Sunday, February 1, 2015

Collinsport, Arkham’s Sister City, a Weird Fiction Playground for the Call of Cthulhu Gamer

Tucked away up on up on the coast of Maine, Collinsport is the (fictional) home of the Dark Shadows TV show fame.  With a plethora of information put together by Dark Shadows fans, consider playing the H. P. Lovecraft mythos RPG, Call of Cthulhu in beautiful downtown Collinsport for a change of pace, if Arkham becomes a bit too expected.

If you are of a certain age, you remember running home from school to catch the latest episode of the daytime soap opera, Dark Shadows.  It was an afternoon weekday TV show that ran from 1966 to 1971 originally.  But it was a bit different because it was a horror series, something not seen in a daytime slot.  There were 1,225 episodes overall and a couple of movies+.  The series starred the notorious vampire Barnabas Collins as played by Jonathan Frid and featured a parade of Frankenstein monsters, witches, zombies, and werewolves.  The show also had time travel story lines and parallel universes.  Clearly there is enough ground there to please any eldritch gamer.

Although obscure to most of you today, Dark Shadows was a huge hit in its heyday in the late 1960s.  Today, the episodes are all but unwatchable by modern standards, but Dark Shadows brought in slow pacing, tropes, and memes that we see more often in our modern graphic novels these days.  Dark Shadows was ground breaking and had a good deal of influence even years after the show went off the air.

There was also a bit of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos connection in Dark Shadows.  The story arc, The Leviathans, brought some Lovecraft stirrings to the TV series, although fans really didn’t like seeing Barnabas as the pawn of the Old Ones.  Given the parallels with Lovecraft Country, working on scenarios in Collinsport wouldn’t be too hard.

A couple of links about Collinwood Mansion the lair of the Collins family and Barnabas himself:  and

Well worth your time is a trip to the Dark Shadows Wiki, which has tons of useful information:

Pictured is a map of Collinsport drawn by Jean Graham at Dark Shadows wiki

Playing in Collinsport in the 1920s would prove to be a lot of fun for those who don’t mind a bit of initial preparation.  Being contemporary with Arkham and the Cthulhu mythos works well, especially since most folks are not familiar with Dark Shadows enough to find continuity errors in your home-build scenarios if you color outside of the limes somewhat.

Here’s a bit of background to pique your interest in adding Collinsport to the topography of Mythos haunted New England.  To show you how much fun Collinsport might be, I gleaned a few things from the series itself, but other parts I extrapolated, borrowed or made up whole cloth.  Pay a visit to beautiful Collinsport sometime, especially in the 1920s.

Collinsport was founded in the 1620s but began a decline from the 1870s onward as a fishing village.  By the late 1890s, it’s picturesque quality attracted summer visitors escaping the summer heat of large cities.  Plus it was a lot cheaper than other resorts.  The railroad made the village accessible.  Note that by 1962 the railroad stopped making daily scheduled stops, due to lack of traffic and the decline of fishing industry cannery cargo.  A seasonal artist colony sprang up just after WWI.  It was a quiet place for relaxation in seclusion.  The townspeople were insular and often uncouth and the village did not attract “the right kind of people” and remained unfashionable.

In previous centuries ship salvage was a source of income and when that proved lean, wrecking would suffice.  Smuggling from Canada to avoid taxes started in colonial times down to the present.  Additionally the Collinsport fishing fleet ranged down to Florida in winter months to fish for the Havana market starting in 1815, wrecking there in the dangerous reefs to make extra money.  Often used Indian Key, Florida as a headquarters.

Historically, Collinsport was seldom directly involved in the slave trade from Colonial times to Civil War, although their shipping expertise would have been useful from their smuggling and wrecking days.  Some profit was made in outfitting and crewing slave ships, but the most money was made in financing the trade both when it was legal and later illegal.   Later, there was a little income from the China Trade, but not much.

Prohibition (1920 to 1933) saw some activity in Collinsport with rum running from Canada, but Collinsport’s activity was primarily as a middleman, generally by poor fishermen trying to make ends meet rather than large, national-level gangs.  Meeting larger ships, they broke down the cargo into smaller lots and hid it until they it picked up or shipped out again.  Some use of false-bottom train cars used for shipping fish were used early on, but were too easy to catch, leading to dispersal of illegal liquor throughout the fishing fleet and being hidden in spots around the coast.  There was some small-scale moonshining, but it was generally for local consumption. 

You can visit to the so-called Viking ruins well outside of town and the long-abandoned site of the old Indian village site in a clearing just down the coast.  The famous treasure pit, which sees occasional excavation for elusive gold (see Oak Island treasure).  Collinsport ships may have stumbled on treasure from the 1733 treasure fleet while “fishing” down in Florida, at least that is the origin of the story of the treasure pit.  Sometimes dark things are found at the site and there are stories of “disturbances” in the area.    Also 

Anyway, I suggest you do a little Googling around, follow some of the links provided below and see if you don’t get excited about gaming in and around Collinsport and other haunted sites around Maine.  I think this is fertile ground for CoC or any paranormal role playing gaming and there is plenty to discover.  The background to the Dark Shadows world is interesting in itself and would lend itself creditably to some RPGing from the Victorian era, the 1920s, and even up to modern times.  The sea has always been a link to the dim, primordial past as well as a highway between cultures.  Some exploring is in order.


+Films made Both theatrical films, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971).  There was also a revival movie in 2012 starring Johnny Depp

Some good links for RPGing in the Collinsport area:
A must-visit is the fan site, The Collinsport Historical Society, with tons of information

A detailed Wikipedia article about Collinsport and its environs

Dark Shadows Every Day, a blog that reviews an episode of the popular 60 TV show each day

Maine has it shares of domestic monsters and the like:    

Of course, Steven King’s home is in Maine and some of his stories are set there as well.    He created a number of fictitious towns in Maine for his stories and Collinsport would fit in nicely: 
If this doesn’t give you enough Weird Fictional New England towns as grist for your scenario mill, then you are probably not much into gaming.

Well worth a download, American Architecture and Building News, 1890 on Project Gutenberg for building ideas and floor plans


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