Restored version of the silent movie Down To The Sea in Ships (1922) on YouTube. Lovecraft had missed seeing this when it was first released, but was able to see “the striking New Bedford whaling film” at the Cameo Theatre in New York City on the evening of 26th July 1925.
I had never imagined that so perfect an evocation of the old whaling days could be possible. The pictures were taken either actually in New Bedford or at sea, & shew the actual surviving houses, churches, whaves, ships, & accessories. To one who has lately read “Moby Dick” and “The Gam“, the film was incredibly impressive. “Faking” it was impossible—for one beheld the whales spouting in full splendour, the chase of the boats, the throwing and landing of the harpoon [and] it was the actor himself, seen full in the face, who threw the successful dart […] The whole film is of inestimable historical value [especially since the last American] whaler has gone to its eternal rest [so now…] whaling is done in steam vessels—mostly Norwegian—with auxiliary launches …” (Letter to Lillian D. Clarke, 27th July 1925)
Aha, so now we have the answer on Moby Dick! It was “almost certain” that he read it in mid April 1925. And now there’s 100% proof he read it then. The above quote even gives a possible source for his idea of having a “Norwegian sailor Gustaf Johansen” in “The Call of Cthulhu”.
Lovecraft may also have been rather thrilled to see a ‘sinister Oriental type’ in the movie, who looked remarkably like himself…
Photo of the Cameo Theatre, NYC, c. 1930.
Later, in August 1929, Lovecraft saw the New Bedford Whaling Museum (Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum). He also visited the aquarium at Wood’s Hole, suggesting his aversion to sea-food did not extend to live specimens.