Below are sketches of the North End of Boston (“Pickman’s Model”) more or less as Lovecraft might have seen it.
The place for an artist to live is the North End. If any aesthete were sincere, he’d put up with the slums for the sake of the massed traditions. God, man! Don’t you realise that places like that weren’t merely made, but actually grew? Generation after generation lived and felt and died there, and in days when people weren’t afraid to live and feel and die. Don’t you know there was a mill on Copp’s Hill in 1632, and that half the present streets were laid out by 1650? I can shew you houses that have stood two centuries and a half and more; houses that have witnessed what would make a modern house crumble into powder.” —Pickman, in “Pickman’s Model”.
Nearly all from the book Rambles in old Boston, New England (1887)…
Here we see one of the urchins that abounded in the North End. In a 1923 letter to Galpin he said of the North End that… “this part of the town is abominably squalid, and inhabited by peasant Italians of the filthiest description.” In his essay on Quebec, Lovecraft notes that a certain street there abounded… “with mendicant [begging] children reminding one of the small Italian boys in Boston’s North End”. He had earlier elborated on this aspect of the place in a 1923 letter to Kleiner… “an Italian quarter of the most squalid sort; as insistently dinned into my ears & consciousness by a horde of ragged little ciceroni who surrounded me & blocked my feet … It was worth a handful of farthings to be rid of these small highway-men, whose desire to instruct the traveller is not unmixt with a craving after sweetmeats.”
The mysterious tunnel:
Look here, do you know the whole North End once had a set of tunnels that kept certain people in touch with each other’s houses, and the burying-ground, and the sea? Let them prosecute and persecute above ground—things went on every day that they couldn’t reach, and voices laughed at night that they couldn’t place!” — Pickman, in “Pickman’s Model”.
In a 1923 letter to Galpin, Lovecraft tells of how he indulged his delight in old lamps and lighting by buying one…
On Saturday, the following day, Mrs. Miniter, Cole, and myself, made an exhaustive tour of historick sites [in the North End, including Revere’s house]. … There were on sale replicas of the old 18th century lanthorns which Revere fashioned, as well as pewter spoons newly struck from his own well-preserv’d moulds. I obtain’d a lanthorn for myself … I shew’d Mrs. Miniter the only two 17th century houses besides Revere’s — structures of which despite her antiquarian erudition she was previously ignorant. They are ill-kept, and in frightful slums; some society shou’d reclaim them.”
A 1934 Lovecraft letter to Rimmel tells of how the North End studio in “Pickman’s Model” was based on a real house…
…many of these old tangled alleys have now been swept away by civic change — the ancient houses demolished, and warehouses erected on their site. I remember when the precise location of the artist’s house in the story was hit by the razing process. It was in 1927, and Donald Wandrei … was visiting the East for the first time. He wanted to see the site of the story. and I was very glad to take him to it thinking that its sinister quaintness would even surpass his expectations. Imagine my dismay, then, at finding nothing but a blank open space where the tottering old houses and zigzag alley-windings had been! It took me all more aback because they were still there as late as the preceding summer. Well — Wandrei had to accept my word about what had been there, although we could still trace the course of the principal cobblestoned lane among the gaping foundation walls. A year later the whole thing was covered up with a great brick building.” (Selected Letters IV, pp.385-386)