forerunner of the FBI. Baker murdered Spencer, "Doc" Chester, and the "Doc's" brother to keep their discovery a secret. Alfred Dolge, too, in Trainor's scenario, was brought to Brockett's Bridge to destroy all traces of its pre-1874 past.

Whether or not we accept Trainor's rather imaginative scenario, Lovecraft's "Spencer" dream sounds like the sort of "past life memory" sometimes cited as proof of reincarnation, and explained by more cautious parapsychologists in terms of retrocognition, or direct extrasensory (ESP) knowledge of past events. A more mundane explanation would be that Lovecraft had read somewhere about Lieutenant Spencer and the Brockett's, consciously forgotten about them, but subconsciously recalled them. This suggests that Lieutenant Spencer and his friends in Brockett's Bridge did or saw something curious enough to attract some journalist's or chronicler's attention and set them down in print in some book or article where Lovecraft later chanced upon them. 9

Lovecraft later wrote one story whose plot somewhat recalls post-War II UFO abduction scenarios and some of the more sinister speculations about what the UFOs might be up to. In "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1930), perhaps the closest of his stories to modern UFO and abduction lore, Lovecraft depicted aliens capturing inconvenient human witnesses who knew too much about them. For years, the solitary scholar Henry Wentworth Akeley and his lonely Vermont farmhouse have been under siege by human-sized crab- or prawn-like intelligent fungi from Pluto ("Yuggoth" ) using the nearby hills as a base for their projected conquest of Earth. The creatures wish to silence any local who knows too much about their presence. Akeley corresponds with the Miskatonic University professor and folklore enthusiast Albert Wilmarth in Arkham, Massachusetts, who is curious about local Vermont legends and newspaper reports of occasional sightings of mysterious creatures. Akeley at first bombards Wilmarth with terrifying letters and telegrams warning him of the sinister intentions of the aliens.

Suddenly, however, Akeley changes his tune and sends Wilmarth a very upbeat letter regretting his previous total misunderstanding of the aliens, reiterating their benign intentions, and enthusiastically announcing his own plans to soon accompany the aliens on their cosmic travels. Wilmarth is puzzled by Akeley's new attitude, though excited over the potential opening of "dizzying new vistas of cosmic and superhuman knowledge," where one can "shake off the maddening and wearying limitations of time and space and natural law" and "be linked with the vast outside." 10 Perplexed and a bit uneasy, Wilmarth visits Akeley, eventually discovering that the aliens have surgically excised Akeley's brain and placed it in a jar, while letting Wilmarth talk with an alien disguised as Akeley. Wilmarth barely manages to escape with his life. He also learns that he had been shadowed -- and even chauffeured from the local train station to the Akeley farmhouse -- by another alien disguised as a human being.

"The Whisperer in Darkness" particularly foreshadows contemporary UFO and abduction lore in anticipating both schools of thought among UFO aficionados of the aliens' character and intentions: the optimistic "New Age" faith in kindly "Space Brothers" or angelic "Visitors" coming to save us from a catastrophe, warn us against the errors of our civilization, or uplift us to a higher plane of consciousness, and the more sinister vision of ruthless, amoral technological barbarians callously using us as guinea pigs in breeding experiments or breeding an alien-human hybrid race to conquer us. Lovecraft portrayed his "fungi from Yuggoth" as cold-blooded aggressors and manipulators who, however, could pose as benign "Space Brothers" to lure unsuspecting Earthlings into their trap. As in modern UFO and abduction lore, Lovecraft presented the aliens in "The Whisperer in Darkness" as rather furtive -- in contrast to earlier invasion-from-space stories like H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, where the Martians launched a military attack on London in broad daylight. Lovecraft's crustacean-like Fungi from Yuggoth don't zap London, New York, and Moscow with H-bombs and laser death-rays, though that may be the penultimate act of their game-plan, but operate in stealth from their secret base in the Vermont hi1ls -- just as our own "flying saucers" do not land on the White House lawn, United Nations Plaza, or Red Square, demanding an audience with our leaders, but stealthily abduct human guinea-pigs for medical examinations and cross-breeding experiments. Like the Fungi from Yuggoth, our modern "Grays" combine a rather sinister and frightening general pattern of behavior with occasional Utopian promises of coming to us in peace from their own more advanced civilization to share their knowledge with us and raise us to their own exalted level.

The irresistible question is, did Lovecraft have his own alternately scary and euphorically Utopia-promising encounters with Grays, whom he fictionalized as the Fungi from Yuggoth? Or, contrarily, did Lovecraft help lay the seeds in our popular culture and our "collective unconscious" for our modern mythos of the alternatingly sinister and angelically benevolent Grays? Are books like Whidey Strieber's Communion, Budd Hopkins' Intruders, John Mack's Abduction, and David Jacobs' Secret Life just so many footnotes to Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness", just as Whitehead once called the history of Western philosophy a series of footnotes to Plato? Are the Grays just an updated version of the Fungi from Yuggoth? Or, did Lovecraft in fact base "The Whisperer in Darkness" on a garbled and fictionalized version of a dim memory of the Brockett's Bridge incident?



1 For overviews of Lovecraft's life, work, and place in American literature, see: L. Sprague DeCamp, Lovecraft: A Biography (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), and David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, eds., An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H.P Lovecraft (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1991). [return]

2 On Lovecraft's family background and concern with hereditary insanity, on the concern with hereditary taints and "family skeletons" in his fiction, and on his acceptance of early 20th century hereditarian and racialist ideologies, see: DeCamp, Lovecraft, pp. 1,66, 89-99,102-106,112, 116,117,134-135, 250-256; Stefan Dziemianowicz, "Outsiders and Aliens: The Uses of Isolation in Lovecraft's Fiction," in Schultz and Joshi, An Epicure in the Terrible, pp. 159-187; Robert H. Waugh, "Landscapes, Selves, and Others in Lovecraft," in Schultz and Joshi, An Epicure in the Terrible, pp. 220-243. For a debate on whether or not Lovecraft inherited syphilis from his father, see David H. Keller, M.D., "Shadows Over Lovecraft," Fresco, VIII (Spring, 1958), pp. 12-29, including a rebuttal by Kenneth Sterling. [return]

3 On Lovecraft's early loss of religious belief, and his agnosticism and materialism, see DeCamp, Lovecraft, pp. 18-19, 80-83, and S.T. Joshi, "Introduction," in Schultz and Joshi, An Epicure in the Terrible, pp,. 23-25. [return]

4 De Camp, Lovecraft, pp. 30-31, quoting: H.P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 1 Jan. 1915; W. Paul Cook, "An Appreciation of H.P. Lovecraft," in H.P. Lovecraft, Beyond the Wall of Sleep (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1943), p. 428; Lovecraft to Robert.H. Barlow, 10 April 1934; Lovecraft to Virgil Finlay, 24 Oct. 1936. [return]

5 De Camp, Lovecraft, pp. 19-20, quoting: H.P. Lovecraft, "A Confession of Unfaith," in H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Essays (North Tonawanda, NY: SSR Publications, 1952; Vol. I of The Lovecraft Collectors Library, ed. by George Wetzel), pp. 19-22}, p. 20; paraphrased in letters by H.P. Lovecraft to Edwin.F. Baird, 3. Feb. 1924, to R. Michael, 20 July 1929, to Robert. E. Howard, 30 Oct.1931. [return]

6 DeCamp, Lovecraft, p. 66, quoting letter by Clara L. Hess to August W.Derleth, 9 December, 1948. On Mrs. Lovecraft's confinement, see DeCamp, Lovecraft, pp. 134-135. [return]

7 DeCamp, Lovecraft, p. 66. [return]

8 Joseph Trainor, "1864: Roswell in Upstate New York? ," UFO Roundup, Vol. 4, No.33 (December 9, 1999), quoting H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters: 1911-1937, Vol.1 (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1965), pp. 100-102; DeCamp, Lovecraft, p. 400. I am indebted to The Anomalist editor Patrick Huyghe for sending me Trainor's article in an e-mail message of Friday, December 10, 1999. [return]

9 Joseph Trainor, "1864: Roswell in Upstate New York? ," UFO Roundup, Vol.4, No.33 (December 9, 1999); Joseph Trainor, "1997: Cheap Detective," UFO Roundup, Vol. 4, No.34 (December 16, 1999), forwarded in e-mail message by Patrick Huyghe to T. Peter Park, Saturday, December 18, 1999; e-mail message of Joseph Trainor to T. Peter Park, Tuesday, September 28, 1999; web page, "The History of Alfred Dolge", by students of Dolgeville Central School, Dolgeville, N.Y., last updated 6-15-1998. A good overview of the alleged empirical evidence for reincarnation, and various explanations of such evidence, can be found in Ian Stevenson, M.D., Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1966, 1974). [return]

10 H.P. Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1930), in H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror and Others, selected by August Derleth, texts ed. by S. T. Joshi, introduction by Robert Bloch, 2nd ed. (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984), pp. 242-243. [return]

© 2006 Edward P. Berglund
"H.P. Lovecraft: An Abductee?": © 2001 T. Peter Park. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from The Anomalist, Winter 2000/2001 (# 9).
Graphic © 1998-2006 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: October 28, 2006