Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy H. P. Lovecraft Mardi Gras to You All -- Cthulhu Mythos Based Figures

The Mardi Gras season has about ended here on the Gulf Coast with Fat Tuesday looming in a couple of days.  This year Friday the 13th was followed by St. Valentine’s Day and just a few days later, Fat Tuesday will begin and signal the ending of the Mardi Gras season for 2015, so it seemed a post was in order with this plethora of diametrically opposing holidays. 

New Orleans is linked to one the most central of Lovecraft mythos stories, The Call of Cthulhu, which was written in 1926, but did not see print until February 1928 in Weird Tales.  Interestingly, Lovecraft didn’t actually visit New Orleans until June of 1932[1], eventually getting in touch with author and editor Edgar Hoffman Price at his apartment in the French Quarter near where Lovecraft stayed at a hotel.   Mutual correspondent Robert E. Howard had alerted Price via telegram to Lovecraft’s presence in the Crescent City and that led to a writer’s confab that lasted many hours.  I only wish we could have a transcript of their long conversations.  It’s just too bad that Robert E. Howard couldn’t have made that meeting in NOLA, but the stars just weren’t right. 
Well it wasn’t even close to Mardi Gras in June ‘32 when H. P. Lovecraft paid a visit to New Orleans.  But the weirdness and rule of inversion that is the soul of Mardi Gras just seems to lend itself to his writings nonetheless.  The human arbitrary temporal measure of days and times just don’t seem to work within the magic crescent of New Orleans so the fact that Lovecraft wasn’t in N.O. during Mardi Gras.   Synopsis of the story, Call of Cthulhu  
With all that said, to celebrate the 2015 Mardi Gras season, I put together a photographic ad hoc tableau of artifacts celebrating a H. P. Lovecraft New Orleans Mardi Gras and the looming end of the 2015 season in the mood of his story Call of Cthulhu.  Featured in this photo set is a 19th century Italian cast iron mask form for making traditional carnival masks, as well as a fairly old conch horn, typical of the Caribbean and used in certain rites not condoned in the Catholic Church.  In voodoo ceremonies the loa, Agwe[2] is called with one of these conch shell horns.   
Scattered about the photos about are some original Native American Gulf Coast potshards dating from before the “discovery” and colonization of the area by D’Iberville in 1699.  The flints are imports that the Biloxi Indians and other coastal tribes traded for with northern tribes, as there was no local source on the coast.  These also predate “discovery” so they are fairly old.  As background, I have included an interesting French contract document dating to the 1680s.  Although it has little to do directly with the proceedings, it just seemed too cool to not have in the photo, with its intricate stamps and the hand-laid paper.  A note to prop makers, the 300 year old paper is not yellowed nor does it look like the edges were burned.  Also in the picture is a (20th century modern) hand-hammered iron knife made from a single piece of iron with a dragon handle.  Although not old, it also seemed rather appropriate for inclusion in a Weird Fiction tableau. 
In the story, Call of Cthulhu, inspector John Raymond Legrasse[3] of the New Orleans police contacted the American Archeological Society in 1908 about a figure found, “in the woods and swamps south of New Orleans during a raid”.   Previously Legrass had captured some items from a voodoo meeting.  He led a party of police who found some “oddly marred” bodies used in a ritual.  But you know the story.  If you haven’t, you can download the story from the links below.  Consider that these items are from Legrasse’s collection made over a number of years. 
The swamp featured in Call of Cthulhu was supposed to be quite close to the French Quarter, just outside the original old walls of New Orleans.  This leads me to believe that the area suggested just might be near Chalmette, which coincidentally is the site of the Battle of New Orleans, which just so happens to have celebrated its bicentennial just last month on the 8th of January 1815.  The coincidences just seemed to be too good to pass up! There is an interesting military graveyard at the site dating from 1815 to the near present.

Anyway, most of the figures, icons, and the like in these photos were made by that ceramic artist Michael Moses, whose diversity shows in the plethora objects he has made over the years.  The rest of the items are a mix original artifacts, one of which is the voodoo related conch horn.  Some other items here are antiques dating from the time of European “discovery” or before.   The Mythos ceramic figures are made of pottery clay and fired at a high temperature (twice) and should last centuries, even when dropped in a swamp.
Mardi Gras has always had a wild kind of pre Christian flavor, so this assemblage seems to work out well in association.  I thought a cornucopia of Chthonian goodies would be a fine ending to the season.  The collection needed a little airing out so a photo shoot just seemed to follow.  Hopefully this will get folks reading HPL’s Call of Cthulhu, if they haven’t already or at least be amused by the assemblage of items, both original and spurious.  Keep on reading.             CoastConFan
     [1] Info on Lovecraft’s visit to New Orleans and
   [2] As a bit of coincidence, see also Kenzaburo Oe’s story, Aghwee The Sky Monster from his book, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1994).  See
Additionally, one of Michael Moses’ other pieces of pottery is called The Day he Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away (not shown).  Here's another one, the loa called Agassou, one of Papa’s Agwee’s crew, is in the form of a crab.  Now it just so happens that Agassou is close in sound to Sargasso – the place of giant crabs and groping tentacles in the novella, Boats of the Glen Carrig by William Hope Hodgson (see my post about same), whose influence on HPL is discussed therein.  This is all just happy coincidence and makes the story work even better by this bit of serendipity.  See  and .  Also Agwe's female counterpart is La Sirene, the siren of the seas, the conch horn also comes into play with this.  It doesn't take much of this kind of loose association to make it all appear to be part of the whole narrative. These kinds of random and weak association can enhance the backstory of a prop or in a RPG/LARP scenario sequence. 

    [3] John Raymond Legrasse, inspector of the New Orleans police from 1904 to 1916, after which he enlisted in the U.S. army.  He was discharged in 1919 after a tour in the military police and returned to New Orleans.  Born in 1874, in New Orleans, Legrasse was of Creole descent and educated at parochial schools and later at Tulane.  He was in the N.O. police from 1894 to 1916 and again from 1919 to 1927, after which he retired.  Legrasse passed away in 1932 and his estate funded the Legrasse Endowment for Cultural Studies in 1932.  The collection was housed in a private residence for years.

Some links of interest to you Lovecraft and New Orleans fans

CoC RPG ref  Sourcebook for New Orleans

An kickstarter article about a NOLA-based CoC set of RPG scenarios

An overview of some CoC RPG titles

Free downloads of the story, Call of Cthulhu

The complete works of H. P. Lovecraft for Nook and Kindle (free -- why pay more)

The complete works of H. P. Lovecraft in PDF form (708 pages) free again --

Some posts about the Cthonian inspired ceramic works of Michael Moses

Cthulhu reverse glass painting icon by Michael W. Moses

A little lagniappe:  An article by Robert Bloch, Poe & Lovecraft, 1973:
 Text Copyright © by William Murphy, aka CoastConFan, 2015  
as well as some photos.

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