Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Vermont Flood in "The Whisperer in Darkness"

Trailer for the upcoming H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society film The Whisperer in Darkness

MIG001 - The Vermont Flood of 1927

As I write this, coastal New England, especially Lovecraft's beloved Providence, is cleaning up from what is being called the worst flooding in 200 years. Another devastating flood occurred in New England 82 years ago, focused on the hills and mountains of Vermont. In addition to the massive damage, 85 people were killed. Images of the destruction, and some of the locations today, can be seen at the Landscape Change Program. A newsreel can be viewed at the Vermont Historical Society as can more images. Middlebury College has postcard images from the flood. Time Magazine, a relatively new publication in 1927, covered the floods in this article. Closer to the events, Westminster History Project has a Bellows Falls Times article from two weeks after the flooding began. Rootsweb has an extensive section of their site devoted to the flood. The National Weather Service has several resources, including an overview with rainfall amounts, and a 50th anniversary retrospective.

This flood provides the opening hook for H. P. Lovecraft's story "The Whisperer in Darkness." Lovecraft had previously used real events as inspiration for his story. I have previously noted the influence of the Charlevoix-Kamouraska earthquake of 1925 on the story "The Call of Cthulhu," though in that case the date was shared, but the location of the earthquake moved to the South Pacific. In "The Whisperer in Darkness, written almost three years after the floods, Lovecraft incorporates the actual event. From the second paragraph of the story

"The whole matter began, so far as I am concerned, with the historic and unprecedented Vermont floods of November 3, 1927. I was then, as now, an instructor of literature at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, and an enthusiastic amateur student of New England folklore. Shortly after the flood, amidst the varied reports of hardship, suffering, and organized relief which filled the press, there appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers"
This aspect of the story introduction is reflected in the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation, viewable in the video at the top of this post. This weekend, officials are warning New Englanders that the 2010 flood waters contain hidden dangers, though I suspect they are not thinking exactly of fungal monstrosities from beyond the stars.

Like the earthquake, which HPL would have felt, Lovecraft did not need to rely solely on news accounts of the Vermont flood, as he visited the state the year after the disaster. This same trip also provided the setting and some of the inspiration for his story "The Dunwich Horror." Lovecraft would have seen some of the damage himself, and presumably talked to people about it. As someone who lived in New Orleans in 2005, I can tell you that the topic of that disaster continued to show up in everyday conversation for years afterward.

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