I had intended to write something about my recent trip to New York City, and I'm sure I shall. But this morning, while reading the latest "Old Farmer's Almanac," I found a saddening bit of news. Andrew Rothovius died on 28 October 2009.
This is not, perhaps, a name that means much to my readers, but it does mean a lot to me. I first encountered his work about the time I discovered the writings of H.P. Lovecraft --- that is, in High School. Now, for those unaware of (or misinformed about) the oeuvre of the "Sage of Providence," suffice it to say that he was a master not merely of horror, but of atmosphere. He could conjure up the "Dark New England of the Soul" better than anyone since Hawthorne. Himself a "Conservative" unbeliever of the Sanatyana-Mencken variety, Lovecraft epitomised, for me, the spiritual fright that IS the world outside the Church. He had the old Puritans and their descendants down to a tee.
Having finished most of his own writings, I went on to various anthologies that Arkham House had produced of other authors' writings about or in the style of HPL. In one of these, I discovered an incredible essay --- "Lovecraft and the New England Megaliths," by one Andrew Rothovius. What a revelation! In this scholarly AND entertaining article, the author correlated a great deal of Lovecraft's background atmospheric material with authentic New England history, folklore, and archaeology. His sweeping and yet incisive treatment of a very wide and esoteric topic was one of the things that inspired me to become a writer.
Many years later, in the late 90s or early zeroes, I began writing for FATE Magazine. I do not apologise for this: they allowed me to write on topics that interested me; they paid on time (often a rare thing among Catholic publications); and the staff at the time were a jolly bunch, neither believing nor disbelieving in the wonders their writers submitted, but interested in a good story that was none too implausible (their reject file was a hoot!). In any case, one of my fellow writers for the mag was --- Andrew Rothovius. I asked the editor to put us in touch, and a correspondence ensued.
We wrote and spoke frequently on the phone for a few years; I made three pilgrimages out to his home in New Hampshire. I discovered the "Sage of Milford" to be what one might expect from his far ranging work. A little old man with a twinkling eye, half Finnish and half Old Yankee, he epitomised the New England amateur scholar. Mr. Rothovius dwelt in a little house filled with books and papers --- which, unlike most such (including my own!) was neat as a pin. He was a master of the kind of bizarre historical and legendary lore I have always loved, and published innumerable articles in many small journals in these areas.
A marvellous story teller, he regaled me with such anecdotes as the adventures of his cousin, who had been in charge of exhuming the bodies from the cemeteries of the three doomed villages which were submerged under the Quabbin reservoir. These sad hamlets, with their strange Calvinist sects and centuries-long inbreeding, were the actual inspiration for Lovecraft's Dunwich. The cousin was horrified to discover that the skeletal remains showed signs of definite degeneration --- refutation supreme, if any were needed, of Darwin!
He was also a recent and devout convert to Catholicism. Despite being a descendant of the Bishop Rothovius who imposed Lutheranism upon his hapless fellow Finns, he had long and gradually become more and more interested in the Faith. A chance encounter in a shop with a group of the Sisters of St. Benedict Center of Still River, Massachusetts convinced him that he must finally take the plunge, and so he did.
Alas, he moved into a rest home, and we fell out of touch --- for which I feel rather sad. But, I shall never forget him, and am happy to think that God took him just after his favourite time of year, when the leaves of New England are in their autumnal glory. May he too be in that glory of which all on Earth is a mere reflection. Of your charity, please pray for the repose of the soul of Andrew E. Rothovius.
To see some of his work, go to: