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BIRTHDAY BOY Lovecraft.

Today, there isn’t much scary about the Gladys Potter Garden, the sleepy children’s park tucked next to the intersection of Humboldt Avenue and Elton Street on the East Side of Providence. Sure, the gates creak and you may come across a lone tricycle that looks like a prop from The Shining, but it’s mostly not a setting you’d link with legendary writer and Providence native H.P. Lovecraft — the man Stephen King called “the 20th century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

But a connection exists between the playground and Lovecraft’s short story, “The Tomb,” the tale of a boy obsessed with entering a locked gravesite in the “mystic groves of the hollow” near his home. That story has Providence roots, says Elyssa Tardif, director of the Newell D. Goff Center for Education and Public Programs at the Rhode Island Historical Society. “That [the land] is a children’s playground today makes for a pretty terrific setting for a horrific story.”

Finding correlations between Lovecraft’s writing and Providence today will be part of the fun when the RIHS and Providence Public Library host the first Lovecraft Readathon at the PPL on August 23 — part of a series of events to celebrate Lovecraft’s 124th birthday (he was born August 20, 1890). A round-robin reading of “The Tomb,” Lovecraft’s first fiction published as an adult, will open the night, and readings of seven Lovecraft poems and the short story “The Haunter of the Dark,” as well as musical performances, will round out the evening.

Sample the catalogs of the three New England acts scheduled to perform between readings — Haunt the House, Ian Fitzgerald, and Vudu Sister — and there are enough songs about death to count them as apropos choices. “We chose musicians who pay close attention to the craft, but also handle darker themes,” Tardif says.

But the Readathon is meant to be more than a Halloween-comes-early celebration. Participant Donovan Loucks, webmaster of the H.P. Lovecraft Archive at HPLovecraft.com, helped curate readings covering terrain from the swamps of Chepachet to Second Beach in Newport that offer glimpses of the state in the early 20th century. One poem, “The East India Brick Row,” was originally published in The Providence Journal in 1930 as an impassioned plea to prevent the destruction of brick warehouses on South Main Street. Although Lovecraft ultimately failed — the site is now Memorial Park — one of his closing stanzas could still be a call-to-arms for Providence preservationists: “So if at last a callous age must tear/These jewels from the old town’s quiet dress/I think the harbour streets will always wear/A puzzled look of wistful emptiness.”

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THE READATHON LOGO by Mike Brousseau.
The Readathon format is based on the annual Moby-Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where Melville’s classic is read aloud nonstop by 150 readers. The event’s average running time is 25 hours. The Lovecraft Readathon, with 26 readers, is scheduled to run a considerably saner three hours.

While the RIHS routinely hosts well-attended Lovecraft walking tours (one will take place on the morning of the Readathon), high-profile events honoring the “Old Gentleman of Providence” have been on the rise over the last year. In 2013, the Providence City Council officially dubbed the intersection of Angell and Prospect streets “H.P. Lovecraft Square,” sculptor Bryan Moore’s Kickstarter-funded Lovecraft bronze bust found a home at the Athenaeum, and downtown hosted NecronomiCon Providence — a Lovecraft-centric convention that attracted hundreds of fans from across the globe.

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