Today, I have two brief topics to cover. First, Ancient Aliens’ dumb new promotional spot; then, the Lovecraftian connection to the ‘mysterious’ Newport Tower.
During Season 4 of Ancient Aliens, H2 aired a promotional spot in which Giorgio Tsoukalos claimed that a straw suit worn by the Kayapo is a memory of an alien space suit. I completely demolished this stupid claim in April by looking at what the Kayapo themselves said about it, namely that the suit was a beekeeping suit worn by the supernatural protector of bees. Despite the facts, H2 filmed a completely different promotional spot for Season 5, airing this week, in which Tsoukalos is again claiming that the beekeeping suit is just like “a modern day astronaut suit.” If they can recycle debunked claims, I can recycle my debunking. Read my takedown of this dumb idea here.
With that said, I thought I’d bring up an interesting sidelight on the story of the Newport Tower that I’ve been discussing this week. Thanks to Carl Rafn, wild claims about the Viking, Templar, Irish, or other non-American origin for the round stone tower in Newport, Rhode Island proliferated in the nineteenth century, despite a steady scholarly consensus that the building was the remains of a seventeenth century windmill built for Benedict Arnold (not the Revolutionary War traitor).
H. P. Lovecraft was attuned to all the pseudo-archaeological nonsense of his day, and he almost certainly was familiar with the allegations about the ancient origin of the Newport Tower. Many Lovecraft scholars believe that an unused fragment from his notes was directly inspired by the Newport Tower, which seems fairly certain when reading his fragment in light of the structure itself:
S. of Arkham is cylindrical tower of stone with conical roof — perhaps 12 feet across & 20 ft. high. There has been a great arched opening ( up?), but it is sealed with masonry. The thing rises from the bottom of a densely wooded ravine once the bed of an extinct tributary of the Miskatonic. Whole region feared & shunned by rustics. Tales of fate of persons climbing into tower before opening was sealed. Indian legends speak of it as existing as long as they could remember — supposed to be older than mankind. Legend that it was built by Old Ones (shapeless & gigantic amphibia) & that it was once under the water. Dressed stone masonry shews odd & unknown technique. Geometrical designs on large stone above sealed opening utterly baffling. Supposed to house a treasure or something which Old Ones value highly. Possibly nothing of interest to human beings. Rumours that it connects with hidden caverns where water still exists. Perhaps old ones still alive. Base seems to extend indefinitely downward — ground level having somewhat risen. Has not been seen for ages, since everyone shuns the ravine. (Source)
The Newport Tower is 22 feet across, but was incorrectly measured in the nineteenth century as being 18 feet across. It is 28 feet high. Lovecraft, of course, would probably not have personally measured the site or known its exact measurements. The “arched opening” clearly recalls the Tower’s most notorious features: the six supporting arches. The discussion of geometric designs and carvings are obviously fanciful, but they parallel claims made by Rafn (on the authority of Thomas Webb) in his Antiquitates Americanae (pp. 400-405) that Norse runes were found around Newport. (Others sometimes said they could be found on the Tower itself.)
The “conical roof” may well be derived from reconstructions of the Newport Tower as a windmill on comparison with the Chesterton Windmill in England. I don’t know that Lovecraft ever saw the illustrations of this windmill, but they appear frequently in newspaper and magazine articles about the Tower from the late nineteenth century through the 1930s.
Lovecraft’s “Round Tower” (as S. T. Joshi named it) is an exaggerated form of the Newport Tower, projected into the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft never used the fragment in his work, but August Derleth took it, rewrote it into complete sentences, and used it as the kernel for The Lurker at the Threshold (1945), published under the two writers’ joint byline.
So, if not for Thomas Webb and Carl Rafn speculating wildly about the Tower as a Norse church in 1839, Derleth’s Lurker at the Threshold most likely would not have its current form or plot.
Such are the unintended consequences of the words we publish.
Note: Weebly has given me a new "block quote" tool, but I'm not sure I like it. The default setting is for a gray so light I can't read it. I changed it to a dark green, but I'm not sure the text really stands out. If you have an opinion on how I should display block quotes, feel free to let me know.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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