Her Letters To Lovecraft: Henriette Ziegfeld

“The Blind Prince,” by Henriette Ziegfeld, is an excellent juvenile tale involving a fairy story. The only serious objection is the undercurrent of adult comment which flows through the narrative. Particularly cynical is the closing sentence: “‘And here’s Mother,’ finished poor Auntie with a sigh of relief.” The ordinary fairy stories told to children are bits of actual Teutonic mythology, and should be related with a grave, absolute simplicity and naivete. However, as a psychological study of the typical childish auditor, the sketch as a whole is highly meritorious. We are inclined to wonder at the possible meaning of the strange word “alright,” which appears more than once in Miss Ziegfeld’s tale. It is certainly no part of our language, and if it be a corruption of “all right,” we must say that we fail to perceive why the correct expression could not have been used.

“Department of Public Criticism,” The United Amateur 15, no. 2 (Sep 1915), in Collected Essays 1.72

This was, as far as can be determined, Lovecraft’s first notice of the existence of Henriette Ziegfeld (1894-1976), an amateur journalist from Columbus, Ohio. According to census data, Henriette was the child of immigrant parents, her father Dutch and mother German, and one of 11 children that survived to be recorded. “The Blind Prince” was published in The Woodbee, the amateur journal of the Woodbee Press Club of Columbus, which was associated with the faction of the United Amateur Press Association that H. P. Lovecraft had joined the previous year.

Amateur journalism appears to have been something of a family affair for the Zeigfelds. Lovecraft’s editorials and a letter mention her brothers Arthur (1901-1971; CE 1.267, 302, 307-8) and Florenz (1888-1951; CE 1.88, 124; LRKO 87); a 1920 convention report also lists as voting members their siblings Emelie (Emily), Hilda, Alma, Oscar, and Mrs. Ziegfeld—presumably their mother, Pauline Ziegfeld (1859-1929). A 1921 accounting of officers of the Woodbees lists Arthur F. Ziegfeld as President and his sister Henriette as the Secretary and Treasurer (CE 1.267).

By coincidence, Florenz Ziegfeld shared his name with the impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1869-1932), who staged the famous revue Ziegfeld’s Follies (1906-1930s), which featured dozens of elaborately costumed showgirls (popularly called “Ziegfeld Girls”) in an elaborate musical and visual tableau. Inspired by the coincidence, in 1921 Arthur F. Ziegfeld began producing his own amateur journal titled Ziegfeld’s Follies.

The only surviving correspondence between the two is a single letter dated 6 Nov 1920 from Lovecraft to Ziegfeld, thanking the Woodbee Club for the generous donation of $25 toward the United Amateur Press Association’s fund for the publication of The United Amateur. Presumably, Henriette was acting as treasurer and had sent the money and an accompanying letter or note, so this was Lovecraft’s official thank-you. He also included an official notice in The United Amateur, which contains another relevant detail:

The Woodbee Club, now doubly prominent in amateurdom through its possession of both the Presidency and the Secretary-Treasurership, continues to be the most active of local bodies. On Labour Day, September 5, a successful corn roast was held on the Frazier Farm, whilst on September 24 the third annual rummage sale took place. Of the proceeds of the latter, $25.00 will be very generously donated to the Official Organ Fund in five-dollar instalments. The latest event is a farewell party to Miss Henriette Ziegfeld on the eve of her departure for India.

“News Notes,” The United Amateur 21, no. 1 (Sep 1921) in Collected Essays 1.300

Whether she replied is unknown; but possible—someone had to have informed Lovecraft that Henriette was leaving for a teaching mission in India, and in subsequent issues Lovecraft offered brief updates of her progress, so someone was keeping him appraised:

Miss Henriette Ziegfeld of the Woodbee Club on November 12 sailed for India, where she will be engaged in missionary work at Nagercoil, Travancore, in the southernmost part of the peninsula.

“News Notes,” The United Amateur 21, no. 2 (Nov 1921) in Collected Essays 1.303

On December 24th the Club received the pleasing news that Miss Henriette Ziegfeld had safely reached her destination in India, despite two threatened onslaughts of mal de mer during the voyage; onslaughts which were cleverly defeated by means of judicious pedestrianism.

“News Notes,” The United Amateur 21, no. 3 (Jan 1922) in Collected Essays 1.308
Henriette Ziegfeld’s 1921 passport photo
Henriette Ziegfeld in India, 1923, Concordia Historical Institute

That is the last word in Lovecraft’s amateur journalism essays or letters on Henriette Zeigfeld. No doubt a good example of many brief correspondences with women in various positions of amateur journalism, most of which do not survive.

The letter from Lovecraft to Henriette Ziegfeld has been published in Miscellaneous Letters (2022). While the date given on the letter is 1920, the notice of the $25 donation occurred in 1921—either the Woodbee Club made two such donations, or the letter is from 1921 and was misdated or mistranscribed.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Bernice Nette (Leach) Barlow

The present household consists of Barlow & his mother; & of a mother & son named Johnston, from Virginia, who keep house & attend to various duties.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 13 May 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 171

On the second of May 1934, a little after noon, H. P. Lovecraft stepped off the bus into the Florida afternoon sunshine. He was met there by Robert H. Barlow—a young correspondent whose letters had first reached him via Weird Tales three years earlier. Lovecraft was shocked to find his friend, with whom he would be staying for several weeks during his Florida vacation, to be only 16 years old.

No account is given, in letters or memoir, of Lovecraft meeting his teenage friend’s mother, Bernice Barlow. That is rather typical for everyone involved; she was there—cooking meals, driving the car, and no doubt a million other things—but during his two trips to DeLand in 1934 and 1935, Lovecraft’s letters focused on his adventures with Bobby Barlow, and R. H. Barlow’s memoirs of the time focus on Lovecraft. Little interest was given to the woman who quietly held everything together.

She was born Bernice Leach in Leavenworth, Kansas on 12 May 1884. Her father Adoniram (“Nide”) Bostwick Leach was a schoolteacher associated with the Leavenworth Business College; her mother Myrtilla Emlin (Parker) Leach appears to have been a homemaker. Bernice was the third of five children, with her older sisters Mabel (b. 1877) and Minnie (b. 1879), and younger brothers Parker (b. 1888) and Elwood (b. 1889). Absent any biographies, much of her life has to be pieced together with census data and newspaper accounts.

Bernice graduated high school and continued to live with her parents. At about age 20 or 21, she met Lt. Everett Darius Barlow (b. 1881), who was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. Newspaper accounts report on the visits of Everett and his brother Warren with the family. In 1905, it was announced that Everett and Bernice were engaged; on 21 December 1907, after he returned from his first stint in the Philippines, they were married. About ten months later, their son Everett Wayne Barlow was born, on 10 October 1908.

Life for a military wife is hard, and hardly documented. Census data shows that in the ensuing ten years the family moved from one posting to the next. When E. D. Barlow shipped out to France in April 1918, Bernice was heavily pregnant with their second child. She would be with relatives in Kansas when Robert Hayward Barlow was born on 18 May 1918. We can only guess at the unspoken decade between child—miscarriages, stillbirths, long absences from home might have all played their part.

When E. D. Barlow returned from the Great War, he was not the same. Without his medical records it can be difficult to get at the heart of the matter, but there are suggestions that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which made family life difficult. Lovecraft, whose own mother had suffered a breakdown before her death in 1921, was sympathetic:

Glad to hear your father is somewhat improved, & hope he can arrange to make his gains permanent. These nervous breakdowns are no joke; no matter how much they may inconvenience & depress the bystanders, they are a damned sight worse for the victim himself.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 19 Mar 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 114-115

In 1934 when Bernice Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft met they had been living pillar-to-post for about twenty-six years. With E. D. Barlow’s retirement at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, the family ended up in rural Deland, Florida, far from family and friends. The house they built was named Dunrovin, and when Lovecraft arrived it was not quite finished. E. D. Barlow was up north, seeking medical treatment; Wayne Barlow had joined the army. So Bernice was on her own, with her precocious teenage son, and the Johnstons to help her out around the house. There is only one real anecdote about Lovecraft and Bernice from this period, but it bears repeating:

We had been in the habit of gathering blueberries beyond a shallow creek running between the swamp. Now HPL was no woodsman, as may be seen, and it was always perilous to trust his poor sight and lack of horse-sense. […] A series of recent rains had rendered the land very muddy, and the creek-channel had far overflowed, elaving a widespread thin puddle through which we had no choice but to wade. At the deeper creek had been placed a board to serve as bridge; and this was crossed without mishap. We spent some time gathering berries, but were through long before his dim eyes had attained even a half-basket. So we helped him filled it, and then all started home (Lovecraft, [Johnston], and myself). He lingered for possible other berried, and fearing just such a mishap, I stood uponthe makeshift bridge and called out its location to HPL.

[…] although I missed the scene myself (meeting him upstairs later) mother said he came in, soaking wet, and with most of his berries gone. In the God-awful rig he must have appeared very comical, thought it had also a tragic air about it. Promptly he said to mother, “I really must apologize!” She, amazed by this vision of a thoroughly wet HPL, said in surprise, “What for?”

He went on to explain he had been homeward bound when he came to the creek. Not seeing the board, he was abruptly pitched up to his neck into cold water. The berries were flung up and upset, most of them going on the slight current.

R. H. Barlow, “Memories of Lovecraft (1934)” in O Fortunate Floridian 406-407

The first visit lasted until 21 June 1934, about six weeks. Once in St. Augustine, Lovecraft posted a card to his gracious host:

It surely seems odd, after so many weeks of enjoyment of the Villa Barlovia’s hospitality, to be absent from the familiar table’s west end, & to forego the evening promenades on the moonlit Cassia road! I scarcely need reiterate how keen a delight my protracted visit gave me—& how profoundly I hope that I did not occasion any gortesque extremes of inconvenience with my wild hours & habitual absences from scnes of constructive endeavour.

H. P. Lovecraft to Bernice Barlow, postmarked 21 Jun 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 140

This is, as far as survives, the only piece of correspondence directly between Lovecraft and Bernice Barlow. No doubt any important news would have been shared through Lovecraft’s continuing correspondence with her son; there is a note on the envelope of one letter (“No news—Mother” O Fortunate Floridian 351) which may or may not be intended for HPL. Yet for the most part, Lovecraft seems to have quickly and firmly settled in as a family friend. On his 1935 visit, Lovecraft met Everett and Wayne Barlow and got along well with both of them.

Lovecraft did not write about the invisible stresses in the family—between husband and wife, father and son. R. H. Barlow would leave Florida for Kansas and the Kansas City Art Institute; Bernice and Everett would divorce in 1941. Yet Bernice was a survivor…she would continue to rebuild her life, and would eventually outlive her younger son. Perhaps in her waning years, back in Florida, she would remember the strange man who came to stay with them, how he would talk and the incident with the berries…and the card he sent, which she had kept for many years before it was donated with so many other documents of Lovecraft’s life to the John Hay Library.

The full text of Lovecraft’s postcard to Bernice Barlow is published in O Fortunate Floridian.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Telegram To Lovecraft: Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Houdini

It seems that once Houdini was in Cairo with his wife on a non-professional pleasure trip, when his Arab guide became involved in a street fight with another Arab.

H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 14 Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.311-312

In January, 1910, I had finished a professional engagement in England and signed a contract for a tour of Australian theatres. A liberal time being allowed for the trip, I determined to make the most of it in the sort of travel which chiefly interests me; so accompanied by my wife I drifted pleasantly down the Continent and embarked at Marseilles on the P. & O. Steamer Malwa, bound for Port Said. From that point I proposed to visit the principal historical localities of lower Egypt before leaving finally for Australia.

H. P. Lovecraft, “Under the Pyramids”

Most readers overlook the fact that Bess Houdini was briefly a Lovecraftian character—even if mentioned only briefly and in passing. Yet she was there from the beginning of Lovecraft’s relationship with Harry Houdini, and she would be there at the end, her final word a brief telegram.

Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner was born in Brooklyn in 1876, the daughter of Roman Catholic German immigrants. Her father died when she was young, and she worked at a brother-in-law’s tailor shop, then as a seamstress in a traveling circus, where she joined a song-and-dance act called the Floral Sisters with the name Bess Raymond. In 1894, stage magician Theodore “Dash” Hardeen of the Brothers Houdini act, arranged a blind date with two of the sisters for himself and his brother Erich…better known by his stage name, Harry Houdini. After a very brief courtship, Bess and Harry would be married. From then on, she would be his partner and assistant in his magical act as well as his wife (The Secret Life of Houdini 30-31).

Bess was no doubt Houdini’s assistant when H. P. Lovecraft first saw the Handcuff King on stage circa 1898, and she would have been on stage 27 years later when Howard and Sonia Lovecraft saw them at the Hippodrome in New York in 1925 (Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.238). For thirty-one years she had accompanied Harry Houdini around the world and been his wife and partner. By 1925, their act would have been as smoothly polished as it would ever be, and Lovecraft appears to have appreciated it. While there is no account of H. P. Lovecraft meeting Bess at this time, he did meet her husband at the show and visited the Houdini house in New York (Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.249). If Bess was present at this meeting, Lovecraft makes no mention of it.

In October 1926, the Houdinis performed at the Providence Opera House. Lovecraft attended the show, and afterward had a meal with both Harry Houdini and Bess. It may well have been their only meeting. Muriel Eddy provided an account of the trip:

When Harry Houdini came to Providence for the last time, we made up a theater party and attended the performance. It was a big production, and his wife Beatrice assisted him in his magic tricks and illusions. A niece, Julia, also was an assistant on the stage.

After the show, Houdini suggested that we go to lunch at a Waldorf restaurant. It was very late, and at the midnight hour we sat at a long table together, with Beatrice Houdini’s pet parrot perched demurely on her shoulder. Lovecraft got quite a kick out of watching the parrot…named Lori…sip tea from a spoon and nibble daintly at toast held by his polite mistress!

I remember that H.P. L. ordered half a cantalope filled with vanilla ice cream, and a cup of coffee. He was in great spirits and bubbled over with good humor, talking a blue streak about everything under the sun. Harry Houdini gazed at him admiringly. I am sure he liked H.P.L. as much as almost everybody did who had a chance to study and know him.

Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 21-22

Whether Lovecraft and Bess exchanged more than two words to each other, we may never know—but there was another consequence of that night:

Shortly after meeting with Eddy and Lovecraft, Bess was stricken with a non-specific form of poisoning, probably from food. Houdini immediately summoned Sophie Rosenblatt, a nurse who had worked fro the family previously; but by Friday, October 7, Bess’s condition had deteriorated so badly that Houdini stayed up all night comforting her. She improved a little the next day, which was the last day of the run, so Houdini arranged for her and Sophie to leave straight for Albany, the next tour stop, while he took a lat night train to New York, where he had meetings scheduled for Sunday.

William Kalush & Harry Sloman, The Secret Life of Houdini 502

At some point in October after he had met with the Houdinis, Lovecraft must have written to Harry Houdini in Detroit about a proposed work C. M. Eddy, Jr. and himself had been working on, The Cancer of Superstition. The answer, however, did not come via letter, not did it come from Harry Houdini himself.




Telegram from Bess Houdini to H. P. Lovecraft, c. 30 Oct 1926, Miscellaneous Letters 168

During his final days, Harry Houdini was still traveling and performing, but he was suffering from a broken ankle and acute appendicitis, which would swiftly prove fatal. Harry Houdini would die on 31 October 1926. As his widow, Bess was now in charge of Harry Houdini’s remaining business, which included unfinished work by C. M. Eddy, Jr.:

I haven’t yet attempted the task of convincing the Houdini heirs that the world needs his posthumous collected works in the best Georgian manner, but honest Eddy has gone the length of trying to collect the jack on an article for which the departed did not give his final & conclusive authorization, & which I consequently advised him not to write at the time! Well–I hope he gets it, for otherwise I shan’t feel justified in collecting the price–in typing labour–of my aid on the text in question.

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 17 Nov 1926, Letters to James F. Morton 122

There is no record of Bess’s response, but given that nothing further appears to have come of this, it is clear that with Harry Houdini gone she declined to pursue the project. Lovecraft does not mention any further communication with Bess Houdini; while it is possible he sent her a note of condolence on her husband’s death, or that they exchanged a final note on The Cancer of Superstition, if that is the case those letters do not survive. All we have is a single telegram, the text of which is reproduced in Lovecraft’s Miscellaneous Letters.

For more on Harry Houdini’s relationship with H. P. Lovecraft, see Deeper Cut: Houdini & Weird Tales.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Georgina de Castro

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

Illness (cold) prevents Dr. de Castro writing or doing anything at present, but Dr. de Castro hopes to see Mr. Lovecraft soon.

—Mrs. G. de Castro

The above note is, as far as is known, the only communication by card, letter, or note between Georgina de Castro and H. P. Lovecraft. Who she was, and how they came to share this brief correspondence—and an acquaintanceship that stretched a bit beyond that—involves the complicated and murky marital history of her husband, Adolphe Danziger de Castro, in whose adventures she shared for twenty-eight years.

Born in Poland in 1859 as Abram Dancygier, when he emigrated to the United States in 1883 he used the name Gustav Adolphe Danziger—with variations in spelling in various documents as Gustave, Adolph, Adolf, or simply G. A. Danziger. He practiced as a dentist, rabbi, and writer, though his English was at first imperfect, which led to a collaboration with Ambrose Bierce. In 1888, Danziger became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and married Bertha R. Levy. She bore two children by him: Beatrice Danziger (b. 1892) and Nathan Moses Danziger (b. 1895).

In 1900, Danziger left for New York, without his family. Whether this was intended abandonment or some other reason is not clear. He became enmeshed in local Republican politics in New York, and became acquainted with Ida Silbert, who worked as stenographer. Danziger’s politicking bore fruit: in 1903 he was off to Madrid to fulfill a post as Vice-Consul. In Spain he met and apparently became secretly engaged with Lucy M. White Watts. Their relationship was carried on long-distance, by letter and telegram, and was cut off abruptly when she married the Baron von Thielen. Danziger served for a time as Vice-Consul in Aberdeen, Scotland, but by 1906 was back in the United States.

1906 is a complicated year in the life of Adolphe Danziger. According to newspaper accounts, during that year he married Ida Silbert in a Jewish ceremony officiated by a rabbi and before witnesses; I have not yet been able to find any marriage license or registration, but the bride presumptive changed her name to Ida Silbert Danziger. Subsequent to this, Adolphe sued for divorce from his wife Bertha. In response, Bertha charged him with bigamy. It is known that Danziger’s divorce suit was dismissed.

According to Ida, they stayed together for a year before he left for Europe on business, from which he did not return. By that time, Ida was already pregnant. The 1910 census lists Ida Danziger living with her parents and siblings, along with a two-year-old Martha Danziger.

Adolphe Danziger was by this point back in California, working as a lawyer among various other ventures, which makes tracking his movements with any precision difficult. Apparently c.1907 he met and fell in love with Georgina McLelland, a 34-year-old Irish immigrant who had come to the country in 1895.

Ida S. Danziger sued for divorce from Adolphe in 1910, and asked for child support; Adolphe answered by claiming that they had never been married. In 1915, Bertha Danziger sued for divorce from Adolphe, and she alleged he was living with a woman with bleached blonde hair. That may well have been Georgina.

Documentation on Georgina and Adolphe’s life is scarce, and in places flawed or contradictory. Among Adolphe’s surviving papers is the manuscript for a book that consists of love-letters from himself to Georgina, dating from 3 April 1907 to 22 January 1935—however, there is evidence that these letters have been edited, and it isn’t clear if these are all authentic or partially written after the fact with the aim of collection or publication. It is not known when or if they ever legally married, but a document in Adolphe’s papers titled “Transfer of Patent of invention in the Incandescent Lamps from Adolphe Danziger to Georgina de Castro-Danziger of LA, 11/27/17″ is the first indication that they either married or were presenting themselves as man and wife.

Adolphe Danziger’s legal career hit a snag in 1917 when he was sued by a client for embezzlement; the allegation was that unnaturalized German immigrants were concerned that the United States government might seize their funds or property during the war with Germany, and that Danziger had sheltered the money for them…and then not given it back. While Danziger was eventually acquitted, it would have been a scandal. For this or some other reason, in 1921 he legally changed his name from Gustave Adolphe Danziger to Adolphe de Castro. If the hope was to save his legal practice, it failed: de Castro was disbarred in 1922.

Adolphe moved to Mexico, where he became a journalist; Georgina was apparently with him, at least part of the time. In 1925, the couple left Vera Cruz for New York. The arriving passenger list gives her age as 39, though she was really 52 at the time; the 1930 U.S. Census (which transcribed her name as “Georgeanna” gives her age as 40. This might have been a scribal error…or, perhaps not; many women have been 39 for a few more years. They settled in New York City, and in 1927 Adolphe got a bit of a break when an article he wrote about Ambrose Bierce was picked up nationally. He hoped to further his success by republishing some of his old stories…and to this end, he sought someone to revise them for publication. So he came into contact with H. P. Lovecraft…and Lovecraft met Georginia de Castro.

References to “Mrs. de Castro” in Lovecraft’s letters are few; they apparently met in person at least once, when Lovecraft visited Adolphe de Castro in New York, and Adolph himself writes in a later letter:

Lovecraft and the late Mrs. de Castro and myself were at dinner at the Styvensen in New York. He had been revising a short story for me, the scene of which was laid in my native land, Poland. There had been some difference of opinion regarding the plot – made by correspondence. In response to his last letter I – stante pede, as it were, made a new plot and sent it to him. Thereupon he flattered me by saying that it was not likely I had so quickly made so new and excellent a plot. My reply was, “come to New York and we’ll discuss it.” At an elaborate bit of dinner we talked the matter over.

Adolphe de Castro to John Stanton, 9 Mar 1949, MSS Wisconsin Historical Society

This dinner would have taken place in 1928, and the work discussed is believed to be the lost “third revision” after “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test,” now probably non-extant, but based on “In the Confessional” (1892) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

One notable point about Lovecraft’s revisions for Adolphe is that in “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) the name of the female lead is Alvira; when Lovecraft revised this story into “The Last Test,” it was changed to Georgina.

Lovecraft’s references to Georgina de Castro pick up in 1934, in response to some comments in Adolphe’s letters:

He is aged, infirm, & absolutely penniless—& believes he is slowly going blind. And his wife is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 25 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 181

Given Lovecraft’s own brief experience caring for his sick wife, he was sympathetic with what Adolphe and Georgina were going through:

I am surely sorry to hear that recent years have dealt you so many blows, & hope most profoundly that Mrs. de Castro’s health my presently take a turn for the better. It is easy to understand the anxiety you must feel—& with your own ocular troubles the burden is further aggravated.

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 14 Oct 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 357

References to Adolphe and Georginia pop up here and there in his letters, part of the normal pulp grapevine. Lovecraft never gives any indication he was aware of Adolphe’s other wives, but the older man apparently kept him up to date…including when Georgina was admitted to the hospital as her condition worsened.

I am tremendously sorry to hear that Mrs. de Castro’s illness is necessitating an hospital sojourn—but hope that observation & treatment there may afford decidedly favourable results. Sometimes the expert care & continuous medical attention in such a place produces unexpected upturns in cases which seemed very discouraging at home. […] Again expressing the hope that Mrs. de Castro’s health will soon respond favorably to treatment—I remain yrs most sincerely

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 6 Nov 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 367, 372

To others, Lovecraft was more pragmatic and pessimistic:

Old de Castro is in severe straits now, & almost paralysed with grief over the probably fatal illness of his wife—an advanced consumptive who lately went to the hospital, perhaps never to return.

H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 23 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 116

Yet when Lovecraft wrote to Adolphe, he sought to be optimistic and reassuring:

Let me express my sincerest sympathy regarding your recent illness—which I trust may not soon be repeated. Considering the nervous strain you must be under, I can hardly wonder at the attack—but the rest obtained through the collapse will probably help to ward off another. I hope that, upon reflection, you will not take the tactless pessimism of that nun too seriously. A mere nurse is not a physician, and the lesser fry around an hospital sometimes acquire a casual outlook greatly subversive of accuracy. It does not do to give up hope prematurely in anything as potentially controllable as tuberculosis. As I have mentioned, there are thousands of persons living with lungs impaired to a vast degree—for once the spread of the trouble is checked, a surprisingly small fraction of the pulmonary apparatus can serve to carry on the vital processes.

So if I were you I wouldn’t be totally discouraged. A spirit as indomitable as that of Mrs. de Castro is itself a great bulwark against disease—you may recall that in vast epidemics the psychology of the patients is so influential that the most hopeful and determined are usually the ones to pull through. It is certainly tremendously lamentable that this affliction has had to come—but at the same time it is far too early to conclude that it will not safely pass over and lead to a pleasanter outcome. Don’t believe all the croakers—they’ve had many a person mentally in his tomb, who is today hale and hearty again!

With renewed thanks for the acrostic, and with every good and hopeful wish for you and Mrs. de Castro, I remain, Yrs most cordially

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 26 Jan 1935, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 374

Well wishes, however, could not stave off the inevitable.

Melancholy note—old de Castro’s wife died Jan. 23 at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I dropped Dolph a line of sympathy & told Price & Belknap to do the same. The poor old boy is considerably broken up—he had a two-week’s nervous collapse earlier in January, so that we might have been able to see him had we called during our metropolitan sojourn.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Feb 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 206-207

Barlow and Lovecraft had been in New York for New Years, but had apparently missed visiting Adolphe. Find A Grave gives a different date for her death, but the New York State death certificate confirms she died on 23 January 1935 from pulmonary tuberculosis (although it gives her name as “Georgia,” and lists her age as 45). Among Adolphe’s papers is a poem manuscript titled: “L’amour ne Peut pa Mourir” (“The Love That Cannot Die”), with the note “written three days after the passing of Georgina—my first love which lasted for twenty-eight delightful years.”

Georgina was, inadvertently and posthumously, to set the stage for another of the small episodes in Lovecraft’s life. Her expressed last wishes had been, apparently, to have her ashes cast into the ocean—presumably toward her native Scotland—and this Adolphe de Castro finally did, choosing to take the bus up to Boston to do so. On his way back, he stopped into Providence to see Lovecraft, who was at the time hosting R. H. Barlow as his guest:

Another social event was the sojourn of old Adolphe Danziger de Castro early in August. You’ve probably heard me speak of old Dolph—the semi-charlatanic chap whose biography of Bierce Belknap adorned with a preface, & whose stories I used to doctor up. He was here for 5 days at the Hotel Dreyfus—on his way back to N.Y. from Boston, where he had been to scatter his late wife’s ashes on the sea in accordance with her last wishes. Old Dolph vainly tried to saddle me with some wholly unprofitable revision work, & is now pestering Kleiner about the same stuff. On one occasion we all—he, Barlow, & I—sat on a tomb in the hidden hillside churchyard & wrote rhymed acrostics on the name of Edgar Allan Poe—who 90 years ago used to roam that selfsame necropolis when on visits to Providence.

H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 29 Aug 1936, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei 354

Adolphe de Castro actually managed to sell his acrostic to Weird Tales; the others saw publication in fanzines and poetry collections over the years. Lovecraft and de Castro stayed in touch, even as Lovecraft’s own terminal illness took hold, and one of his final letters is a word to the grieving old man, who had left New York for California once again:

I am glad that you have some of the pictures and other things collected by yourself and Mrs. de Castro, and feel sure that their ultimate effect will be one of consolation rather than melancholy.

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 17 Feb 1937, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 397

Lovecraft would die. Adolphe de Castro would live on, and marry again for the “third” time (presumably, he had decided Ida didn’t count) in 1947, to pass away at the age of 99 in 1959.

Who was Georgina McClellan de Castro? Sadly, in death she is largely attested to only as “Mrs. de Castro,” and that one among many. We know almost nothing of her background or habits, her interests or activities, and that is a direct reflection of the fact that Lovecraft himself no doubt knew little to nothing of these things. Their lives intersected only once or twice, in a note to explain an absence or a seat at a dinner table, connected as they were only by their association with Adolphe de Castro, who had brought them into proximity and contact. What little remains of Georgina’s memory rests now amid his papers…aside from a few scattered references in the voluminous letters of H. P. Lovecraft.

Thanks to Dave Goudsward for help and assistance on this piece.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Marian F. Bonner

Home via Point St. Bridge & Benefit St., & then proceeded to write the promised notes to Miss Bonner & “Aunt Enda” [sic].
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie E. P. Gamwell, 22 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.985

Dear Miss Bonner:—
I called on my aunt at the hospital for the first time this afternoon, & she wished me to drop you a particular line of thanks for the many works of consideration extended—the pansies which arrived almost simultaneously with herself, the flowers arriving since then, & the bottle of eau de cologne, all of which were profoundly appreciated.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 22 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1011

In 1933, H. P. Lovecraft and his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell moved into 66 College St. Across the backyard was a boarding-house at 53-55 Waterman St., called the Arsdale—where Annie Gamwell took her daily meals, where Lovecraft would join her on occasion, especially holidays. Among the boarders at the Arsdale from 1922-1936 was Marian Frederika Bonner (1883-1952).

“Miss Bonner” was the seventh and youngest child of English immigrants; five of her siblings survived childhood. She attended Brown University for a year (1902-1903), and by 1905 was working for the Providence Public Library, where she became head of the periodicals room. She lived with her parents until her father’s death in 1898, and with her widowed mother until her death in 1913, when she began to live in boarding houses. She never married or had children, and continued to work at the Providence Public Library until her retirement in 1947.

We can only guess at the friendship of Marian Bonner and Annie Gamwell; Lovecraft’s aunt was some 17 years older, but they would have both been adult single women of limited means and literary interests, and from Lovecraft’s letters as well. The earliest references to Bonner in Lovecraft’s letters are in 1934; these do not give her name, but the inference is strong that this is she. In one she is described as providing the surnames for the neighborhood cats:

As for the name—an old lady at the boarding house started the Perkins business last February when Betsey & her 2 brothers were born. For some reason or other—perhaps because “Perkins” has a kind of quaint, old-fashioned sound—she named the black & white kitten “Betsey Perkins”, though leaving the others (slated for presentation to a family across the city) undesignated. I, however, called the little fellows “Newman Perkins” & “Ebenezer Perkins” after ancestors of my own—for I have a Perkins line. When the black kitten appeared, I went back along my Perkins ancestry & called him Samuel, after a forebear who fought in King Phillip’s War in 1676. If there are any more kittens later on, I shall probably keep going back along my Perkins line (which is traceable to 1380 in Shropshire & Warwickshire) for names—John being the next in order.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 10 Aug 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 200

In another 1934 letter, Lovecraft says:

One of my aunt’s best—or likely-to-be-best—friends is a gentlewoman whom she met only last year!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 15 Jul 1934, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman &c. 383

In a letter dated 13 March 1935, Marian F. Bonner is described as “my aunt’s closest friend” (Letters to J. Vernon Shea 258-259). Not surprising when Bonner and Gamwell may have seen each other almost daily at the dining room in the Arsdale for something like three years—until March 1936, when Annie Gamwell was hospitalized to undergo a mastectomy to treat breast cancer. At which point H. P. Lovecraft, who probably knew her casually, began to correspond with Bonner on his aunt’s behalf. No doubt Lovecraft did this as well for Evelyn M. Staples, another friend of his aunt’s and Arsdale resident for whom no letters from Lovecraft survive, and “Aunt Edna”—Edna Lewis, who was Annie Gamwell’s cousin, close friend, and eventually one of the heirs to her and her nephew’s estate.

Lovecraft’s correspondence with Marian Bonner is thus brief: only 14 letters survive from 22 March 1936 until 9 December 1936. Part of the reason this correspondence continued was, no doubt, because Marian Bonner had moved out of the Arsdale in June 1936 to live in another boarding house, which would have prevented many of the little daily encounters Lovecraft may have had as he crossed the lot to retrieve a meal for his aunt. We can actually follow some of the correspondence with the diary-like letters recorded for his aunt during her hospitalization. Ultimately, their friendship continued in letters for almost the entire year.

The first letters are mostly concerned with Lovecraft’s aunt and her health; from Lovecraft’s reply of 25 March 1936, it seems that Bonner expressed her concerns for how Annie Gamwell was getting around and whether she was receiving sufficient care, to which Lovecraft responded:

Have you ever, by any chance, attempted to stop the present patient from doing anything she was determined to do?
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 26 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1012

It was no doubt rare for Lovecraft to find someone who could commiserate on his aunt’s willful temperament. A chance use of the word ailurophile (cat-lover) led to one of Lovecraft’s didactic mini-essays, including carefully written out Greek, and an introduction of Miss Bonner to “Kappa Alpha Tau” (ΚΑΤ), the fraternity of neighborhood cats who often dozed in the sun on the shed in the backyard of 66 College St., which Lovecraft could observe through his window. While unable to afford to keep any of them as a pet, Lovecraft would keep track of the extended Perkins clan, and even borrow a kitten for a while in his study at times.

Kappa Alpha Tau would be an ongoing part of Lovecraft’s remaining letters to Marian Bonner, demonstrating his rare humor in full flower—and, weirdly enough, his artistic skills as he chose to hand-illustrate many of the letterheads.

default (1)

default (2)

default (3)

default (4)

Besides cats they spoke of books, of Marian F. Bonner’s part in a play, local words, old Providence street names, the articles of local Providence journalist Bertrand K. Hart, bits and pieces of their daily lives (including R. H. Barlow’s 1936 visit); he lent her some books (and noted the irony, given that she was a librarian) and a copy of Weird Tales that contained his story “The Outsider” (either the Apr 1926 original printing or the Jun-Jul 1931 reprint), and she even asked questions about weird fiction, which Lovecraft dutifully answered:

Regarding the difference betwixt “myster” & “fantastic” fiction, as these terms are commonly used—I believe that by the former only detective tales & their close congeners are usually meant. Some striking event or situation of unknown cause, but with a natural explanation deductively reached, is the usual so-called “mystery” pattern. On the other hand fantastic fiction involves the impossible & incredible, admitting supernatural causation of every sort. It is, in its purest form, simply the projection or crystallisation of a certain type of human mood. Its truth is not to objective evnets, but only to human emotions. In this genre the greatest masters—in addition to Poe—are Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Montague Rhodes James, Walter de la Mare, William Hope Hodgson, & to some extent the present incumbent of Lord Minto’s erstwhile vice-regal seat at Ottawa [John Buchan]. Many of the finest specimens, though, are the work of writers who do not specialise in this field—for example, “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, & “The King in Yellow” by the late popular hack Robert W. Chambers.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 9 Apr 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1021

Marian Bonner’s move to a boarding house at 156 Meeting St. in June 1936 occasioned one of Lovecraft’s bright spots of 1936: the street had formerly been “Gaol-Lane,” and he addressed the envelope as such—and someone at the Providence post office either knew their history or deciphered his meaning, for they delivered it to the correct address.

There is a break in the letters from mid-June to mid-November 1936; no doubt these were lost sometime in the intervening decades, and probably Bonner continued to visit 66 College St. to speak to Annie Gamwell and Lovecraft, but the correspondence does not seem to have ended, as it continues on without apology. Most of the last few letters deal almost exclusively with Kappa Alpha Tau, but it seems that Lovecraft may have made Marian Bonner something of a convert to supernatural fiction:

As orally expressed before, we rejoice that you have located “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe” & have thereby become familiar with Sabbats, Estbats, Covens, & all the other attributes of the festering horror which brroded over mediaeval & renaissance Europe & perhaps over colonial Salem. And we apologise that our nominated guide Sir Walter failed to mention Sabbats at all—as he really should have done, since the term was well-known from constant repetition at witch-trials long before the actuality of any subterraneous cult was suspected.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 9 Dec 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1043

Of the latter part of their friendship, little is written. Lovecraft’s 1937 diary lists “Miss Bonner calldiscuss—lighted tree” (CE 5.241) on 1 January 1937, so apparently she came to visit Annie Gamwell & her nephew, and may have stayed to see the candles lit on the small tree they had for the holiday season.

After his death, Marian F. Bonner was approached to contribute to a memorial volume; the effect was “Miscellaneous Impressions of H.P.L.” in Rhode Island on Lovecraft (1945), where her name is mispelled as “Marian F. Barner.” Her brief account, only two pages, are accurate according to the letters that survive—and, more importantly, give us some of her understanding of things:

Some of his letters to me were in pen and ink, and bore a leter head of cat’s face. […] His handwriting was not easy to read, as he used, among other things, the old fashioned long “s.” Realizing his weakness, he would often compare his manuscripts very carefully with the type. […] It seems there is a postal law enabling one to write on most of the address side of a picture postcard. Mr. Lovecraft took a fiendish delight in covering every bit of a postal that he could, with the message. he was the despair of the postal authorities. hose postals were crazy-looking things! […]

I now how much store Mrs. Gamwell set by him, and how much she missed him after his death.
—Marian F. Bonner, “Miscellaneous Impressions of H.P.L.”, Ave Atque Vale 433

Excerpts from nine of Lovecraft’s letters to Marian F. Bonner were included in volume 5 of the Selected Letters (1976, Arkham House), and all known surviving letters in Lovecraft Annual #9 (2015, Hippocampus Press) and the second volume of Letters to Family & Family Friends (2020, Hippocampus Press). Many of the letters are available to view online at the Brown University Library website.

For the biographical information on Marion F. Bonner I am indebted to Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., whose essay “Lovecraft Was Our Neighbor: The People of The Arsdale” is included in Lovecraftian People and Places (2022, Hippocampus Press).

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Ella Larson Nelson

Dear Mrs. Nelson:⁠—

I was indeed pained and shcoked to hear last July of your son’s sudden and untimely death⁠—the news coming from my friend R. H. Barlow, whom I was then visiting, and whom you had notified. Every now and then I have been on the point of dropping you a line of sympathy for what must be a devastating blow indeed.
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 221

Ella Larson was born in Sweden in 1889. According to the 1920 U.S. Census she arrived in the United States in 1908; in 1911 she married another Swedish immigrant, Elmer Nelson. In 1912 she gave birth to Robert William Nelson, the couple’s only child. Practically nothing of her life and thought have come down to us; her correspondence with Lovecraft is known from a single letter, sent to her as a condolence on her son’s death.

I had heard from Robert as late as July 3d, when he mentioned he might some time travel through the east and stop in Providence to see me. In replying I told him how glad I would be to welcome him in this ancient town—but the next I head was the sad news which Barlow transmitted to me.

I had been hearing from Robert at irregular intervals for a period which must add up to three years or more. Meanwhile I had noticed with appreciation the clever and increasingly competent verses and prose-poems which he had in media like WEIRD TALES and THE FANTASY FAN. I presume you have a file of this material. His promise in this field of literature seemed to me very consdierable; for despite the marks of youthful contraction—indefiniteness or overcolouring now and then—his work had a distinct imaginative richness and atmospheric power which was rapidly improving through criticism and self-discipline. I expected to see him develop like other youths whose careers I have watched—August W. Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Frank B. Long, etc.—who are now well-established figures in the world of weird writing. Barlow shos me the unpublished “Lost Excerpts” which you sent him, and which will sooner or later be published in some appropriate medium. These all have touches of the brilliancy and power which were becoming characterstic of their author. needless to say, you will receive copies of whatever magazine publishes them. Barlow, by the way, was prompt in informing the “fan” magazines of the unfortunate occurrence, so that at least one has printed a brief notice.
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 221-222

Robert W. Nelson graduated from St. Charles High School in June 1930; he apparently then spent a year at university studying journalism. In 1931, his first letter was published in Weird Tales; he would have four more published in WT from 1933-1935, as well as two letters to its sister magazine Oriental Stories The Magic Carpet Magazine, and in the pages of The Fantasy Fan. A keen amateur poet, Nelson also published his verse in Weird Tales and this fanzine. The “brief notice” appeared in the August 1935 issue of Fantasy Magazine.

We don’t know exactly what Nelson’s parents thought of their son’s involvement with fandom or poetry. In a letter to Emil Petaja, Lovecraft wrote “He was a neurotic, ill-adjusted type, & often had considerable friction with his parents” (LWP 451), and Nelson himself wrote:

I read your letter aloud to my parents, and, I am happy to say, it changed their attitude somewhat. However, they are still insisting that I secure immediate employment, and this I am doing my utmost to do.
—Robert Nelson to Clark Ashton Smith, 8 Mar 1934,
quoted in “Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Nelson: Master and Apprentice (Part 2)” by Marcos Legaria in Spectral Realms #10 (Winter 2019) 113

Robert Nelson reiterated the difficulties of finding employment in subsequent letters, and wrote to Smith that “Living with my parents is becoming more and more unbearable” (ibid. 116), and:

I just secured employment. But it is only temporary, and is scheduled to last until the middle part of May or the first part of June. But even so, it has changed entirely the whole aspect of my parents’ attitude towards me. ANything in which to ‘make money’ is their idea! In truth, all those who seek for riches and personal gain are, at better, both low in intellect and morals. The highest man in finance and business are the lowest in true intellect and good morals.

As I have said before, I have never understood (and admired) my parents), and likewise they have never understood (and admired) me. My parents possess that complete lack of logical and human understanding of their children, to the sense that they (the children) are their ‘own flsh and blood,’ and can, threfore, be molded into the sort of beings that they (the parents) ‘intend to have all the right to expect.’ All of which, of course, is plain unmitigated blah.
—Robert Nelson to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Apr 1934, ibid. 117

Literary interests often run up hard against practical ones, and one can imagine a staid blue-collar immigrant couple exasperated at their only child’s unwillingness or inability to find work, Great Depression or not—and the same adult son’s exasperation with his parents who do not share his education or interests. This concern with unemployment is reflected in Robert Nelson’s obituary, which no doubt came from his parents:

Worry and discouragement played a large part in his illness, causing a nervous breakdown which ended in death. Idleness irked him and he was unable to get employment…. […] He made many attempts to secure work which probably would have given him courage to go on, but he was unable to find employment. He had several of his poems accepted but the market was overcrowded and his discouragement affected his health and brought on the breakdown from which he was not able to rally.
The St. Charles Chronicle, 25 July 1935, quoted in Sable Revery 9

Reading between the lines, one might see a bright young man with hopes of literary achievement dashed by harsh realities: it was the middle of the Great Depression, and even great poets like Clark Ashton Smith struggled to find publication in the pulp field, much less enough to maintain a livelihood. Ella Nelson no doubt saw her son’s discouragement at rejection and how his hopes were dashed at his seeming inability to launch a literary career…but there was nothing she could do about it. Robert moved out of the home for a short time in late 1934, and there was a brief reconciliation with his parents, but perhaps none of the underlying fundamental issues of unemployment and unhappiness had been resolved.

My correspondence with Robert was not of a business nature, but had more to do with points of criticism connected with weird literature. We discussed standards, methods, and individual sories and poems off and on; and I believe I once or twice offered suggestions in connexion with lines of his. I remember the pains I took to make clear the gulf between cheap magazines stories (the WEIRD TALES sort in general) and the genuine weird literature like the book of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James. He appreciated this difference more, I think, than the average follower of the popular magazine press. In all of his letters he showed an admirable courtesy and considerateness. Himself obviously very sensitive, he went to almost elaborate lengths to avoid giving offence whenever his opinion differed from that of his correspondent. He was liked by all the persons to whom he wrote—and by the one member of the group (Charles D. Hornig, editor of WONDER STORIES and THE FANTASY FAN) who had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Hornig was particularly saddened by the news of his premature departure.
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 222

The surviving Lovecraft-Robert Nelson correspondence consists of four letters from 1934-1935; how much more there might have been is conjectural. Lovecraft wrote to Petaja: “I was not well acquainted with him, & probably never wrote him more than 4 or 5 letters in all” (LWP 451). The last letter was sent c. January 1935, so probably the fifth and final letter that Lovecraft wrote to him is non-extent. When asked to provide a tribute for The Phantagraph, Lovecraft wrote:

About Nelson—I had so little correspondence with him that I really feel inadequate as his biographer. The fact is, I scarcely know anything about him. The place to get data on his life is his home—indeed, I think his mother (Mrs. Elmer Nelson, 1030 Elm St., St. Charles, Illinois) would be glad to further information. She has been writing those whose names she has found on her son’s correspondence list. […] I’ll be glad to give Nelson a writeup if you’ll get the necessary biographical data from his mother.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald A. Wollheim, 20 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 314

Lovecraft never wrote a memoir on Robert Nelson; presumably the data was not forthcoming. We can only guess what it must have been like for Ella Nelson, going through her son’s papers, sitting down to write or type out letters to people she didn’t know. She sent some of his poems to R. H. Barlow, who intended to publish them—though this project, like so many of Barlow’s, never materialized. In her son’s obituary it was noted:

Before the last shock of his illness; he confided to his mother that he wished to burn many of his poetic writings, which he did, though many of his articles are preserved. He lived among his books, owning a choice selection.
The St. Charles Chronicle, 25 July 1935, quoted in Sable Revery 9

The actual cause of death is engimatic in Lovecraft’s letters; he claimed that Robert Nelson died “after an illness of 17 days” (LRB 150), which data Ella Nelson provided to R. H. Barlow, who passed it on to Lovecraft during his visit with the Barlows in Florida in 1935.

Dear Mr. Barlow,

I am enclosing some writings of Robert Nelson’s which he enclosed in an envelope to be mailed to you on Friday July 5. On the same evening he took sick and gradually grew worse until his death on Monday July 22. Below I am writing a duplicate of the letter he addressed to you. Naturally we wish to keep the original as a keepsake of one of the last things he wrote.

Somehow he sensed his passing when the first signs of illness appeared and remarked that everything would be for the best.

P.S. We are enclosing an envelope in case it meant for these to be returned. You evidently knew the usual procedure.

Mrs. Elmer Nelson
—Ella Larson Nelson to Robert H. Barlow, 26 Jul 1935, courtesy of Marcos Legaria

Lovecraft was under the impression Robert Nelson suffered from tuberculosis (LFB 279), but the general belief is that Robert Nelson probably attempted suicide, was placed under treatment at the Elgin State hospital, and died as a result of his attempt (Sable Revery 9-10). Lovecraft’s last known letter to Robert Nelson is reminiscent of those he wrote to Helen V. Sully during her period of despondency, sympathizing with his “nervous tension” and counseling him to take things easy.

Robert W. Nelson died 22 July 1935, one day before his twenty-third birthday.

If Ella Nelson chose not to share the details of his death with strangers, it is hardly surprising.

So once more let me express my profound sympathy—at the same time emphasizing the fact that Robert did not lack for appreciation and esteem despite the tragic brevity of his life and writing career. Only the other day I had a letter from young Petaja—out in Montana—reiterating his sorrow at the loss.

With every good wish, and the hope that time and philosophy will help to lessen the acute pain which you and Mr. Nelson must now fel, I am

Yours most sincerely,

H. P. Lovecraft
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 222

Perhaps Ella Larson Nelson appreciated Lovecraft’s letter of condolence; perhaps she wrote a note back to thank him. Yet there are no further references to her in Lovecraft’s letters, so we must assume that no new correspondence resulted. It was a sad letter for Lovecraft to write, but we can only hope it eased Ella Nelson’s grief, at least a little, to know that her son was remembered.

Robert Nelson has been remembered—and so has Ella Nelson, if for no other reason than Lovecraft’s letter to her, and because she had sent out her son’s poetry to those who would preserve it for ultimate publication.

In 2012, W. H. Pugmire published the poem “In Memoriam: Robert Nelson” in tribute to him, and the same year Douglas A. Anderson finally collected Nelson’s poems, fiction, and letters (including Lovecraft’s letter to Ella Nelson) in Sable Revery: Poems, Sketches, Letters. The letters from Lovecraft and Robert Nelson’s poetry were published again in Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (2015).

Marcos Legaria published an article in three parts in the weird poerty journal Spectral Realms titled “Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Nelson: Master and Apprentice” (2018-2019), tracing their correspondence and association, and I thank him for his help with source materials for this piece.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Mayte E. Sutton

As for Sutton (1879-1968), she lived at 100 Spring Avenue in Tory, N.Y. She stated in a letter to August Derleth that she had corresponded with Lovecraft “for nearly ten years,” but Lovecraft’s first extant letter to her dates to the fall of 1933, when, shortly after moving into 66 College Street, Annie had broken her ankle and took months to recover. He speaks of meeting Sutton and her daughter, Margaret Morgan, on his visit to New York during the Christmas period of [1933-1934], but his comments suggest that he found them rather tiresome and strove to avoid direct contact. Nonetheless, Lovecraft continued writing to Sutton until as late as 1936.
⁠—S. T. Joshi & David E. Schultz, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.21


Some of Lovecraft’s correspondents are not well-attested in the record. Mrs. Mayte E. Sutton, for example, is known only from one surviving letter and a fragment of another. Very little reference to their correspondence was made by Lovecraft in his letters to others, though this is not particularly unusual. What we have, then, is a very incomplete picture—we have no particular idea of the full length of their correspondence, or how it started, or why.

If Sutton’s letter to Derleth is correct, she and Lovecraft had been corresponding since c.1928 or 1929; but the sole surviving full letter from Lovecraft is dated 2 November 1933 (MS. John Hay Library). It does not appear to be a first letter; but discusses Lovecraft’s upcoming Christmas visit to Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and his family in New York City; his aunt Annie Gamwell’s recovery from a broken ankle.

The invitation to visit Mayte E. Sutton—who lived with her adult daughter, Margaret Morgan—was issued in August 1933 (LFF 2.957). Finally, after Christmas, Lovecraft paid his call:

This was not the bore I expected it to be. Old Mrs. S. is very pleasant & cordial, & the daughter Miss Morgan is highly intelligent, learned, cultivated, & acute in debate. Her political & economic views are socialistic, but she does not duplicate Sonny’s total bolshevism. They are both enthusiastic antiquarians. I shall call again—if possible, with Sonny & Wandrei, whom they want to meet. They had a wood fire—but no irons!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 27 Dec 1933, LFF 2.959

Margaret Morgan (sometimes as Margaret C. Morgan or Christine Margaret Morgan) was either a nursing student or trainee nurse in the 1930 census, so by 1930 if she stayed the medical course was probably a nurse. Mayte’s youngest daughter Terrace Dorathea Morgan had graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics, had married in 1931 and was out of the home. On the 30th, Lovecraft brought his friends Frank Belknap Long, Jr. (“Sonny”) and Donald Wandrei to meet Mrs. Sutton and her daughter.

Sonny & I then went down to 23d St. to meet Wandrei & make the Sutton-Morgan call. All were very cordially received—but Wandrei had to leave at 10:30 p.m. Sonny & I stayed till 1 a.m. discussing philosophy with our hosts. Mrs. S. is rather blindly orthodox, but Miss M. is keenly analytical & intelligent—more so, I must admit, than Little Belknap himself. They are invited to 230 for dinner Tuesday evening.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 1 Jan 1934, LFF 2.963

Before the dinner date could happen, Lovecraft and Belknap had a little surprise for Mayte:

Rose noon, lunched at Sonny’s, & thereafter accompanied him down to the flat of the people (Mrs. Sutton & Miss Morgan) who were to have been to dinner last night. He wanted to take them some old andirons which he had promised during our call of last Saturday—for they have a fine fireplace. The andirons are not colonial, but late-Victorian brass. Not at all bad, on the whole. We found Mrs. S. in, & the andirons look splendid in place—although the lack of a set of fire irons & bellows like yours is regrettable. According to present plans, Mrs. S & Miss M. are coming to dinner here Saturday evening.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 4 Jan 1934, LFF 2.966

The dinner date then went off as planned:

In the evening Mrs. Sutton & Miss Morgan came for dinner, & much interesting conversation followed. At 11 p.m. the guests left, but a sick fish in the aquarium kept the Longs up till midnight.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 8 Jan 1934, LFF 2.968

The only other surviving letter fragment from Lovecraft to Mayte E. Sutton is dated 6 August 1936, and discusses a heat spell which restored his energy and digestive troubles, and comment on his aunt’s condition—Annie Gamwell having been hospitalized for breast cancer and a mastectomy.

There are no other references to “Mayte E. Sutton” in Lovecraft’s published letters…but there are two references to a “Mrs. M. E. Sutton” or “Ma Sutton”:

Another favor solicited for an aspiring struggler—an old lady who wants to place a saccharine tale of a haunted house (involving a conventional lunatic & a happy marriage at the end) in some magazine. Is there any rural publication which would consider accepting such an 1875 relique with or without pay? The thing is not really crude from the standpoint of a half-century ago. You might mention any possible medium to me–or drop a kindly line to the author, Mrs. M. E. Sutton, 505 W. 167th St., New York City. Thanks in advance for any name you can conveniently furnish.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 22 Aug 1936, Essential Solitude 2.745

Additional thanks for the names of naive markets for Ma Sutton’s 1875 pieces. I’ll pass ‘em on with acknowledgements.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Sep 1936, Essential Solitude 2.749

Lovecraft’s 1937 diary gives an address for “Sutton-Morgan, 505 W 167 NYC” (Lovecraft Annual 6.175; Ken Faig’s biographical note on Sutton is worth reading for anyone interested), which seems to confirm the connection.

Given which, the “1875” date Lovecraft gives is a bit strange, since Mayte E. Sutton was born in 1879—but perhaps he didn’t know her true age and was guessing. We do know is that Mayte E. Sutton was a writer who in the 1960s published several short stores in the New York Folklore Quarterly, including “Old Sasparilla” (1961), “The Cursed Peach Orchard” (1961), and “Grandmother’s Story” (1963), mostly recalling bits of lore from her childhood. Whether a tale of a haunted house would fit into this corpus or not is hard to say, but Lovecraft is known to have had a soft spot for helping older correspondents place tales, so the effort would have been completely in-character for him.

Through census and newspaper accounts we can draw an incomplete sketch of Mayte E. Sutton’s life—her marriages, her daughter’s marriages, her work—but we have no real insight into her personal life, or what drew her into correspondence with and meeting Lovecraft. Was she an amateur journalist? A revision client? A friend of his aunt Annie, perhaps, who then fell into correspondence with him when he was obliged to answer mail on her behalf? Perhaps a friend of a friend? The letter-and-a-fragment we have are too little to go on to say much of anything for certain, except that they were friendly correspondents.

Excerpts from the two Sutton letters were first published in Selected Letters IV and V. Both of these have been reprinted in full in Letters to Family and Family Friends volume 2.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Genevieve K. Sully & Helen V. Sully

Genevieve K. Sully, who wrote to you, is the mother of Helen Sully. Helen met HPL in 1933, and also met Donald [Wandrei]. Donald, in his visit to California, spent much time at the Sully home. HPL’s letters to the Sullys, from what I have seen of them, are marvelous and show a slightly different and most lovable angle of his multi-sided personality, together with amazing knowledge of California history and western sorcery.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 13 Apr 1937, Eccentric, Impractical Devils 255

Genevieve Knoll was born in 1880. She married James O. Sully in 1903, the same year she graduated from the University of California – Berkeley. James Sully is listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as a year older, self-employed, and an English immigrant who had been naturalized. The Sullies had two daughters: Helen V. (b. 1904) and Marion (b. 1911). Not much is known about their life and marriage; the 1920 U.S. Census lists two Genevieve Sullies in California, with daughters Helen and Marion, one in Berkeley (with James as head of household) and one in Auburn (without), and one suspects that they were separated at this point, perhaps for economic reasons (more work in Berkeley)—there are suggestions in Clark Ashton Smith’s letters that Genevieve was splitting her time between Auburn and Berkeley, and was married at least as late as 1925 (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 75). By the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, Genevieve and James were listed as divorced. While in Auburn, the Sullies met a young poet, artist, and day-laborer named Clark Ashton Smith who cared for his two aging parents:

It was in the fall of 1919 that we first met Clark and became interested in his poetry. We were all congenial from the start. We also took many walks in the foothills near Auburn, enjoying the woods, rocks and flowers, Clark Always adding to our love and appreciation of Nature.
—Genevieve K. Sully, Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography 190

Genevieve was 39 in 1919; Clark Ashton Smith was 26. They remained friends—and perhaps more than that—for decades. We get only scattered references to her in Smith’s letters, and a handful of letters to her are reprinted in the Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, showing that they were close friends and she was an admirer and promoter of his art. While no letters yet published have explicitly referred to a sexual relationship, their acquaintence has long been considered an affair, and at one point he had even made out a last will and testament bequeathing her his library, paintings, and art objects (EID 309). One of her most significant impacts on Smith, as far as weird fiction fans are concerned, was apparently encouraging Smith to write for Weird Tales:

One hot summer—that of 1927—when we were all wilted and tired of the heat, we invited Clark to go with us on a camping trip to the moutnains in the Donner Peak-Summit region. In order to take this trip, CLark had to make complicated arrangements for the comfort of his parents. […] It is hard for anyone to believe the primiaitive way in which the SMiths lived—no running water or electricty, and a kichen stove as the only means of heat and cooking. […]

After a few days of short walks, we proposed a longer walk—to Crater Ridge—where we had gone many times in the past, but now we were going with a companion who came under a spell of strange thought, transforming the scene into a foreboding and grotesque landscape, which Clark later used in his now famous story, “The City of the Singing Flame.” Clark wandered about among the boulders, studying the rocks and general terrain. We could all see that he was deeply affected by the place.

Later in the afternoon while Clark was still feeling a strange influence, after we had sat down to looka t the views which combine to make this place especially beautiful, I suddenly sugested that he use his powers of writing for fiction, which would be more emuneratie than poetry. His financial situation at the time was critical, and some practical advice seemed in order.
—Genevieve K. Sully, Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography 190

Whether it was this exact trip or another, something like this certainly happened, for Smith confirmed it:

About eighteen months ago, I was taken to task for idleness by a woman-friend, and pledged myself to industry. Once started, the pledge has not been hard to keep.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Jan 1931, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 297

Relatively less is heard of Helen and Marion during this period, though both women graduated highschool and apparently university, with a focus on music. Both of them would also have heard of H. P. Lovecraft, for during one trip Smith read aloud one of his stories to them by campfirelight:

By the way, I read your “Picture in the House” aloud one evening by the light of our campfire in the mountains; and it was received with great enthusiasm by my hostess Mrs. Sully and her daughters.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 22 Aug 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 227

In 1933, Helen was a 29-year old and working as a teacher of music and art at the Auburn highschool, when she decided to take a trip by boat through the Panama Canal, with a stop in Cuba, and then New York, Providence, Quebec, and Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair. Smith was conscientious to write ahead to Providence and New York so that Helen V. Sully would have a warm welcome.

My aunt & I will be greatly pleased to welcome your friend Miss Sully if she visits Providence, & can undoubtedly display enough historic & antiquarian sights to fill a sojourn of any duration. If the East is new to her, she will find in its many evidences of long, continuous settlement a quite unique fascination.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 14 Jun 1933, DS 420

I think a day will enable Miss Sully to see most of the historic high spots of urban Providence, & I shall be glad to exhibit them when she arrives. Tell her to let me know exact place & date of arrival, & I will be on hand—trusting to ingenuity in establishing identification. When she is in New York she ought without fail to look up the Longs—230 West 97th St. They are in a better position to entertain her than any other “gang” family, having a pleasant apartment, a lavish table, a car, & a servant. Sonny Belknap is one of your staunchest admirers, whatever may be his lapses as a correspondent. The Longs’ telephone is Riverside 9-3465.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Jun 1933, DS 423

I trust Miss Sully’s trip is proving pleasant; & shall, unless contrarily instructed, be on the lookout July 19 at 6 a.m. at the Colonial Line pier . . . . which lies right in the lee of the ancient hill’s southerly extremity, on a waterfront having considerable picturesqueness. The yellow poppy ought to facilitate identification—though it’s too bad you couldn’t have furnished some of your typical nameless vegetation from Saturn & Antares! A second day in Prov. would enable many picturesque suburbs, (& perhaps ancient Newport) as well as the city proper to be covered; thus affording an extremely [good] picture of R.I. I hope that young Melmoth & Sonny Belknap [take] part in displaying seething Manhattan to the visitor—[& if she is] not already provided with Bostonian guidance, I think that [W. Paul] Cook would be delighted to shew off the Athens of America. I [envy] Miss Sully her coming sight of Quebec—to which I fear I can’t get this year, since my aunt’s accident will probably prevent any long absences on my part.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 12 Jul 1933, DS 425-426

Hope I haven’t bored Klarkash-Ton’s gifted emissary with colonial sights. We tried a new boat today–a rival to the old Sagamore. Yr obt Grandsire
Melmoth III
and Helen
—H. P. Lovecraft and Helen Sully to Donald Wandrei, 20 Jul 1933, LWP 306

Elsewhere in his letters, Lovecraft joked that his young friends Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and Donald Wandrei nearly fought a duel over the right to host Miss Sully:

By the way–a very gifted & prepossessing friend of Klarkash-Ton’s in Auburn is touring the east (after a trip through the Panama Canal & to Cuba) for the first time, & looking up his various friends & correspondents….a young gentlewoman, a teacher of music & drawing, named Helen V. Sully. She looked up Wandrei & Belknap in N.Y., & the Longs brought her here in their car when ound for Onset last Wednesday. After seeing Prov. & Newport she has gone on to Gloucester & Quebec. On the return trip she will pass through Chicago & look up Wright–& if you can get down there (about Aug. 8 or 9–I’ll let you known when she decides & notifies me), she would like very much to meet you. Try it if possible.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Jul 1933, Essential Solitude 2.595-596

Sorry you won’t be in Chicago during Miss Sully’s brief stay there–she is an extremely intelligent & prepossessing young person, & Wandrei & Sonny Belknap nearly fought a duel (2 syllables, not rhyming with cool!) over the question of precedence in escorting her about New York during her sojourn in the place. Whether her predetermined tourist itinerary will permit of a side-trip to Sauk City I don’t know, but I’ll pass your invitation on when writing her next momentary address. She gives quite an interesting picture of good old Klarkash-Ton–who would seem to be sorely hadnicapped by poverty, parental dominance, & a generally uncongenial environment.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, late Jul 1933, Essential Solitude 2.598-599

Helen didn’t manage to get to Sauk City to see Derleth, but she met Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright in Chicago before returning home.


The Placer Herald, 22 July 1933

The 1933 trip is perhaps more remembered by Lovecraft fans for her brief memoir of the visit, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” (originally published as “Memories of Lovecraft: II” in 1969), where she wrote that he insisted on paying for all the expenses of her brief stay in Providence, despite his economic circumstances…and for one anecdote in particular:

That night, after dinner, he took me down into a graveyard near where Edgar Allan Poe had lived, or was he buried there? I can’t remember. It was dark and he began telling me strange, weird stories in a sepulchral tone and, despite the fact that I am a very matter-of-fact person, something about his manner, the darkness, and a sort of eery light that seemed to hover over the gravestones got me so wrought up that I began running out of the cemetery with him close at my heels, and with the one thought that I must get up to the street before he, or whatever it was, grabbed me. I reached a street lamp trembling, panting, and almost in tears and he had the strangest look on his face, almost of triumph. Nothing was said.
—Helen V. Sully, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” in Ave Atque Vale 365-366

She apparently shared this sensation with Lovecraft, as he later wrote to her:

About the hidden churchyard of St. John’s—there must be some unsuspected vampiric horror burrowing down there & emitting vague miasmatic influences, since you are the third person to receive a definite creep of fear drom it….the others being Samuel Loveman & H. Warner Munn. I took Loveman there at midngiht, & when we got separated among the tombs he couldn’t be quite sure whether a faint luminosity bobbing above a distant nameless grave was my electric torch or a corpse-light of less describably origin! Munn was there with W. Paul Cook & me, & had an odd, unacountable dislike of a certain unplaceable, deliberate scratching which recurred at intervals around 3 a.m. How superstitous some people are!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 17 Oct 1933, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and Helen V. and Genevieve Sully 305

More important, however, was what that visit led to: a correspondence between Lovecraft and the Sullies.

The next day, I left. I wrote to thank Mr. Lovecraft for all his kindness. […] Our correspondence dated from my first letter to him. My impulse was to answer immediately. But he, in turn, always answered almost by return mail. His letters were so voluminous and must have taken so long to write and I felt his talents should be used elsewhere: and always felt guilty that he should spend so much time on me. The result was that I deliberately became less punctual about writing, to my present regret, because I do not think now that I was taking his time from more valuable work. My writing became more and more sporadic, but I think we corresponded up to a time near his death.
—Helen V. Sully, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” in Ave Atque Vale 366

The surviving correspondence consists of 25 letters, dating from immediately after Helen’s note of thanks in July 1933 until July 1936. As Clark Ashton Smith said, the letters are full of Lovecraft’s typical erudition, ranging widely in subject, going over his travels and politics, Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams and Howard Wandrei’s artwork among many others. She in turn wrote of her hiking trips and visits to Clark Ashton Smith, her friends and other issues…and, perhaps, opened up to him a little about her inner life.

By mid-1934, Helen had confided to Lovecraft a sense of melancholy or oppression about life—in fact, thoughts of death, and perhaps suicide—exactly what she said is unclear, as we only have Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence, but there is a thread in their correspondence on happiness and the meaning of life where Lovecraft portrays both a sort of objective optimism about life and death, which lasted over a year. The culmination of this line of thought was in 1935, where he seems to quote from her own letters about feeling “hopeless, useless, incompetent, & generally miserable” (LTS 423)—to which Lovecraft responded by pointing out how gifted she was, and how much more miserable he should be in his own circumstances, and finally says:

So—as a final homiletic word from garrulous & sententious old age—for Tsathoggua’s sake cheer up! Things aren’t as bad as they seem—& even if your highest ambitions are never fulfilled, you will undoubtedly find enough cheering things along the road to make existence worth enduring.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 15 August 1935, LTS 431

This is a side of Lovecraft that is rarely seen; the closest point of comparison is probably in 1936 when Lovecraft did his best to keep C. L. Moore occupied after the death of her fiancé. Perhaps it even helped; Helen V. Sully lived a long, full life. In remembering him in 1969, she ended:

Anyone who came into contact with him could not fail to realize that here was a rare and unique person, of great refinement and brilliant intellect, and one who combined the genius which produced his finest writings and the attributes of a true gentleman.
—Helen V. Sully, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” in Ave Atque Vale 366

There is far less to say about the correspondence between Lovecraft and Genevieve K. Sully. Only four letters from Lovecraft to her are known to survive, dating from 1934 to 1937, and Lovecraft may have conveyed respects to her through his letters to Helen V. Sully and Clark Ashton Smith rather than corresponding with her directly for the most part. The 1934 letters apparently were sent to commemorate trips that Mrs. Sully had taken and included gifts including an “elongated, acorn-like object which somewhat baffles my botanical ignorance” (LTS 473)—probably an immature Redwood pine cone. She also reported on Donald Wandrei’s visit to see Clark Ashton Smith in November 1934, during which Wandrei was hosted by the Sullies.

The final letter, dated 7 February 1937, is a belated response to a 1936 Christmas card or letter that Genevieve K. Sully had thought to send to him, and includes a copy of his poem “To Klarkash-Ton, Wizard of Averoigne” and reports on the local cats, and on coming into acquaintence with Jonquil & Fritz Leiber Jr. Perhaps there were other letters, now lost; the genial tone and subjects of the last epistle suggests they might have kept up a sporadic correspondence. Lovecraft signed off with: “Best 1937 wishes for all the househould.—Yrs most sincerely—H. P. Lovecraft” (LTS 487).

Nor did the Sullies forget Lovecraft in later years. Clark Ashton Smith wrote to August Derleth in the 1940s:

Don’t forget my extra copy of Beyond the Wall of Sleep. The one you sent me will go as a slightly overdue birthday gift to Mrs. Sully’s daughter Helen (Mrs. Nelson Best) who met Lovecraft through my introduction back in 1933.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 30 Nov 1943, EID 342

Can you send me another copy of Something About Cats and add it to my bill? I want it for a girl who once met Lovecraft.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 7 Dec 1949, EID 412

Many fans may only know Helen V. Sully as “a girl who once met Lovecraft,” but that rather understates the relationship. Taken together, Lovecraft’s correspondence with Genevieve K. Sully and Helen V. Sully was fairly substantial, and covered aspects of geography and philosophy which he did not broach with any other correspondent. While we can only speculate what it meant to a young woman who felt depressed in her daily life to receive a letter from a kind older man who write to her about cats and to “for Tsathoggua’s sake cheer up!”…perhaps it helped. What more can any human being do for another, when they’re feeling down?

Fourteen letters and postcards to Helen V. Sully were excerpted for volumes IV and V of the Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft; all twenty-five pieces of correspondence were published in full, along with the four letters from Genevieve K. Sully, in Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and to Helen V. and Genevive Sully. Several of the original letters can be viewed online.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Margaret Sylvester

Dear Miss Sylvester:

[…] Regarding the Necronomicon–I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination! Inventing horrible books is quite a pastime among devotees of the weird, & ….. many of the regular W.T. contributors have such things to their credit–or discredit. It rather amuses the different writers to use one another’s synthetic demons & imaginary books in their stois–so that Clark Ashton Smith often speaks of my Necronomicon while I refer to his Book of Eibon..& so on. This pooling of resource stents to build up quite a pseudo-convincing background of dark mythology, legendary, & bibliography–though of course none of us has the least wish actually to mislead readers. ….

Yrs. most cordially & sincerely,

H. P. Lovecraft
—H. P. Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester, 13 Jan 1934, Selected Letters 4.344-346

Margaret D. Sylvester was born in 1918, which made her fifteen years old when she wrote to H. P. Lovecraft, care of Weird Tales, in late 1933 or early 1934. We know little about her life: at the time she was living in Denver, Colorado with her parents and two younger brothers, no doubt going to school and reading pulp magazines for entertainment. She seems to have had a taste for the macabre, and like many fans that wrote to Lovecraft, found that he wrote back. While we don’t know how regular their correspondence was, Lovecraft included her on his list to mail postcards to during his travels, and on his list of correspondents in his instructions in case of decease.

That letter from 13 January 1934 may well be the first; it has something of the tone of an answer, and questions about the Necronomicon was common early on in correspondence with Lovecraft. A long passage before this discusses the witch-cult and Walpurgisnacht, with Lovecraft borrowing from The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray in his answer. “The Dreams in the Witch House” had been published in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales, so perhaps that had precipitated the teenaged Margaret to pen a letter to him, filled with questions.

The best insight we have into Margaret Sylvester’s early correspondence with Lovecraft is in the few letters where he mentions her to others; in particular a long passage from mid-1934:

Am still shudderingly admiring the saponaceous monolith–& before I forget it, let me pass on a request for your charitable sculptorial services which I fancy you may wish to grant. A very bright young western correspondent–a damsel of precisely your own years who wrote me through W.T. & is interested in everything weird, especially art–has seen many of your drawings & the Cthulhu photograph (but not Ganesa), & has heard of your powers in clay-modelling & marionette work. Needless to say, her admiration of the Lord Ghu is boundless. Now it happens that she is herself an inveterate puppeteer, having given performances of “Dracula” & other horrors with figures made by herself; & contemplating such future triumphs as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” & “Beauty & the Beast.” Here is where you come in. Filled with respect for your fertile fancy, she will not be content till she gets a hellish clay head of your conception & workmanship for the Beast figure of “Beauty & the Beast.” Evidently she prefers a typically Barlovian nameless Thing to any conventional phiz. I’ve told her to write you direct–but if she doesn’t, & if you think the honour of representation & credit in an undoubtedly clever & probably oft-repeated marionette show would be sufficient reward for the sculptural effort, you’d better drop her a line yourself asking for mechanical particulars & further ideas. Address: Miss Margaret Sylvester, 4515 East 25th Ave., Denver, Colorado. I’d do it if I were you–since such modelling is an intrinsic pleasure. You’ll probably find this kid an interesting correspondent, too–very bright, though not a writer so far as I know. And a great admirer of your cinema hero Singor Lugosi.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 22 Aug 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 166

“Lord Ghu” was one of Lovecraft’s nicknames for Barlow, who had taken to modeling figures in clay, including a tablet-image of Cthulhu and a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha. “Singor Lugosi” would be actor Bela Lugosi, whose filmography included Dracula (1931), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), White Zombie (1932), Chandru the Magician (1932), The Black Cat (1934), and The Return of Chandru (1934).

As it happened, Barlow declined the project. However, Barlow did agree to loan “Little Maggie” his copy of Gustav Meyrinck’s The Golem, which was currently being read by Catherine Lucille Moore; one can imagine the young Margaret Sylvester’s surprise to get a package from Weird Tales author C. L. Moore in the mail one day. Margaret Sylvester would in turn forward the book to Lovecraft’s correspondent Duane W. Rimel when she was done with it.

In about May 1935, a chain letter was sent to Lovecraft—Margaret Sylvester is the name immediately before Lovecraft’s. He forwarded the chain letter, including a few judicious remarks, to Barlow for his amusement.

So you’ve had several of the chain things come, eh? I’ve seen only two so far–Bro. Hadley’s & Little Maggie’s. The latter child seems to be in the business–indeed, according to press reports it started in her town.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 May 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 275

No doubt the letters in 1935 would have included mention of her poetry:


Angelus, 1935 East Side High School Yearbook, page 135

There are some indications that Lovecraft may have recruited Margaret for the National Amateur Press Association c. 1936, but if she ever published her “credential”, it is not known where or when. No doubt the letters from 1934-1936 were filled with a mix of Lovecraft’s typical accounts of news & travel and whatever topics that the two found of interest to share and discuss…such as Margaret Sylvester’s graduation from North Side High School in Denver, Colorado, and her aims at higher education.

You missed little Maggie Sylvester by only a few days, since she set out for the metropolis on the 11th. I’m telling Leedle Meestah Stoiling to extend her a welcome. Her address is now 157 E. 57th St., N.Y.C.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 16 Sep 1936, O Fortunate Floridian 360

And little Maggie Sylvester of Denver is in New York for an art course or something–to be addressed at 157 E. 37th St.
H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Sep 1936, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 649

Leedle Meestah Stoiling cut the Harvard Tercentenary in order to stay longer in N Y with his parents. He tried to see little Maggie, but had to proceed to Cambridge before he could find her at home.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 30 Sep 1936, O Fortunate Floridian 363

“Leedle Meestah Stoiling” was Kenneth Sterling, another of Lovecraft’s young correspondents, with whom Lovecraft would collaborate on “In the Walls of Eryx.” It is not clear where in New York Margaret Sylvester attended art school, but her 2010 death certificate reads: “Some college credit, but no degee.” so for whatever reason she did not graduate. Perhaps she found a job; we know that in 1940 she married Frank Ronan, and took his name as Margaret Ronan. She was employed by Scholastic Publications as a critic, writer, and editor, publishing both anthologies and nonfiction books with a distinct horror bent aimed at the children/young adult market. In 1971 she edited The Shadow over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror, which may have been many a teen’s first introduction to Lovecraft, and there she wrote:

With his correspondents, Howard Lovecraft could relax. His letters, written in tiny, crabbed writing, are full of sly humor. Instead of a return address and a date, they could bear such headings as “Black Marsh of Gthath, Hour that the Ooze Stirs,” or “Black Cylinder Floating between Two Universes, Hour of the Burning Galaxy.” In one letter he sent to me, he refers to a description of himself given by a mutual friend: “As it happens, several points in Mr. Sterling’s word-picture are misleading. It is out of my right, not left shoulder that the ropy tentacles grow. What grows out of the left shoulder is one of my four eyeless heads. This head is not to be confused with the one growing out of my right elbow (the one with the green fangs).”
Margaret Ronan, “A Word to the Reader”

An extract from a single letter to Margaret Sylvester (13 January 1934) was published in Lovecraft’s Selected Letters IV. Arthur S. Koki obviously contacted Margaret Ronan, because he cites and quotes from several of her letters in his 1962 M.A. thesis “H. P. Lovecraft: An Introduction to His Life and Writings.” Most of these are fairly small and give little of the flavor of their correspondence, but two fragments stand out, the first on the death of Robert E. Howard (which occurred on 11 June 1936) and the second on the issue of marriage:

I doubt whether there was any definite cause aside from Mrs. Howard’s approaching death. As I see it, it was simply the disastrous combination of a certain kind of temperament with one sharp blow. Probably it would never have occurred if good old Two-Gun hadn’t been watching sleepless by his mother’s bedside for endless weeks. He was nervously & physically exhausted by those weeks of overwork, sleeplessness & tension–brooding deeply (as shown by poems like ‘The Tempter’) even though putting up a brave front to the outside world. Then came despair–& the consciousness that the fight for his mother’s life was hopeless. With no energy to resist the shock–no fund of healthy life-clinging, nerve-twisting strain–poor REH reacted in what must have seemed the shortest & simplest way. And what a damned shame! But of course I suppose general temperament was a factor. Despite his violent, assertive contempt for the “artistic attitude,” Two-Gun was essentially of the neurotic aesthetic type–that is, a person filled with imaginative concepts of certain conditions unrelated to reality which he would like to see around him, & correspondingly resentful of the pressure of the actual world.
H. P. Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester, October 1936, Koki 298-299

I do not regard marriage as a social superfluity, but believe it has extreme stabilizing value in the organization of a state Its advantages are numerous & varied–& are indeed so apparent to the unbiased anthropologist that even Soviet Russia (where no traditional institution is kept up for tradition’s sake alone) is beginning to urge its systematic maintenance & more faithful & universal practice.
H. P. Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester, n.d. (Jan 1937?), Koki 212

Presumably, most of the surviving letters from Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester are in private hands. It is known that there are three letters at the John Hay Library, including the full 13 January 1934 letter that is excerpted in the Selected Letters. Also included is a letter believed to date from February 1937—one of the last letters that Lovecraft would write—with the address given as “Cave of the Crumbling Bones.” A copy of this letter was in the collection of actor Christopher Lee, who brought it out during the episode “Demons” on the series 100 Years of Horror (1996).

We can only speculate how much the correspondence with Lovecraft shaped a young Margaret Sylvester’s life. No doubt she was already on her macabre path, but no doubt too that he gave her encouragement to pursue those interests.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: H. P. Lovecraft’s Other Aunts

Howard Phillip Lovecraft’s father Winfield Scott Lovecraft was committed to Butler Hospital in 1893, and died there five years later. Sarah Susan Lovecraft and her son returned to the home of her parents in Providence, Rhode Island, and it appears that little connection was retained between Howard and his father’s side of the family—but there was at least some correspondence between members of the extended Lovecraft clan and their nephew in Providence. While none of this correspondence is known to survive, and there are too few mentions in HPL’s published correspondence to guess much at the real scope of it, we can at least confirm he did share some communication with his paternal aunts…and they are interesting women, worth taking a look at.

Eliza Allgood (b. 1833 d. 1898)

Winfield Scott Lovecraft was the son of George Lovecraft (b. 1814 d. 1895) and Helen (Allgood) Lovecraft (b. 1820 d. 1881); census records for 1860 and 1880 show that three of Helen’s sisters (who would be Winfield’s aunt and Howard’s great aunts) were living with the Lovecraft family: Eliza Allgood, Sarah Allgood, and Augusta Charlotte Allgood (b. 1842? d. 1884). Richard D. Squires in Stern fathers ‘neath the mould: The Lovecraft Family in Rochester suggests that George Lovecraft may actually have adopted Augusta, but the census doesn’t record this. The 1880 census does record an adopted daughter Rosa Ramesdal, but how she fit into the family and what became of her is unclear. In any case, of Lovecraft’s great aunts, the only two who may have interacted with Lovecraft were Eliza and Sarah—Augusta died before HPL was born, and it isn’t clear what happened with Rosa.

Little is known of Eliza’s life. There is no record of her marrying, and she is listed in the 1880 census as a schoolteacher, which suggests some education. She had no children.

While it is possible a young H. P. Lovecraft might have sent a holiday card or letter to his great-aunt Eliza, there is no record of this. However, Eliza had not forgotten her nephew or grandnephew. In 1895 she registered a will that on her death Winfield S. Lovecraft would receive $1,000—and that if he was dead, this money was to be paid to Howard Phillips Lovecraft. So we know the family was at least still aware of the young Howard. Both Eliza Allgood and Winfield S. Lovecraft would pass away in 1898, within a few months of one another.


Sarah Allgood (b. 1830? d. 1908)

H. P. Lovecraft’s other great-aunt was Sarah Allgood, who was a teacher in Mt. Vernon, New York for sixty years before retiring. Like her sister Eliza, she never married and had no children. Sarah lived with her sister’s family for what appears to be most of that time, having particularly close relations with her nieces, the sisters of Winfield S. Lovecraft: Emily (“Emma”) Jane Lovecraft and Mary Louise Lovecraft.


Yonkers Statesman, 19 Jul 1906

While we may speculate as to whether H. P. Lovecraft ever wrote to Eliza, we know that when he was 14 or 15 years old, Howard wrote to his great-aunt Sarah for genealogical information, which the elder Allgood provided:

There was a chart—one of those partitioned, compartment affairs with broad spaces for one’s parents and little narrow spaces for one’s remote forbears. I had copied it from my late great-aunt Sarah Allgood’s chart (plus a chart of the Lovecraft side) in 1905, and it had nearly fallen to pieces.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Nov 1927, Selected Letters 2.179

While the information about the family tree doesn’t appear to have made much of an impact on Lovecraft in 1905—he was going through a rough period following the death of his grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips in 1904, which forced Howard and his mother to relocate into smaller quarters—it’s interesting to note that the information would later be of much greater interest and important to Lovecraft. All of the Celtic connections in his family tree are through his father’s side of the family; and given Lovecraft’s anti-Irish prejudices during World War I (being a lifelong Anglophile, he was on the side of the British during the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921), this may have something to do with a gradual lessening of his prejudice in that regard. How much other family lore that Sarah may have passed on to her grandnephew is unclear; the legend of the “Luck of Edenhall” that HPL might have picked it up anywhere, but one particular anecdote had to have come from someone on the Allgood side of the family:

The only duel in my family of which I have any knowledge was fought in 1829, in upper New York State, by my father’s maternal grandfather William Allgood (of the Allgoods of Nunwick and Brandon White House, near Hexham—an old Roman station not far south of Hadrian’s Wall—in Northumberland)—who was born in England in 1792, graduated from Oxford, and came to the U.S. by way of Canada in 1817. The affray, as reported by family tradition, was the outgrowth of unpleasant remarks on national differences (memories of the War of 1812, in which the Americans vainly tried to conquer and annex Canada, were then fresh in Northern N.Y.) exchanged with a citizen of Rochester. Pistols were used, both participants were slightly grazed, and everybody appears to have been satisfied, since no more of the matter had been reported to posterity. It appears that my forebear was the challenger in this matter—though not without reasonable provocation. He died a peaceful natural death in 1840.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 10 Nov 1932, A Means to Freedom 1.480

In 1903, Sarah Allgood registered a will dividing her property among her surviving nieces and nephews, which included George Lovecraft Taylor (son of Augusta Allgood and John Lovecraft Taylor), Emma Jane (Lovecraft) Hill, Mary Louise (Lovecraft) Mellon, and Howard Phillips Lovecraft—who, being a rather distant grandnephew, was bequeathed the modest sum of $50. It is unclear how long any correspondence with her grandnephew lasted before her death in 1908.


Mary Louise (Lovecraft) Mellon (b.1855 d. 1916)

The younger sister of Winfield S. Lovecraft, Mary Louise Lovecraft was a teacher like her aunts Sarah and Eliza. Unlike them, she married: her husband was Paul Mellon (b. 1863 d. 1910), and they were wed 8 July 1893 in Illinois. We can only speculate what kind of a marriage it was; Mary L. Mellon was listed as living with her aunt Sarah Allgood and cousin George Lovecraft Taylor in New York in 1900, and when Paul Mellon died he was in California. A clue to the strained nature of the relationship may be read in Eliza Allgood’s 1895 will, where she specifies as a condition of inheriting any property that:

[…] shall forfeit the principal thereof in event she shall give or devise any part of said estate or proceeds to Paul Mellon her husband.

Whether or not this condition ever came into play is unknown; perhaps Paul Mellon skipped out on the marriage, or was dissolute in some fashion. Mary L. Mellon remained with her surviving aunt Eliza until the latter’s death, probably as her caretaker. Mary herself would pass away in 1916. While I have not been able to find a copy of her will, L. Sprague de Camp write in H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (156) that on her death she left $2,000.00 to her nephew H. P. Lovecraft. As with the other bequests, there is no record of this in Lovecraft’s letters, but 1916 isn’t a particularly well-attested year in the letters, and he might be forgiven for not mentioning the death of distant relatives with whom he may not have been in regular contact to such friends as he had. Like her aunts, Mary L. Mellon died without children.

Emily (“Emma”) Jane (Lovecraft) Hill (b. 1849 d. 1925)

My paternal grandfather, George by name, (whom I never saw) emigrated to Rochester, N.Y., in the first half of the nineteenth century, and engaged in a remunerative occupation. He later removed to Mount Vernon, N.Y., and married Helen, daughter to Lancelot Allgood, Esq., another English emigrant, of a family whose ancestral seat is the manor of Nunwick, near Hexham, in Northumberland. This union was blessed with three children: Emma, now wife of Mr. Isaac Hill, Principal of the Pelham, N.Y. High School; Mary; and Winfield,  father of the present writer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 1 Jan 1915, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 43

Like her aunts and sister, Emma Lovecraft was a schoolteacher. On 13 Sep 1872 she married Isaac C. Hill, who would become principal of the high school in Pelham, N.Y. Their daughter, Mary Ida Emily Hill, was born in 1874…and being sixteen when Howard was born, it is perhaps not surprising that there’s no indication the cousins were ever close. Indeed, Howard may have been unaware of his cousin, since he wrote:

George also had daughters, whose childless next generation complete the dead-ending.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 5 Apr 1931, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 294

In 1899, Ida married David Lyon, and the joint Allgood-Hill-Lovecraft-Lyon plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Mt. Vernon, New York is the resting place for several members of the family.

The only suggestion that Howard was in correspondence with his aunt Eliza is the date of her death. Rather later in life, Lovecraft wrote:

His whereabouts were unknown in 1921, when I was last in correspondence with such paternal relatives as survive.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Edward H. Cole, 24 Oct 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 96

Howard was referring to another male relative who had disappeared out west some decades before; he believed himself at the time to be the only male member of the Lovecraft family to still carry the name. Since his last communication was 1921, that would rule out his aunt Mary (d. 1916), so the most likely suspect was his aunt Emma (d. 1925)—while it is possible he was in touch with his cousins Ida Lyon or George Lovecraft Taylor, their general absence in his sketches of the Lovecraft/Allgood side of the family suggests against it. At least, if he was in touch with Ida, he should have received notice at the death of her mother in 1925. More than likely, his aunt Emma’s death severed the final strand of connection with between H. P. Lovecraft and his father’s side of the family.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.