The Agony on Angell Street: Attempting a Digitally Interactive Walking Tour

The sun sank behind the silhouetted structures of downtown Providence, and I was about to embark on the trail of one of the 20th century’s most prolific writers of horror and suspense. Little did I know that it would almost lead me down a path of absolute emotional and physical agony.

NecronomiCon is about to commence and during the convention — or anytime, really — one can take a walking tour through College Hill, visiting many of the locations related to Lovecraft’s life and works, from the Ladd Observatory to the Fleur-de-Lys house. Many websites and mobile apps provide the locations to visit if one were to do a solo tour. Tonight I chose

The website works together with Aurasma, a free augmented reality mobile app. One can do the armchair approach from home using the app or take the walking tour, which is what I chose. I was instructed to start at the Samuel Mumford house on 65 Prospect Street. With Aurasma, you point your camera at the location and it will trigger a media file to appear on your screen. I stood for over a minute. I tried different positions. I tried different angles. I saw nothing, but strange looks on the faces of those hurriedly walking by. I began to feel like the narrator from The Outsider – appearing to them as some odd creature.

Moving along, I tried a few more locations: Lovecraft Memorial Square, Providence Athenaeum and the John Hay Library. I became more frustrated as it didn’t trigger anything in Aurasma, but it did trigger a feeling of being out of time. Now that it was dark, there were more shadows and silence swallowing up our modern technology only to leave the cold stones and bricks of the past.

I put away the blasted device of my agony and took in the air. This is how a walking tour should feel — stepping out of one’s element. 

It was then that I felt compelled to walk the long stretch down to Angell Street to where it all began – at #454. Past Thayer Street, the noisy and flashy activity dissipates. The sidewalks aren’t as lit and passersby avoid all eye contact. It feels alien and lonely, yet peaceful. Is this how it felt to be in Lovecraft’s mind? Sadly the old house no longer exists, but old photos I have seen of it creates a ghostly image in my mind’s eye of where it stood. In all honesty, the technology of today is great for research and finding locations. However, it can’t ever truly enhance or replace the spirit of stepping through history and personally experiencing the environment.

As I returned to my car, something felt different. I began to feel out of breath. Cold sweat ran down my forehead and dripped down to the black pavement. My body was ravaged by aches and pains all over. I sat in my seat, staring through the window down the lightless street. Surrounded by the increasingly loud chatter of crickets, it struck me! Oh my … I can’t believe it! I … I … I got some exercise!

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