Chris Perridas is doing sterling work tracking down the young Lovecraft, and he’s currently looking at the inspiration for the juvenile story “Beast in the Cave” (circa 1904/1905). Chris writes today…

“Of the hundreds of caves in New England – including the one in Foster, RI, why did he reach out to write about Mammoth Cave in far off Kentucky?”

Possibly Lovecraft was inspired by the children’s literature of the time, such as…

* Bicard, W. “Lost in Mammoth Cave”. The Youth’s Companion, 63: 54. (1890).

* Guernsey, D. Riley. Lost in Mammoth Cave (c.1905). (This is a 315 page novel and the Lost Race Checklist annotates it as about: “Hidden tribe of Indians.”)

The cave was … “a featured attraction of the St. Louis World’s Fair” (1904). Press coverage for the Fair would have been extensive, and there was also an automobile race from New York to St. Louis to further attract the attention of the press. Although Lovecraft could have reached the Fair with relative ease — the “St. Louisan” of the Pennsylvania was a 24-hour sleeper train from New York to St. Louis — it is very unlikely that he visited the Fair. His grandfather died on 28th March 1904, and the Fair opened on 30th April 1904. Still, he no doubt read about it in the press reports.

Also, from the press of the era, possibly a confirmation for the human-ape ‘devolution’ idea…

BLIND FISH FROM MAMMOTH CAVE (November 24, 1900): “For the first time some blind fish from the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky have reached England alive and been placed in the London Zoological Gardens.”

The blind fish as seen in the children’s book Round-About Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy.

If it could happen to fish, why not humans? — or so the boy Lovecraft may have surmised. The fish are mentioned in the 1902 Britannica article on Mammoth Cave…

“The most interesting inhabitants of Mammoth Cave are the blind, wingless grasshoppers, with extremely long antennae ; blind, colourless crayfish (Cambarus pellucidus, Telk.) ; and the blind fish, Amblyopsis spelaeus, colourless and viviparous, from 1 inch to 6 inches long.”

“the opinion now held is that they are modified from allied species existing in the sunlight, and that their peculiarities may all be accounted for on principles of evolution,—the process being accelerated (or retarded) by their migration from the outer world to a realm of absolute silence and perpetual darkness.”

A complete history of such fish can be found “Scientists prefer them blind: the history of hypogean fish research” (PDF link).

There may also have been something in “Beast in The Cave” of an earlier, lost, story. Lovecraft writes in his Autobiography: Some Notes On A Nonentity

“the earliest piece I can recall being a tale of a hideous cave perpetrated at the age of seven and entitled “The Noble Eavesdropper”. This does not survive”