Trip to Innsmouth

(1975-1979)
By Tani Jantsang

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(This entire endeavor could not have been accomplished without the assistance of Philip Marsh, Gerard Gibbons, Robert Kagan, Newburyport City Hall, and my trusty 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit. This was sent to Crispin Burnham around 1976 with most of the photos, to be published in Eldritch Tales. However, Crispin could not get the photographs to come out, and they'd have to have been in black & white at best. Now, with internet and jpegs, the color photos are available. We returned again to the sites around the turn of late 1978 - early 1979 and had to photograph actual street signs and write specific directions because things had changed.)

These directions are also listed atop each photograph in both thumbnail and large versions. You may wish to go straight to the photos or read this first, which has a fuller version and explanation regarding some oddities about the town's layout.

We will start out with the Joe Sargent bus ride, a 60 cent ride, which tells us that the ride was quite long. Entering Newburyport on State Street, I learned that there is a bus stop by the drug store on that street and there was, long ago, a bus that went into Salem (which is Arkham, or close to it), which is now defunct. The drug store, as far as I could learn, was never called Hammond's, but it always was a drug store. We go along State Street following the Sargent bus ride until we reach High Street, which is Route 1 A. Go left.

Keep going straight along High Street "past stately old mansions of the early republic and still older colonial farmhouses." Passing the Lower Green and Parker River and finally emerging into a long monotonous stretch of open shore country." We go further on and "out of the window we could see the blue water and the sandy line of Plum Island." Now actually we had to cheat a little. The stunted shrubbery and sedge grass mentioned in the story are not there any longer, as we learned by asking. The water line is further back and houses have been built up along the area so that it is impossible to really get a good view of Plum Island, though it can be seen in some spots if you stand on the roof of the car. In a bus you'd be high up enough to see it.

HPL lists these sites rapidly in his sentences, however, they are quite far apart from each other. HPL states that the bus veered off the main highway that goes to Rowley and Ipswich. Route 1A goes to Rowley and Ipswich. Innsmouth, however, is between Arkham and Newburyport; Ipswich is further inland and both Ipswich and Rowley are north of Innsmouth. The Sargent bus does not veer off prior to entering Rowley; it veers off the road that goes there, i.e, it veers off Route 1A and goes on to the Cape Ann area. The only road doing this now is 133 East.

Keep on Route 1A until you hit Route 133 and then veer off. Go to your left onto 133 East. Keep following these signs. The roads were at one time pretty straight, but new roads were built and now they slightly deviate from a straight line. When you read the sign for 127 North, that will be "straight on" - go this way, go 127 North. This takes you into Gloucester Center.

Cross over the Bridge (Water Street Bridge?) and continue to follow 127 North signs until you hit the intersection showing that to turn right will take you on the 127 "scenic route." This sign does not say 127 North or South; just plain 127. DO NOT GO THE SCENIC ROUTE. Around 1979 there was a new and different group of signs there showing the way I will state now.

At this intersection there are two gas stations, one an Exxon. At this intersection make a direct right 90 degree angle left turn for a few blocks and you’ll hit a Rotary or Circle. Then you follow the 127 North sign and you will be on the correct route to Innsmouth. Follow until you see another 127 North sign and continue on. The ocean will then be on your left, just as in the story. If you make the wrong turn, the ocean will be on your right; no good.

Follow this out for a while: "our narrow course began to climb steeply... looking at the lonely crest ahead where the rutted roadway met the sky [now quite built up, no longer rutted] the vast expanse of the open Atlantic is on our left. Then we reached the crest... just north of the long line of cliffs that culminate in Kingsport Head and veer off toward Cape Ann." These cliffs are in Rockport, at the crest, the highest point, and they do veer off toward Cape Ann. "Soon the far misty horizon I could make out the dizzy profile of the Head, topped by the queer ancient house on which so many legends are told. The panorama below was Innsmouth."

From where HPL stood, at that point, he could see the three tall steeples looming starkly against the seaward horizon. "One was crumbling down at the top and two had black holes where clocks should have been." "The road descended from here on." Actually one church has a clock; all three churches are now repaired and kept nice.

Now continue on 127 the same way until the next left turn you can make, Wharf Road. The "Harbor long clogged with sand was enclosed by an ancient stone break-water... at whose end were what looked like the foundations of a by-gone lighthouse." The Harbor is now clogged with sand because the breakwater was mostly unfinished and destroyed by wind and water. They planned to build it and extend it to where the defunct lighthouse is. More than one local told us that the city ran out of funds or it was politically unpopular, etc. There is a Reef out there, never fully submerged, very irregular and jagged with warning buoys surrounding it. Through a 500mm lens one could see the ocean very violently smashing against it. The breakwater was supposed to protect the Harbor. It looks like nothing, tiny, without a strong telephoto. It was originally 8-10 times this size and still unfinished. "Afar out at sea, despite a high tide, I glimpsed a long black line scarcely rising above the water, yet carrying a suggestion of odd latent malignancy. This I knew must be Devil Reef."

Three of the locals we spoke to referred to the "queer house" as "that weird place," "that strange place" and simply "uhhh uh.. "... another subject. Two locals said they did not know the name of the Reef, but it was not called "Devil Reef" and that it never fully was submerged; even at high tide, it was jagged and irregular. They both agreed on this and said there was nothing out there but pigeon droppings which made it look white (... I never asked if anything was out there, yet they both offered that "Nothing is out there...")

The story "The Festival " mentions that the narrator is travelling toward a town where his ancestors came, and this race of his practices a ceremony older than man. "The road soars up to where Aldebaren twinkles among the trees." He is travelling with the ocean on his left. He is traveling at the Winter Solstice at dusk. As soon as he reaches the crest he sees "Kingsport" outspread below (Rockport, at this point is outspread below). When he reaches the road's crest and looks at Kingsport in the dusk, Aldebaren seems to "balance itself a moment on the ghostly spire." He is talking about the "ghostly spire of a great white church at the center of town, on a hill, at the focus of crazy alleyways." The church with the clock in it is on a hill surrounded by streets that are little more than alleys. There is an open space around the church. The fact is: Aldebaren is there at that time of year, that time of day, if you are looking at it from the crest where I trespassed to take a photo (I climbed on a stranger's roof)! Furthermore, the description of the town, the houses, streets, everything IS Rockport which he calls Kingsport. So the directions he gives in such detail to "Innsmouth" really took us to Kingsport, too!

Go off Wharf Road back to 127 and keep going until 127 South. Take this road (or you can go left on Beech Street and end up in the same place) to Rockport Center. None of the street names, nor the way the streets are situated, fit for "The Shadow over Innsmouth." They fit perfectly for "The Festival," however.

I will here explain my theory on HPL's layout of streets given in "Shadow Over Innsmouth," and mapped out by us based on the story. All along the Northeastern portion of New England, in every seaport town, the towns correspond to Newburyport or Gloucester or Marblehead – nice houses here or there, decayed ones here or there. Old or new all mixed up. In not one New England town can you find a layout as in "The Shadow over Innsmouth." HPL stayed in New York however and knew people in New Jersey. In all, every single, port city in the New Jersey and New York area you will indeed find the exact layout of Innsmouth: the waterfront at one end with horribly squalid slums, "racially mixed" people of whatever new ethnic group, people perpetually drunk, dangerous people guarding their turf, etc. Going further inland you find your main part of town; all the bigger stores are there. All streets radiate outward from these "town squares." There is always a railroad that lets out there, and all busses from anywhere including other states also let out there. Hotels are there, everything is there. Then going further away from the waterfront you get into your nicer neighborhoods until finally, at the opposite end of town, your rich suburbanites live. If Innsmouth were Newark, NJ, for instance, circa 1960s, the area where you'd find all mixed blooded Deep Ones/humans would be black/Puerto Rican/various ethnics sometimes mixed with "whites" (at the time, Wasps). The boarded up buildings, wrecked, ruined destroyed, would be the black area especially after the riots (Newark had a riot so bad that tanks were in the "town square" shopping center area). The railroad is Penn Central. Near the wealthy Marsh, Waite and Gilman mansions would be your North Newark section, rich, totally white-Wasp. Further inland is your Polish immigrant area, beautifully kept, clean and suburban, not nearly as rich as your Wasp area, but comfortably middle class. Ditto, ditto, ditto for all the other port cities from HPL’s time all the way up until the 1960s! He must have based this whole idea on his stay in New York City or perhaps even New Jersey, as not one port city in New England fits this pattern, not even Providence, Rhode Island. (Regarding the Map of Innsmouth. Eric Carlson and I made the original Map of Innsmouth showing every street and every single place mentioned in any original story about the town, even the numbering of houses on blocks. It is the map that all other maps have been based on. This was published by Chaosium in "Fragments of Fear the Second Cthulhu Companion" with our names on it but also with Carolyn Schultz's name, who had nothing to do with this map, listed first. When she copied our work she made an error with the Washington and Main Street bridges!)

I took quite a few photos aside from ones of the break-water, the reef, the streets, all that is mentioned above; pictures showing the churches that were visible from the crest. I took pictures of the Sargent Murray Gilman Hough House, a church with a fish instead of a cross on its roof, and a few other notable things I stumbled on in tourist areas there, including a "Pez" dispenser with a Cthulhu head on it.

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