H. P. Lovecraft
The Shunned House
135 Benefit Street
The family home featured in H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Shunned House” is up for sale. Situated at 135 Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island, this south-facing house was built circa 1764, and offers:
Original wideboard floors, period details, 1/3 acre landscaped garden, 4 terraced areas, pergola, koi pond, 2 car garage with potting shed
All of which can be yours for $925,000, details here.
Lovecraft’s story describes the mansion house on Benefit Street, as the building where Edgar Allan Poe:
...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 unkempt 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 fantasy of the genius who so often passed it unknowingly, and stands starkly leering as a symbol of all that is unutterably hideous.
Because of its policy of religious tolerance, early Providence had no common burying ground, no single place where everyone agreed to bury their dead. So, in accordance with the practice of the day, each family had a plot on their own land which served as a family graveyard. To us, this might seem a bit ghoulish, but it was just business as usual in colonial America.
Around the time of the Revolution, Back Street was widened and straightened and renamed Benefit Street, to relieve the heavy traffic along the Towne Street (now South Main) and to be “a Benefit for All.” The remains in all those little family plots were removed to North Burial Ground, then just recently opened. Allegedly, though, some of the bodies were left behind, and still remain buried here to this day. And, according to local legend, a Huguenot couple lived, died, and was buried on the site of #135, and were among the bodies that were missed.
When Stephen Harris built this house, his family fell on hard times. Harris was a well-to-do merchant in Providence, and owned several merchant vessels; it is said that a few of those vessels were lost at sea shortly after the completion of the house. This led to other financial problems. Mrs. Harris also had a hard time—several of her children died, and others were stillborn. (I was told by the current resident, who has done her own research into the house’s history, that there was never a live birth in the house.) Probably the most (melo)dramatic part of the legend, however, is Mrs. Harris’s descent into madness, and her confinement to an upstairs room. She was occasionally heard to shriek out the window of this room, but in French—a language she didn’t know. Where could she have picked it up? Dead Huguenots, anyone?
Read H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shunned Room” here.