St. John’s Churchyard (formerly King’s Churchyard), Providence, RI

King’s Church was founded in Providence, RI in 1723. During the American Revolution it’s name was changed to St. John’s (no need for English loyalty anymore!), and the current church structure was built in 1809.

I love this churchyard, tucked away down a brick path along the historic houses of Benefit St. – if you are unaware of it’s existence, it is easy to stroll past it without even recognizing it. Stepping into the yard, you are taken back in history – it is easy to imagine Poe courting his love, Helen, who lived in a house just beside the churchyard, or Lovecraft, ninety years later, being spooked amongst it’s stones at some midnight hour.

From Lovecraft’s writings:

” About the hidden churchyard of St. John’s—there must be some unsuspected vampiric horror burrowing down there & emitting vague miasmatic influences, since you are the third person to receive a definite creep of fear from it . . . . the others being Samuel Loveman & H. Warner Munn. I took Loveman there at midnight, & when we got separated among the tombs he couldn’t be quite sure whether a faint luminosity bobbing above a distant nameless grave was my electric torch or a corpse-light of less describable origin! Munn was there with W. Paul Cook & me, & had an odd, unaccountable dislike of a certain unplaceable, deliberate scratching which recurred at intervals around 3 a.m. How superstitious some people are!”
-Letter to Helen V. Sully, 17 OCT 1933

“Poe knew of this place, & is said to have wandered among its whispering willows during his visits here 90 years ago. Last August I shewed this place to two guests, & we all sat down on an altar-tomb & wrote rhymed acrostics on the name of Edgar Allan Poe…”
-Letter to Frank Utpatel, 15 FEB 1937

Earlier today I revisited this lovely churchyard as part of AC125, and as usual, the rain soon followed. It was so cloudy during most of the visit that photographs were nearly impossible. It made for a neat view of the state house, though, rising from the mists downtown. There are always new things to explore and discover, and happily I ran across several unusual stones that I had not noticed before which captured my interest. It seems the BLODGETT family of Providence, RI in the early 1800s took a dramatic departure from the usual soul effigy / urn and willow motifs which were most common during this time period. Some of the children who died young have uniquely carved shapes that resemble Christmas trees, both right-side up and upside down. I have never seen such an icon on stones before. It most likely is a variation on a natural plant or tree, perhaps symbolizing to the same effect a willow tree, but it does not resemble such a tree at all. Perhaps further research into this BLODGETT family will reveal explanation. The family seems to be of a long line of Providencers (William Blodget 6 JAN 1775-24 JUN 1847, son of William Blodget and Ann Phillis Chace, married Mary Anne Power 23 FEB 1777 – 28 NOV 1840, daughter of Capt. Nicholas Power and Rebecca Corey), so I am not quick to jump to an “ethnic” or regional explanation. For now, it’s a mystery.

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