“The Day He Met Lovecraft” (1972) by Lew Shaw

Sir: As if it were yesterday, I remember meeting H. P. Lovecraft on the corner of Benefit Street and College Hill about noon on a very warm, sunny day.

College Hill is a rather steep climb, but on that day, a friend of mine and I, both attending Classical High at the time, were climbng up it oward the campus. At the base of College Hill on Canal Street, a new courthouse had been built. By taking the elevators to the fifth floor, we could have emerged on Benefit Street and eliminated the climb. However, despite the warm day, we walked.

As we got to Benefit Street, my friend greeted a passerby and introduced me to him. It was H. P. Lovecraft.

Lewis Shaw, “The Day He Met Lovecraft” in Brown Alumni Monthly 72, No. 7 (Apr 1972)

Memoirs and anecdotes of H. P. Lovecraft tend to come from familiar names: his correspondents, friends like Clifford & Muriel Eddy (The Gentleman from Angell Street), and his wife Sonia H. Greene (The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft) most prominent among them. Even the few unfamiliar names like Dorothy Tilden Spoerl (“Cosmic Horror”) prove to have some connection to Lovecraft with a little digging. The very few memoirs that don’t have any provable connection to Lovecraft are thus a little suspect; they are extraordinary, and extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence to prove them.

The geography of Providence is real, and while Lovecraft often kept late hours, he was also more active during the warmer months and went out of doors to write in the sunlight. So at least some of the details given are plausible. Yet the most interesting part of Shaw’s account is the least believable:

On that sunny afternoon, H. P. Lovecraft told us the strange story he wrote about a hotel on Benefit Street, a building which stands there no longer.

Lovecraft had written a story about a true incident. At one time there was a young woman, a chambermaid in the hotel on Benefit Street, who left and married into wealth. Sometime afterward, she returned to visit the hotel as a guest. When she found herself discourteously treated and snubbed, she departed but put a “curse” on the hotel, on all those who had humiliated her, and on everything concerned with the hotel. In short order, ill luck apparently befell all and the hotel itself burned down. Furthermore, it had never been possible, somehow, for anyone to rebuild on the site. Even on the day H. P. Lovecraft told us the story, the place where the hotel had stood was still a vacant lot.

Lovecraft had finished the story and, without making his usual carbon copy, made only one draft, which he then mailed to the publisher. His story never appeared in print. It was lost in the mails.

Lewis Shaw, “The Day He Met Lovecraft” in Brown Alumni Monthly 72, No. 7 (Apr 1972)

Lovecraft is not known to have written any story about a cursed hotel, nor is there a mention of a Lew Shaw in his voluminous published letters. Scholars might be suspicious—an account of a lost Lovecraft story by an unfamiliar name, decades after Lovecraft’s death, during the early 70s when paperback publication was raising Lovecraft’s public profile? It sounds a bit too good to be true. S. T. Joshi certainly was not convinced:

There is much reason to suspect this entire account. In the first place, the story sounds like nothing Lovecraft would have written—the idea is hackneyed, and the protagonist would uncharacteristically have been a woman. Secondly, it is inconceivable that Lovecraft would have prepared a story without his usual two carbons. In the case of his essay on Roman architecture in late 1934, he wrote the piece by hand and sent it to Moe without typing it at all. Lew Shaw claims to have actually met Lovecraft on the street, in the company of a friend “who was interested in science-fiction” and knew Lovecraft; this might conceivably have been Kenneth Sterling, but Sterling never mentions this matter in either of his two memoirs. Shaw also claims to be of the Brown Class of 1941; but there is no one of that name in that class listed in the Brown University alumni directory. There is a Lewis A. Shaw in the Class of 1948, and a Lew Shaw who received a Ph.D. in 1975, but that is all. My feeling is that Lew Shaw (probably a pseudonym) is perpetrating a hoax.

S. T. Joshi, I Am Providence (2010) 2.1001

Joshi’s arguments are well-reasoned—but there are a few counter-arguments. While none of Lovecraft’s surviving letters mention a cursed hotel story, the account does not mention when the story was written or sent out; so it could conceivably fall into a gap in the correspondence, especially if the story was an early one or written for a revision client. A story set in Providence on Benefit St. isn’t out of the question either, “The Shunned House” was based on a real-life house (the Stephen Harris House, 135 Benefit Street). Likewise, while it would be uncharacteristic for Lovecraft to write a story with a woman protagonist, it was not unknown: “The Man of Stone” (1932) for Hazel Heald and “The Curse of Yig” (1929) for Zealia Bishop are primarily focused on female characters, or told in part from their perspectives, so it isn’t entirely out of the question. The postal service has lost many manuscripts and typescripts, so that by itself isn’t unbelievable either. The most obvious evidence of a hoax appears to be the absence of Lew Shaw himself…

Lewis Irwin Schwartz attended Classical High School in Providence, RI and graduated from Brown University in the class of 1941 (listed on page 72 of the Liber Brunensis for 1941). “Lew Shaw” was his stage name (“He Crashed The ‘Crewcuts’,” Brown Alumni Monthly Jan 1962). So, Joshi was correct that there was no “Lew Shaw” among the names in the Class of 1941, and that the name was a pseudonym—but didn’t have access to the bits of the puzzle that would show that Lew Shaw really did exist; those parts of the narrative at least match what we know of his background.

Joshi was also likely correct in identifying Shaw’s unnamed friend interested in science fiction as Kenneth Sterling. In Providence, Sterling attended Classical High School. They were both born in 1920, but Shaw was born in November, so he would probably have been a year behind Sterling. That gives us time as well: Sterling met Lovecraft in March 1935, and in the autumn of 1936 began attending Harvard, so the encounter with Lovecraft could only have happened in the summer of 1935 or 1936. Lovecraft doesn’t mention Shaw/Schwartz in the surviving letters to Kenneth Sterling, but on the other hand, those surviving passages are all excerpts, not complete letters, and there are gaps of months in the correspondence.

Kenneth Sterling wrote two memoirs about Lovecraft: “Lovecraft and Science” (1944) and “Caverns Measureless to Man” (1975). The first is slight, and doesn’t go into detail about how they met; the second is substantial, and more personal and biographical, going into considerable detail. Some of these jive with Shaw’s account:

During the academic year, excepting Christmas and spring recesses, the Science Club met weekly. That meant I had a schedule of one scientist a week—all, with two exceptions, from the Brown University faculty—and every time I walked up College Hill toward the Brown campus I visited Lovecraft for several hours. The total number of hours I conversed with him was huge.

Kenneth Sterling, “Caverns Measureless to Man” in Ave Atque Vale 406-407

This would have been the path Shaw describes. Sterling doesn’t mention the cursed hotel story; the one anecdote Sterling tells about bringing a friend to meet Lovecraft doesn’t jive either, since it was at a gathering in New York City. Again, this doesn’t immediately rule out Shaw’s story, but it doesn’t fully confirm it either. Shaw’s account is shifted from obvious hoax to doubtful…and there’s one final bit of evidence to consider: was there a hotel, cursed or not?

Newport Mercury, 21 Feb 1920

The Hotel Lorraine was on 18-28 Aborn Street, on the other side of the Providence River from Benefit Street, a geographic detail that Lovecraft would not have missed, but I’ve yet to find a notable hotel fire on Benefit St. during Lovecraft’s lifetime—and the 18 Aborn St. lot was still vacant according to the 1935 Providence City Directory, which does jive with Shaw’s story. No mention of a curse has turned up yet, but a lot of century-old folklore probably wasn’t written down, much yet made it onto the internet, where searches about cursed hotels in Providence point toward the Biltmore (now The Graduate).

The question then becomes: is this an error with Shaw’s memory, or did he fabricate the whole anecdote? The former might be understandable: a couple of decades can erode the details of many memories, or add details that weren’t there before. If the latter, why? As far as is known, Shaw never attempted to pass the anecdote off to a paying magazine or publisher or profit from the supposed association. It was of the nature of a brief letter to the editor to a college alumni journal about a local writer with ties to the college whose posthumous star had lately been on the rise and who had ties to Brown (Lovecraft’s papers are archived at the university library). In the Feb 1972 issue of Brown Alumni Monthly there had been an article on “Lovecraftmania at Brown” which probably suggested the letter.

Without any further evidence in Lovecraft’s letters to support the idea that the meeting actually took place, “The Day He Met Lovecraft” will have to remain classified as somewhere between doubtful and apocryphal. We have no absolute evidence that Shaw/Schwartz actually met Lovecraft, as there are no details in the incident that can be independently corroborated with sources that weren’t already published at the time. As Joshi noted, the plot sounds fairly hackneyed and un-Lovecraftian; not something he would write for himself, even with the local angle.

However, we also cannot entirely rule out that Shaw did not meet Lovecraft; we know Sterling had brought at least one friend to meet Lovecraft according to his later memoir. The plot of the apocryphal tale sounds un-Lovecraftian, but Lovecraft was willing to bend his artistic scruples a bit for revision clients. Is a lost revision story plausible? There’s evidence to suggest Lovecraft revised more stories than saw print, such as “In the Gulf of N’Logh” (193?) and “Lair of Fungous Death” (193?) by Hazel Heald, and his letters to Zealia Brown Reed Bishop. By 1935, Lovecraft had largely stopped revising fiction, but it is possible he was talking about an earlier story—Lovecraft didn’t discuss much of his revised fiction that didn’t get published.

While Lovecraft’s life is extraordinarily well documented by his letters, there are still little gaps in which things happened for which we have no record…and, perhaps, in which a clever fiction might be woven. Shaw’s account cannot be entirely ruled out, but neither can it be proved, unless more information comes to light.


Thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for all of his help and assistance.

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.

“Last Rites for a Dead Druid” (1972) by Alvin Sapinsley

The 26th of January, 1972. Seventeen episodes into the second season of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, the latest horror-anthology show from the acclaimed creator of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). Already, this new Night Gallery series had proved a surprise for Lovecraft fans—while there was nothing Lovecraftian about “Miss Lovecraft Sent Me” in the first episode, viewers would be amused by the short burlesque “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” in episode 8, as well as serious adaptations of “Pickman’s Model” (episode 11) and “Cool Air” (episode 12). There were other adaptations from the Weird Tales too…Seabury Quinn’s “The Phantom Farmhouse,” a favorite of Lovecraft’s, was adapted in episode 5 and Manly Wade Wellman’s “The Devil Is Not Mocked” in episode 6, along with stories from August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Margaret St. Clair, and others.

Yet if a viewer were tuning in on that particular January night, the eighteenth episode of the season, they would watch “The Waiting Room” and “Last Rites of a Dead Druid”—paired together because each episode featured one of the stars of the recently-canceled Beverly Hillbillies—and probably never guess that in the latter they were seeing yet another Lovecraft adaptation…albeit one so completely twisted by Hollywood as to be basically unidentifiable to Lovecraft fans. How it got that way is a bit of a story unto itself.

Scouring his shelves, [producer Jack] Laird was often guided in spirit by the hand of tireless anthologist August Derleth. His 1946 collection Who Knocks? produced “The Phantom Farmhouse and “The Dear Departed,” and the original stories from which were adapted “The Painted Mirror,” “Death on a Barge,” and “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” came from a 1947 August Derleth anthology, The Sleeping and the Dead.

Scott Skelton & Jim Benson, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery An After-Hours Tour 92

No story “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” appeared by that title in The Sleeping and the Dead, but the book did include “Out of the Æons” (1935) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft. Hazel Heald and August Derleth were both dead by 1971, so it isn’t clear who was paid for the rights to the story, but when it came time to adapt the story for television the producers of Night Gallery turned to a reliable name: Robert Bloch.

“LARSON/72: What screenplays have you done for NIGHT GALLERY?

BLOCH: I did two things; adaptations of “Logoda’s Heads (Derleth) and “Out of the Eons” (Heald). “Logoda’s Heads” was broadcast last season and apparently came over quite well, although I was unable to see it. “Out of the Eons” was broadcast under a new title (“Last Rites for a Dead Druid”), and with a new story which bears not the slightest resemblance to Hazel Heald’s—or mine; something about a Druid statue in Santa Monica!”

Randall D. Larson interviewing Robert Bloch, The Robert Bloch Companion 126-127

In discussing how he had adapted Derleth’s “Logoda’s Heads,” Bloch explained:

I tried to stick as closely as I possibly could to the original […] because I know very well from first-hand experience how authors resent having their material drastically changed.

Scott Skelton & Jim Benson, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery An After-Hours Tour 240

If Bloch tried the same thing with “Out of the Æons,” the resultant teleplay may well not have worked for the producers of Night Gallery. Budgets and shooting schedules were tight in the second season, with many episodes using borrowed sets from other productions and minimal special effects. The productions made do, or tried to, with good actors, excellent camerawork, and tightly-written scripts that packed the maximum tension into the allotted minutes…

…or played it all for laughs. One of the noted shortcomings of the second season of Night Gallery was Jack Laird’s efforts to inject humor into the dramatic series, most notably the short vignettes featuring classic monsters which he tended to place in between longer dramatic segments. In a post-The Munsters era, these efforts at levity were stale and trite, but there were more subtle and sardonic uses of humor in the series too. In “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” for example, the eponymous professor is lecturing on the Cthulhu Mythos—and the eager students are named August Derleth, Robert Bloch, and H. P. Lovecraft! Hazel Heald was supposed to appear too, but she was trimmed from the final cut.

In any event, Bloch’s script was given to Alvin Sapinsley, who had written for the show before. Sapinsley stripped out everything except the most basic idea of the story, and in his own words:

I tried to insert a little humor […] because, I must confess to you, there was not a great deal of humor in the people who ran the program—except Jack Laird, who can be a very funny man. […] It was called Out of the Eons. […] I forgot who wrote it, but my final version was so far removed from the original short story as to be unrecognizable. […] I used the statue I had at the bottom of my garden as a stepping-off point. […] In fact, the statue is still in my backyard.

Scott Skelton & Jim Benson, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery An After-Hours Tour 268, 269

There is a certain irony here: Hazel Heald’s original story, as submitted to Lovecraft, appeared to be about “the basic idea of a living brain discovered in an ancient mummy” (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 603), from which Lovecraft expanded and wrote out his story of an antediluvian priest trapped in living death; Sapinsley, in adapting the story, did to Lovecraft what Lovecraft had done to Heald—and retained little more than Heald’s original idea in his rewriting. Sapinsley’s script was originally titled “Silent Partner,” but was eventually broadcast as “Last Rites for a Dead Druid”—and in that last ditching of subtlety, becomes almost the perfect example of how Hollywood can take a good story and turn it into something pretty much unrecognizable. If a reader didn’t know better, they might think it an adaptation of Seabury Quinn’s “The Stone Image” (1919)—about a wife who buys an ancient stone idol that torments her husband and moves at night—but given how obscure that story is, the parallels are probably coincidental.

“Last Rites for a Dead Druid” could stand as an archetype of the difficulties in tone that beset Night Gallery’s second season. It is a very Hollywood production: the dark druid is named Bruce the Black, like a four-color comic book character, and the scene has been shifted from Massachusetts in the 1930s to sunny suburban California in the 1970s, and in place of awesome antiquity the horrors being faced are marital infidelity and barbecuing cats. Horror and humor are so tightly intermingled that it’s obvious Sapinsley was writing very tongue-in-cheek.

Yet for all that, when considered on its own merits “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” isn’t bad television. While Sapinsley’s script has nothing on Heald & Lovecraft for cosmic horror, within the constraints of telling a slightly dark and twisted story in 22 minutes and 26 seconds under a tight budget, it is relatively effective. The most glaring fault—if fault it is—may be the ambiguity of character Mildred McVane (played by Donna Douglas), who appears at the beginning of the story to initiate the action, and is there at the ending in a Twilight Zone-esque twist. Sapinsley’s original title “Silent Partner” perhaps suggests that McVane was meant to be in league with the petrified druid…but the possibility is only raised, never made definite. Perhaps there was a key scene to this story that was excised at some point which would have tied up the loose ends.

For Lovecraftians, “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” represents a lost opportunity: what could have been another early Cthulhu Mythos adaptation becomes instead something of a footnote. In that sense, it greatly resembles The Shuttered Room (1966) by Julia Withers. One gets the impression that Hollywood simply didn’t know what to do with the Mythos at this period—for all that major films successfully incorporated bits and pieces of it, damn few Lovecraftian stories able to make it through the gauntlet of Hollywood producers and come out recognizable. Ironically, two of those were “Pickman’s Model” and “Cool Air” in Night Gallery…but not “Out of the Æons.”

As of this time of writing, episode 18 of Night Gallery is not legally available to stream, but the entire season is available on DVD.


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.

Vidas Ilustres Presenta: Lovecraft, el hombre que revivió ritos espantosos (1972) by Editorial Novaro

The works of H. P. Lovecraft were first translated into Spanish (Castilian) and published in book form in the 1950s, no doubt some individual magazine appearances preceded those publications. But readers in Mexico in the 1970s could enjoy El color que cayó del cielo (1957 or 1964, Ediciones Minotauro), Obras escogidas (1966, Ediciones Acervo), En las montañas de la locura (1968, Eidtorial Seix Barral), El caso de Charles Dexter Ward (1971, Barral Editores), and Viajes al otro mundo (1971, Alianza Editorial)…and in September of 1972 in Mexico, eager young readers could snap up Vidas Illustres #292, thirty-two color pages dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft.

The date is significant; the first English-language biographical comic of H. P. Lovecraft was Kuchar’s “H.P.L.” in Arcade #3 (1975), and the first full-length biography, L. Sprague de Camp’s Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), were both published three years later. While Charlton Comics had published a very brief piece on Lovecraft in Baron Weirdwulf’s Haunted Library #61 (1971), that was only about a third of a page at the back of the book. Yet based on the details in the panels, the makers of this comic book (neither writer or artist is credited) obviously knew their Lovecraft. From the very first page:

SCAN0370

This is a very fair snapshot of Lovecraft’s life, as readers of imported Arkham House titles (or the cheaper paperback reprints) would have had in 1972, right down to signing off as “Luveh-Kerapf” (“Luveh-Keraph”). Nor were the writers/artists unwilling to show their influences:

SCAN0371

This issue would have been on the stands next to Mexican horror comics like Tradicions y Leyendas de la Colonia, El Monje Loco (issue #52 of which contains an uncredited adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space”), Las Momias de Guanajuato, and Mini Terror. These were infinitely more lurid and creepy than nearly anything on the newsstands in the English-speaking world in the early 1970s, with the possible exception of Warren publications like Eerie and Creepy. Mexico had no Comics Code Authority, but the Comisión Calificadora de Publicaciones y Revistas Ilustradas had limited resources with which to censor comics.

In production quality, the paper and printing are cheap and shoddy by today’s standards—but by 1970s standards, this wasn’t half bad, definitely on the lower end of the scale of professional publication but far from embarrassing to be seen next to second-tier horror comics like Charlton’s Haunted or Gold Key’s Doctor Spektor. Some of the panel layouts in particular show an awareness and willingness to experiment. This triptych layout for example:

SCAN0372

Not the height of comic art in the 1970s by any means, especially the bizarre anatomy of the critter in that lower right-hand panel, and the backgrounds are perfunctory at best, but the framework is more than just a four-by-four grid. Someone was definitely trying to invoke something, no matter the limitations of their skills or the medium.

While nominally Vidas Illustres #272 begins as a bio-comic of Lovecraft, by page eight it morphs into a very brief adaptation of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” presented as a quasi-biographical story of Lovecraft himself! This is actually pretty fair for such an abbreviated epic, with the most notable odd discrepancy being the mix of clothing styles—the protagonist’s top-hat recalls the 1800s rather than the 1900s, although I suspect it owes something to The Haunted Palace (1963), a period horror film nominally adapting Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name but really borrowing from Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”—the second figure in the third panel of the first page bears a distinct likeness to Haunted Palace star Vincent Price.

Some things did get lost in translation, or at least a little jumbled. The swastika-shaped signs are reduced to a single out-of-context panel that probably confused a lot of readers in a post-World War II Mexico. In one panel, “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn” is transliterated as “¡Ia, Ia, Cthulu tfañg!” These are features more than flaws, writer and artist trying to cram as much into the thirty-two page comic as they could.

SCAN0373

There is something really poignant about the last pages, where fact and fiction combine and you get this version of Lovecraft reflecting back on his life and saying:

El horror de mi vida solitria y extravagante adquirió entonces un sentido: yo no soy de este mundo.

The horror of my lonely and extravagant life then acquired meaning: I am not of this world.

SCAN0374

As an individual work, Vidas Ilustres #292 might be seen by many as a curiosity—but it should be seen as exemplary of a distinct mode of Spanish-language graphic works involving Lovecraft and his Mythos. Artists from Latin America such as Alberto Breccia (Los Mitos de Cthulhu), his son Enrique Breccia (Lovecraft), and Horacio Lalia (Les Cauchemars de Lovecraft) have crafted superb adaptations and original stories based on Lovecraft’s work, as have Spanish artists such as Joan Boix (Grandes de la Macabro) and master painter Esteban Maroto (Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu). Several of these works have been translated into English, but most can only be read in their original Spanish or in other languages.

References to the Mythos in Spanish comics has ranged from the erotic, such as Ignacio Noé and Ricardo Barreiro’s The Convent of Hell, to the lighthearted and comic such as José Oliver and Bart Torres’ El Joven LovecraftLovecraft continues to be an influence on Spanish-language comics to this day through the ongoing comics anthology Cthulhu from Diabolo Ediciones, including the special issue Lovecraft, un homenaje en 15 Historietas.

I could go on; the field is vast, and the influence of Lovecraft and his mythos runs deep. As far as I am aware, this issue was never reprinted in any form. If you are interested in reading the long out-of-print Vidas Illustres #292 yourself, the issue has been scanned and uploaded to the Internet Archive, where it can be read for free.

My thanks and appreciation to Silvia Moreno-Garcia whose article “Mexican Horror Comics” in the Weird Fiction Review #10 provided some of the background and inspiration for this piece.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).