Once upon a school year dreary, while I pondered weak and weary (as a broke undergrad), I lived in a haunted house.
It was rumored that the rickety, 19th century mansion-cum-student housing was once inhabited by a family annihilator. Unexplained things happened all the time: the television changed channels without warning, and footsteps echoed from the off-limits attic. Belongings disappeared, pictures leapt from walls. A roommate swore on a bottle of Jose Cuervo that she’d once awoken to the nebulous form of what looked like a child at the foot of her bed.
Wishful thinking on our parts? I’ll own up to having a little Lydia Deetz in me, but the mishaps seem awfully similar to another – and much more famous –haunting, presumably by everyone’s favorite cosmicist H.P. Lovecraft.
In 1924, suffering from anxiety, a crumbling marriage, and a damaged psyche, Lovecraft rented a first-floor room at 169 Clinton in what was then known as Red Hook, Brooklyn (the area has since been incorporated into the tony Brooklyn Heights). Brooklyn was not kind to Lovecraft – or rather, Lovecraft was not kind to Brooklyn. He was actually downright hateful when it came to the waterfront melting pot, saying things like, “Naturally I would have shunned a lodging which seemed to savour of coarseness, but here again unusual conditions conspired to deceive me.”
True, at the time Brooklyn Heights was not the borough’s version of the Upper East Side that it is today. While other writers like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Wolfe flourished in the cheap, crime-ridden neighborhood, Lovecraft deemed it “a maze of hybrid squalor”, a “babel of sound and filth”.
It was here that Lovecraft penned the pre-Cthulhu Mythos short story “The Horror At Red Hook”, a nasty little tale about practicing occultists who oversee the gateway to Hell. Ostensibly inspired by Brooklyn Heights and 169 Clinton, the sordid entrée lay directly beneath the basement of a home on the fictional Parker Place.
In 2008, intrigued by the backstory, Nellie Kurtzman (daughter of Mad magazine animator and founding editor Harvey Kurtzman) and a roommate rented the apartment once inhabited by Lovecraft. Not long after their move, strange things started happening after an Ouija board séance: a picture leapt off the wall and fell to the floor; the hammer used to hang it disappeared. A deep humming noise seemed to emanate from the bowels of the basement. Kurtzman was plagued by unusual, vivid dreams – similar to Lovecraft’s tortured time in the apartment when his neighbor “played eldritch and whining monotones on a strange bagpipe which made me dream ghoulish and incredible things of crypts under Bagdad and limitless corridors of Eblis beneath the moon-cursed ruins of Istakhar.”
So is the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft haunting 169 Clinton? Given his disdain for the parapsychological (“I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes; with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism—religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality”) it seems somewhat incongruent.
On the other hand, I often walk past the old townhouse, and can attest that I’ve felt something…unwholesome (I refuse to attribute it to the Key Foods down the block who once sold me spoiled chicken). And come to think of it, the ivy does crawl furtively up the side of the peeling brick building, lying in obnoxious slumber during the winter.
Whatever you choose to believe, it makes for one hell of a story.
Carrie Jo Tucker is a Brooklyn-based, Florida-born freelance writer and the author of I Love Geeks: the Official Handbook (Adams Media). She's been writing since she was old enough to scribble with a crayon, and her earliest work focused on horses, unicorns and man-eating hazardous waste. She's since expanded her subject matter to man-eating hazardous unicorns. Follow her on Twitter @cjotucker.