Shunned House

H.P. Lovecraft
The Shunned House
by H. P. Lovecraft
Published 1928
From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent. Some times it
enters directly into the composition of the events, while sometimes it
relates only to their fortuitous position among persons and places. The
latter sort is splendidly exemplified by a case in the ancient city of
Providence, where in the late forties Edgar Allan Poe used to sojourn
often during his unsuccessful wooing of the gifted poetess, Mrs.
Whitman. Poe generally stopped at the Mansion House in Benefit
Street--the renamed Golden Ball Inn whose roof has sheltered
Washington, Jefferson, and Lafayette--and his favourite walk led
northward along the same street to Mrs. Whitman's home and the
neighbouring hillside churchyard of St. John's whose hidden expanse of
eighteenth-century gravestones had for him a peculiar fascination.
Now the irony is this. In this walk, so many times repeated, the world's
greatest master of the terrible and the bizarre was obliged to pass a
particular house on the eastern side of the street; a dingy, antiquated
structure perched on the abruptly rising side hill, with a great unkept
yard dating from a time when the region was partly open country. It
does not appear that he ever wrote or spoke of it, nor is there any
evidence that he even noticed it. And yet that house, to the two persons
in possession of certain information, equals or outranks in horror the
wildest phantasy of the genius who so often passed it unknowingly, and
stands starkly leering as a symbol of all that is unutterably hideous.
The house was--and for that matter still is--of a kind to attract the
attention of the curious. Originally a farm or semi-farm building, it
followed the average New England colonial lines of the middle

eighteenth century--the prosperous peaked-roof sort, with two stories
and dormerless attic, and with the Georgian doorway and interior
paneling dictated by the progress of taste at that time. It faced south,
with one gable and buried to the lower windows in the east ward rising
hill, and the other exposed to the foundations toward the street. Its
construction, over a century and a half ago, had followed the grading
and straightening of the road in that especial vicinity; for Benefit
Street--at first called Back Street--was laid out as a lane winding
amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when
the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently
possible to cut through the old family plots.
At the start, the western wall had lain some twenty feet up a precipitous
lawn from the roadway; but a widening of the street at about the time of
the Revolution sheared off most of the intervening space, exposing the
foundations so that a brick basement wall had to be made, giving the
deep cellar a street frontage with the door and two windows above
ground, close to the new line of public travel. When the sidewalk was
laid out a century ago the last of the intervening space was removed;
and Poe in his walks must have seen only a sheer ascent of dull grey
brick flush with the sidewalk and surmounted at a height of ten feet by
the antique shingled bulk of the house proper.
The farm-like grounds extended back very deeply up the hill, al most to
Wheaton Street. The space south of the house, abutting on Benefit
Street, was of course greatly above the existing sidewalk level, forming
a terrace bounded by a high bank wall of damp, mossy stone pierced by
a steep flight of narrow steps which led inward be tween canyon-like
surfaces to the upper region of mangy lawn, rheumy brick walls, and
neglected gardens whose dismantled cement urns, rusted kettles fallen
from tripods of knotty sticks, and similar paraphernalia set off the
weather beaten front door with its broken fanlight, rotting Ionic
pilasters, and wormy triangular pediment.
What I heard in my youth about the shunned house was merely that
people died there in alarmingly great numbers. That, I was told, was
why the original owners had moved out some twenty years after

building the place. It was plainly unhealthy, perhaps because of the
dampness and fungous growth in the cellar, the general sickish smell,
the draughts of the hallways, or the quality of the well and pump water.
These things were bad enough, and these were all that gained belief
among the person whom I knew. Only the notebooks of my antiquarian
uncle, Dr. Elihu Whipple, revealed to me at length the darker, vaguer
surmises which formed an undercurrent of folk-lore among old-time
servants and humble folk, surmises which never travelled far, and
which were largely forgotten when Providence grew to be a metropolis
with a shifting modern population.
The general
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