Read Before Providence #2: Intro to Robert Suydam of The Horror at Red Hook

The church on the cover of Providence #2 appears in Courtyard and Neonomicon as Club Zothique. Art by Jacen Burrows
The church on the cover of Providence #2 appeared earlier in The Courtyard and Neonomicon as Club Zothique. Art by Jacen Burrows

Based on its cover, an advance review, and references in Providence #1, annotated here, we think we can guess at some of where Providence #2 looks like it’s going. Providence #2 will be out July 8th, and we’ll learn if our projections are correct. For now, though, for Providence readers, here’s an introduction to the sinister Robert Suydam and the 1925 H.P. Lovecraft short story The Horror at Red Hook.

We’ve quoted and summarized below, but if you’re not already familiar with it, we highly recommend reading The Horror At Red Hook. Read the full text here, or listen to an audiobook version here

Historic photo of the actual dance-hall church from Red Hook (now demolished), photo by Steven J. Mariconda, from More Annotated Lovecraft 137.

The regular cover of Providence #2 portrays the “dance-hall church” featured in The Horror at Red Hook, and a setting that Moore and Burrows have already used in The Courtyard #1 (starting on Page 14, panel 2) and Neonomicon #1, (starting on Page 14, panel 1). In the year 2004-2006 world of these earlier Moore-Burrows-Lovecraft tales, the church has become the site of Club Zothique. In The Horror at Red Hook, the church is described as “a tumbledown stone church, used Wednesdays as a dance-hall, [located] near the vilest part of the waterfront …nominally Catholic; but priests throughout Brooklyn denied the place all standing and authenticity.”

Robert Suydam is mentioned on Page 23 panel 2 of The Courtyard ” [In 1925] there was seemingly talk of some satanist thing, but the chief suspect, one Robert Suydam, expired before charges were brought.” then is mentioned again in Neonomicon #1, Page 12, panel 2 “guy named Robert Suydam was running some satanist racket, here in Red Hook.”

Suydam is mentioned by Dr. Alvarez in Providence #1, on Page 16 panel 2. Later in that issue, in Robert Black’s Commonplace Book on Pages 31 and 32, Suydam comes up again: Black “was already thinking about maybe tracking down this Mr. Suydam to see whether he could give me any leads…”. Further, in this Bleeding Cool advance review, Hannah Means-Shannon writes “Issue #2 takes Robert to Brooklyn, following the trail of a certain alchemical text’s importer he was informed about in the first issue.”

In case readers are unfamiliar with the location, Red Hook is the name of a neighborhood in the west end of Brooklyn, a borough of New York City. It contains Brooklyn’s historic docks, and has generally been a relatively low-income immigrant neighborhood. H.P. Lovecraft lived there from 1924-1926.

Robert Suydam is the arch-villain of The Horror At Red Hook story. At the outset of the story, Suydam is a roughly 60-year-old “corpulent old… occult scholar… [with] unkempt white hair, stubbly beard, shiny black clothes, and gold-headed cane” and a penchant for mystical books, which he imports. Suydam is a leader of a smuggling ring, that imports immigrants, too, via underground shipping channels and tunnels that connect from the docks to Suydam’s home and to the dance-hall church.

From The Horror At Red Hook:

Suydam was a lettered recluse of ancient Dutch family, possessed originally of barely independent means, and inhabiting the spacious but ill-preserved mansion which his grandfather had built in Flatbush when that village was little more than a pleasant group of colonial cottages surrounding the steepled and ivy-clad Reformed Church with its iron-railed yard of Netherlandish gravestones. In his lonely house, set back from Martense Street amidst a yard of venerable trees, Suydam had read and brooded for some six decades except for a period a generation before, when he had sailed for the old world and remained there out of sight for eight years. He could afford no servants, and would admit but few visitors to his absolute solitude; eschewing close friendships and receiving his rare acquaintances in one of the three ground-floor rooms which he kept in order—a vast, high-ceiled library whose walls were solidly packed with tattered books of ponderous, archaic, and vaguely repellent aspect.

The “ancient Dutch family” speaks to the roots of New York city, which began as the Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam. Even Brooklyn was once “Breuckelen” when the original Dutch settlers lived there.

Suydam’s relatives question his sanity as his appearance grows “shabbier and shabbier” and he appears loitering “in conversation with groups of swarthy, evil-looking strangers” speaking of “unlimited powers” and chanting “mystical words.” Though Suydam dismisses these concerns as the study of the immigrants’ folklore, the police investigate him further as he continues to associate with “the blackest and most vicious criminals of Red Hook’s devious lanes.”

That’s probably the Suydam we’ll encounter in Providence‘s 1919, though he’s likely to be somewhat different from what Lovecraft described… and is likely to go through some further changes. Halfway through “The Horror at Red Hook,” presumably circa 1925, the unkempt Suydam undergoes a wholesale rejuvenation, not entirely explained, but seeming due to some kind of black magics, possibly linked to mysterious unsolved abductions of children:

One day he [Suydam] was seen … with clean-shaved face, well-trimmed hair, and tastefully immaculate attire, and on every day thereafter some obscure improvement was noticed in him. He maintained his new fastidiousness without interruption, added to it an unwonted sparkle of eye and crispness of speech, and began little by little to shed the corpulence which had so long deformed him. Now frequently taken for less than his age, he acquired an elasticity of step and buoyancy of demeanour to match the new tradition, and shewed a curious darkening of the hair … As the months passed, he commenced to dress less and less conservatively…

Compare this rejuvenation to that of the warlock Joseph Curwen, from Lovecraft’s story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, who undergoes a similar effort to renew himself and attract a bride for magical purposes.

After this mysterious rejuvenation, Suydam becomes engaged to and marries Cornelia Gerritsen “a young woman of excellent position.” On their honeymoon voyage, he and his wife are killed. His wife is mysteriously strangled with claw-marks from an inhuman hand.

Read The Horror at Red Hook now, and we’ll see how Suydam surfaces in Providence #2 this week. We’ll try to have a draft of annotations up by the weekend, and will continue to refine them as we go.

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