“The late Prof. Upton of Brown, a friend of the family, gave me the freedom of the college observatory, (Ladd Observatory) & I came & went there at will on my bicycle. Ladd Observatory tops a considerable eminence about a mile from the house. I used to walk up Doyle Avenue hill with my wheel, but when returning would have a glorious coast down it. So constant were my observations, that my neck became affected by the strain of peering at a difficult angle. It gave me much pain, & resulted in a permanent curvature perceptible today to a close observer. My body has ever been unequal to the demands of an active career. […] I no more visit the Ladd Observatory or various other attractions of Brown University. Once I expected to utilise them as a regularly entered student, & some day perhaps control some of them as a faculty member.” — Letter to Kleiner, 16th November 1916.
[During my time at Ladd] “I had a chance to see all the standard modern equipment of an observatory (including a 12” telescope) in action, and read endlessly in the observatory library. The professors and their humbler assistant — an affable little Cockney from England named John Edwards — often helped me pick up equipment, and Edwards made me some magnificent photographic lantern-slides (from illustrations in books) which I used in giving illustrated astronomical lectures before clubs.” — Letter to Duane Rimel, 29th March 1934. (My emphasis)
I’ve newly colourised two interior pictures, one showing the Observatory library in which the young Lovecraft spent so much time:
“As a boy I used to haunt the Ladd Observatory of Brown University — looking through the 12″ refractor now & then, reading the books in the library, & probably making an unmitigated nuisance of myself through my incessant questioning of everybody present. Curiously enough, the assistant there was one of your grandfather’s humbler compatriots — a Cornishman named John Edwards, whose capacity for mis-placing h’s was limitless. Scarcely less limitless was his mechanical skill, & in his infinite kindness he fixed me up all sorts of devices (a long-focus celestial camera, a set of photographic lantern slides, a diagonal eyepiece for my telescope, etc. etc.) at no more than cost price. I still have the slides somewhere — as well as lunar & other photographs I took with the camera. He is dead now — as is Prof. Upton, the director in those days [Winslow Upton], our acquaintance with whom gave me my passport to that dark-domed enchanted castle. My third victim there — Associate Prof. Slocum — is now head of the observatory at Wesleyan U. in Middletown, Conn. I would have carried astronomy further but for the mathematics — but I hadn’t quite the right stuff in me.” — Letter to Jonquil Leiber, 29th November 1936.
There was a biography of Lovecraft’s Ladd mentor Winslow Upton, An Earth-bound Astronomer: Winslow Upton, A Memoir (1971), and his “A Visit to Kilauea” (1883) is online. Kilauea is the active volcano on Hawaii, and the model reed-boat seen in the picture above is likely both a souvenir and a conversation-starter with shy students. As well as being an astronomer Upton had also been interested enough in storms in the 1880s to publish two papers, “An investigation of cyclonic phenomena in New England” (1887) and “The storm of March 11-14, 1888” (1888), which might perhaps interest those looking for a ‘hook’ for a Mythos story.
Lovecraft’s recall of John Edwards as a Cockney (Working-Class Londoner) is perhaps more to be trusted than the late recollection that Edwards was a Cornishman. However, a highly intelligent lad from remote and rural Cornwall might soon find himself in London, circa 1865 or thereabouts, and picking up the Cockney speech from the local lads. Which could mean that both were true.
In the mid 1930s some in fantasy and science fiction fandom heard rumours that Lovecraft had once been the director of the Providence Observatory. He had to write to The Phantagraph (Nov-Dec 1935) fanzine to correct the misapprehension…
“Your statement that I was once director of the Providence Observatory flabbergasted me a bit, insomuch as there has never been any ‘Providence Observatory’! Then after a moment, it dawned on me that you must have seen one of my kid publications of 30 or more years ago — when I used to call my own small telescope and other astronomical apparatus ‘THE PROVIDENCE OBSERVATORY’ and publish (by hectograph or typewriter) important looking ‘bulletins’ and ‘annuals’. Thus do the exaggerations of youth bear misleading fruit in old age.”
He refers to his boyhood ‘astronomy newspapers’, mostly made when a preteen, containing his own observations from the rooftop of his house…
“The roof of 598 Engelstrasse [Angel St.] is approximately flat, and in the days of my youth I had a set of meteorological instruments there. Hither I would sometimes hoist my telescope, and observe the sky from that point of relative proximity to it. The horizon is fair, but not ideal. One can see the glint of the Seekonk through the foliage of Blackstone Park, and the opposite bank is quite clearly defined. With a terrestrial eyepiece of fifty diameters on my telescope, I can see some of the farms in the heart of East Providence, and even Seekonk, Mass., across the river. One in particular delights me — a typical bit of ancient agrestick New England with eighteenth century farmhouse, old-fashion’d garden, and even archaic well and well-sweep—all this bit of primitive antiquity visible from a roof in the prosaic modern town!! […] A good telescope, or even a binocular glass, is a great pleasure when one has a wide vista. I am fortunate in having an almost ideal battery of optical aids, including a Warner and Swasey — hell, no, I mean Bausch and Lomb—prism binocular which cost me $55.00 about twelve years ago. Ah, them golden days when I didn’t have to worry about what I spent! I’d like to see meself buying a $55.00 plaything today!!!” — Letter to the Gallomo, 30th September 1919.
Toward the end of this life in the summer of 1936, ill and in a generally weak condition, Lovecraft returned to the Ladd telescope…
“Had an interesting view of Peltier’s Comet on July 22 at the Ladd Observatory — through the 12″ refractor. The object shewed a small disc with a hazy, fan-like tail.”