Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A new take on Nyarlathotep

Michael Immerso's book, Coney Island: The People's Playground speaks much of amusement diversions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (p.100 ff.)

Immerso paints a scenario where the preeminent amusement park of the day, Coney Island, had already by the late 1890's had mechanical devices that dazzled the imagination. Fred Thompsn's "A Trip to the Moon" invented the illusion ride that he had made prototypes of as early as the 1898 Omaha Exposition. Another of his illusion placed the audience members in a glass covered coffin and first buried them, passed them through an animated skeleton assemblage, and finally to a graveyard with winged beings.

By 1906, an illusion called "Pharoah's Daughter" had a statue that came to life to instruct the daughter of pharaoh of many horrific things.

William Ellis was another master. He produced illusion shows and rides named "Hereafter", "End of the World", "Orient", and "Hellgate".

Each and everyone of these were precisely the things that young Lovecraft fixated upon – demonic and gaunt animatrons, Ali Baba and Arabian Nights images, myths from Greece, Babylon, and Egypt. Other shows included the Johnstown Flood, the Italian earthquake, and trips to the North Pole.

We do not have to presume that Lovecraft saw any of these, but they made the newspapers. They also scaled down to road shows. We know this from an item sold on Ebay that featured an act: Doomsday: a scenic and electrical spectacle of the end of the world in 2005. This appeared in 1907 at the Providence Opera House.

From that program, we have the following details preserved*:

… a vaudeville program from Keith's theatre in Providence, Rhode Island for the week of December 16, 1907. The bill included a ''clay modeler'', ''flying ring gymnists'', singers, ''Hebrew comedians: Hawthorne and Burt, jesters, singers and a one act comedy by Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Drew. Most intriguing was Doomsday, ''a scenic and electrical spectacle of the end of the world in 2005'.

We can then read Nyarlathotep's poem, story, and even the parody of Providence in 2000 through these lenses. Lovecraft's dreams might truly have been influenced by reading of these spectacles, seeing the printed images of them, listening to people who had visited Coney island, or even seeing the 1907 Providence production of one of these shows – maybe this one specifically.

* As seen on an Ebay auction sale.

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