Innsmouth, Massachusetts is a fictional town created by American author H. P. Lovecraft as a setting for one of his horror stories, and referenced subsequently in other of his works and of those other authors who wrote stories carrying forward the Lovecraftian tradition.
Lovecraft first used the name "Innsmouth" in his 1920 short story "Celephaïs" (1920), where it refers to a fictional village in England. Lovecraft's more famous Innsmouth, however, is found in his story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936), set in Massachusetts. This latter Innsmouth was first identified in two of the sonnets in Fungi from Yuggoth. Lovecraft called Innsmouth "a considerably twisted version of Newburyport", Massachusetts.
Lovecraft placed Innsmouth on the coast of Essex County, Massachusetts, south of Plum Island and north of Cape Ann. The town of Ipswich, Massachusetts is said to be a near neighbor, where many Innsmouth residents do their shopping; Rowley, Massachusetts, another neighboring town, is said to be to the northwest. This would place Innsmouth in the vicinity of Essex Bay.
The town of Innsmouth is described as being in a horrendous state of decay, with many of the buildings rotting and on the point of collapse. In "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", the protagonist describes his first sight of the place:
- It was a town of wide extent and dense construction, yet one with a portentous dearth of visible life. From the tangle of chimney-pots scarcely a wisp of smoke came, and the three tall steeples loomed stark and unpainted against the seaward horizon. One of them was crumbling down at the top, and in that and another there were only black gaping holes where clock-dials should have been. The vast huddle of sagging gambrel roofs and peaked gables conveyed with offensive clearness the idea of wormy decay, and as we approached along the now descending road I could see that many roofs had wholly caved in. There were some large square Georgian houses, too, with hipped roofs, cupolas, and railed "widow's walks". These were mostly well back from the water, and one or two seemed to be in moderately sound condition....
- The decay was worst close to the waterfront, though in its very midst I could spy the white belfry of a fairly well-preserved brick structure which looked like a small factory. The harbour, long clogged with sand, was enclosed by an ancient stone breakwater....
- Here and there the ruins of wharves jutted out from the shore to end in indeterminate rottenness, those farthest south seeming the most decayed. And far out to sea, despite a high tide, I glimpsed a long, black line scarcely rising above the water yet carrying a suggestion of odd latent malignancy. This, I knew, must be Devil Reef.
Lovecraft writes that Innsmouth was "founded in 1643, noted for shipbuilding before the Revolution, a seat of great marine prosperity in the early nineteenth century, and later a minor factory centre." The loss of sailors due to shipwrecks and the War of 1812 caused the town's profitable trade with the South Seas to falter; by 1828, the only fleet still running that route was that of Captain Obed Marsh, the head of one of the town's leading families.
In 1840, Marsh started a cult in Innsmouth known as the Esoteric Order of Dagon, basing it on a religion practiced by certain Polynesian islanders he had met during his travels. Shortly thereafter, the town's fishing industry experienced a great upsurge.
Records indicate that in 1846 a mysterious plague struck the town, causing mass depopulation. In reality, the deaths were caused by the Deep Ones themselves. Obed Marsh had entered into a contract with the aforementioned creatures, offering them sacrifices in exchange for plentiful gold and fish. When Obed and his followers were arrested, the sacrificial rites ceased and the Deep Ones retaliated. The cult activity subsequently resumed, and the interbreeding policy greatly increased, resulting in numerous deformities. Consequently, Innsmouth was shunned for many years, until 1927 when it came under investigation by Federal authorities for alleged bootlegging.
The following year, and apparently due to the results of their research, these authorities decided to detonate explosives in Devil's Reef, near Innsmouth, and to arrest most of the locals. The Innsmouthians were not taken to a common jail, but instead they simply disappeared (or the government caused them to "disappear").
Esoteric Order of Dagon
The Esoteric Order of Dagon was the primary religion in Innsmouth after Marsh returned from the South Seas with the dark religion circa 1838. It quickly took root due to its promises of expensive gold artifacts and fish, which were desired by the primarily-fishing town.
The central beings worshipped by the Order were the Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, and, to a lesser extent, Cthulhu. Dagon and Hydra were seen largely as intermediaries between the various gods, rather than as gods themselves. Even so, the cultists sacrificed various locals to the Deep Ones at specific times in exchange for a limitless supply of gold and fish.
The Esoteric Order of Dagon (which masqueraded as the local Masonic movement) had three oaths which members had to take. The first was an oath of secrecy, the second, an oath of loyalty, and the third, an oath to marry a Deep One and bear or sire its child. Due to the latter oath, interbreeding became the norm in Innsmouth, resulting in widespread deformities and many half-breeds.
The Esoteric Order of Dagon was seemingly destroyed when one of Obed Marsh's "lost descendants" sent the U.S. Treasury Department to seize the town. As a result, the town was more or less destroyed, and the Order was thought disbanded.
All subsequent references to or usages of Innsmouth and its fictional surroundings appear to be found in postmodern popular culture:
- The video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is set in Innsmouth.
- The Lovecraftian musical A Shoggoth on the Roof features Obed Marsh as a main character, along with the head cultist of a chapter of the Esoteric Order of Dagon.
- The graphic novel The Five Fists of Science features an "Innsmouth Tower" being built in turn of the century New York City. While seemingly benign, the skyscraper's true purpose is to summon a demon known as Leviathan.
- The writer Neil Gaiman has written several short stories set in the town.
- There is an expansion for the Arkham Horror board game from Fantasy Flight Games called Innsmouth Horror.
- The 2001 horror film Dagon is a modern day retelling of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and is set in a Galician village called Imboca.
- A board game Innsmouth Escape from Twilight Creations is a 2-5 player game where one player is a human trying to rescue his friends and escape Innsmouth. All other players control Deep Ones, or even a shoggoth, in an effort to kill the human.
- Innsmouth appeared in S.M. Stirling's novel The Sunrise Lands as a destination for Ingolf Vogeler's troop on their way to Nantuckett. Like many regions East of the Mississippi set in the Change World, the only inhabitants were barely human cannibals.
- Several short stories in Anders Fager's "Interspecies Liaisons" features an Innsmouth-like colony of Dagon worshippers in the Stockholm Archipelago.
- Innsmouth Mansion (インスマウスの館 Insumausu no Yakata) is a Japanese Virtual Boy game based on a Japanese low budget movie which in turn is based on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".
- The first-person shooter game TimeSplitters features a level set in a fishing village inhabited by mutants and hybrids, which is very similar to Innsmouth.
- The role-playing video game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features a quest called "A Shadow over Hackdirt", where the player travels to a run down town called Hackdirt (with many similarities to Innsmouth) to save a young Argonian courier girl from being sacrificed to "The Deep Ones", ancient Lovecraftian-esque god/monsters worshipped by the townsfolk.
- The fighting game Skullgirls features a stage named "Little Innsmouth", populated by fish-people called Dagonians.
- The Metallica song "Thing That Should Not Be" was based on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".
The Manuxet River is a fictional river that runs through Massachusetts and empties into the sea at the town of Innsmouth. Although there is a Manuxet River in Worcester, Massachusetts, Will Murray believes that Lovecraft based his fictional Manuxet on the Merrimack River and probably invented the name from root words of an Algonquian language.
To support his claim, Murray gives two reasons. First, even though Newburyport was the inspiration for Innsmouth, it is clearly a separate location since Lovecraft himself placed the real-life Newburyport to the north of Innsmouth in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". Based on his research, Murray thinks that Lovecraft actually based Innsmouth on Gloucester, Massachusetts, which is located on Cape Ann on the coast. Secondly, Lovecraft is known to have come up with the name for his fictional Miskatonic River by combining Algonquian root words. Murray believes that Lovecraft used a similar method to come up with Manuxet. In Algonquian, man means "island" and uxet translates to "at the large part of the river"; thus, when combined Manuxet means "Island at the large part of the river". Murray contends that this meaning is well suited to Innsmouth's placement at the mouth of the Manuxet. And Cape Ann itself (the alleged site of Innsmouth) is connected to the mainland by only a thin strip of land and might be thought of as an island.
As stated earlier, the town was taken by the U.S. Treasury Department. During the assault, the Manuxet allowed the personnel to cross during February and take the town when it froze over.
- Harms, Daniel (1998). "Esoteric Order of Dagon". The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. pp. 103–4. ISBN 1-56882-119-0.
- —"Innsmouth", pp. 149–50. Ibid.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) . "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. London, UK; New York, NY: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-118234-2.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984) . "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8. Definitive version.
- Murray, Will (St. John's Eve 1988). "I Found Innsmouth!". Crypt of Cthulhu #57: A Pulp Thriller and Theological Journal 7 (7): 10–14. Robert M. Price (ed.), Mount Olive, NC: Cryptic Publications.
- Murray, Will (Michaelmas 1990). "Roots of the Manuxet". Crypt of Cthulhu #75: A Pulp Thriller and Theological Journal 9 (8): 34. Robert M. Price (ed.), Upper Montclair, NJ: Cryptic Publications.
- S. T. Joshi's notes on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, p. 411.
- Lovecraft, Selected Letters V, p. 86.
- In 1987, Will Murray took a field trip to Newburyport and Gloucester to research locales from Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". In Newburyport there is a State Street (the street where the narrator of the story boards a bus to Innsmouth) and a State Street YMCA (where the protagonist roomed and where Lovecraft himself may have stayed during his visit to the town). When he visited Gloucester, Murray found a Gilman House — more formally, the Sargeant-Murray-Gilman-Hough House — a hotel in the story but in real life a Georgian-era mansion turned into a public museum. He also found other landmarks mentioned in the story, including streets named Adams Church, Babson, Main, and Fish, and a building adorned with large, white wooden pillars on its front and side — the Legion Memorial Building — that looks remarkably like the story's Masonic Lodge (the meeting place for the Esoteric Order of Dagon). The Legion Building, built in 1844–45, served as the Gloucester Town Hall until 1867 when it became the Forbes School. Saving it from demolition, the American Legion took over the building in 1919 and, a year later, added a columned portico to the Middle Street side to match the Washington Street frontage. It has never been a Masonic Lodge, however. (Murray, "I Found Innsmouth!", Crypt of Cthulhu #57.)
- Lovecraft, Selected Letters III, p. 432.
- Murray, "Roots of the Manuxet", Crypt of Cthulhu #75.
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth, from hplovecraft.com
- in the 1970s the Marshes and friends made many trips to locate places that would be parts of Innsmouth. This was to be published in 1976 in Eldritch Tales, but the publisher was unable to publish color photos.