This week, a picture that evokes Lovecraft satisfying his craving for sugar.

Here we see what appears to be typical soda-fountain inside a Rhode Island drug store. The British have never had quite the same thing in retail, but chemist shop would be about the nearest term. That doesn’t quite catch it, though, as in America the retail mix included tobacco sales and the soda-fountain counter/corner. Large doses of sugar and strong tobacco were considered healthy, back then.

The date is perhaps the late 1940s, a few years after the war? Though some may be able to date it more precisely by knowing at what point the wearing of ‘bobbie-sox’ became a student fashion among the girls of Rhode Island.

But even if as late as the early 1950s, it’s still generally indicative both of the look and the all-ages / all-genders nature of such places back in the 1930s. Note the good selection of candy bars, and the Lovecraft-a-like man at the counter. Possibly about to try the ice-cream and give his verdict.

Lovecraft knew East Greenwich, noting in his ‘homecoming from New York’ letter the train passing through… “East Greenwich with its steep Georgian alleys climbing up from the railway”. He had had close family ancestors there, and in the archives is a card he sent from there to Morton. Thus it’s not impossible he may have once stopped for a summer ice-cream at the East Greenwich soda fountain.

Lovecraft notes in Travels in the Provinces of America (1929) the jobs of “Everybody one speaks to”, talking of the usual pattern for his visits to place. His short list includes “soda-fountain men”, which indicates he frequented such places…

hotel clerks, soda-fountain men, [train] conductors, [tram car] motormen, coach-drivers

Why not coffee shops? I assume they might have been more heavily tobacco-smoky sort of places, their ice-cream could have been more expensive and in smaller portions, the staff could have been less buffed, and there could also be less opportunity to select one of the cheaper candy-bars to sustain him on a long walk. Being also a chemist shop, they were probably reliably ‘open all hours’.

They were also suitable place to take young friends. For instance, I recall reading that when Lovecraft arrived in De Land, to meet Barlow for the first time, they immediately repaired to such a place.

Also, back in January 2020 I found a postcard showing Houdini in Providence, performing in 1917 for a vast crowd outside the building showing “Evening News” on its facade. The picture was relatively small, though. I’ve just this week found a better larger version…