Not long after the floods of 1927, a young writer named H.P. Lovecraft visited the poet Vrest Orton in Guilford, Vt. Lovecraft was inspired to write a fantastical story titled “The Whisperer in Darkness,” about nearby Townshend and “certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers,” as he wrote in its pages. In 1930, the still-struggling Lovecraft published his story in the serial publication Weird Tales.
Eighty years later, “Whisperer” has come full circle from its origins in a Vermont disaster. On October 20, a movie based on the story will help raise funds for a casualty of another historic flood — White River Junction’s Main Street Museum.
Lovecraft would eventually become known as one of the fathers of American horror writing, with his very own H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. That organization produced the new film version of “Whisperer,” which was shot partly in Landgrove, Chester and Bellows Falls and at the West River in Jamaica State Park over five packed days in the summer of 2009. “I’m willing to bet that stretch of West River is no longer there,” says legendary comic-book artist Stephen Bissette, who’s been instrumental in arranging the benefit.
Native Vermonter Bissette teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. As floodwaters rose six feet on the night of August 28, students and faculty of the school saved the collection of its Schulz Library from the first floor of the Main Street Museum. The museum’s storage area and two tenants’ businesses on a lower level were destroyed, but the collections of books and ’zines all made it out safely. Afterward, Bissette, who was at home in Windsor during the flood, asked his colleagues what he could do. “Help David,” was their answer, says Bissette, referring to Main Street Museum owner David Fairbanks Ford.
Bissette immediately called his close friend and book collaborator, Vermont horror novelist and folklorist Joseph Citro. The pair had already been trying to entice the makers of The Whisperer in Darkness, Andrew Leman and Sean Branney, to hold a premiere in Vermont. When Bissette contacted them about connecting the flood-based film to a flood benefit, Leman and Branney consented to two screenings free of charge to the organizers. Even better, they made some very special donations to the Main Street Museum.
Director Branney used several miniatures in the film, including tiny sets depicting the hills of Townshend, a New Hampshire barn and a Stonehenge-like structure built by the Mi-Go, a race of fungoid creatures who secretly populate rural Vermont in Lovecraft’s story. He has donated those miniatures to the museum.
The models will be on display this Thursday, when The Whisperer in Darkness has its Vermont premiere at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction.
Before the screening, over a dinner that Bissette anticipates may include Lovecraftian foods such as oysters and calamari, he and Citro will present an illustrated lecture on subjects ranging from the 1927 flood to Lovecraft’s reasons for visiting Vermont. The writers are also preparing a chapbook for the occasion, featuring essays, illustrations and film stills. A silent auction will include several props donated by the filmmakers.
Looking back on the story spawned by the 1927 floods, Bissette hopes his benefit won’t be the only artistic boon to arise from the muddy waters Irene left. “I’m willing to bet that we end up with a little wave of post-flood literature, comics and films. I’m expecting to see some Vermont postapocalyptic fiction,” he says Bissette.
Billie Tsien lecture on Thursday, October 13, 7 p.m., Dana Auditorium; exhibition through October 19. Koichiro Aitani lecture on Thursday, October 27, 7 p.m., Johnson Memorial Building, Room 304; exhibition October 20 through November 3. Both exhibits in the Johnson Memorial Building, Middlebury College. middlebury.edu/arts
The Whisperer in Darkness Vermont premiere, Thursday, October 20, at Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction. Benefit dinner and presentation begin at 6 p.m. $100. Movie screenings are at 8 and 10 p.m. $25 for first screening; $15 for second. mainstreetmuseum.org/wiki.