Scotland: A City of Lovecraftian Dreams

“People around the country and in the nearby towns muttered a great deal among themselves, but said very little to the outer world. They had talked about dying and half-deserted Innsmouth for nearly a century, and nothing new could be wilder or more hideous than what they had whispered and hinted at years before. Many things had taught them secretiveness, and there was no need to exert pressure on them. Besides, they really knew little; for wide salt marshes, desolate and unpeopled, kept neighbors off from Innsmouth on the landward side.”
The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” H.P. Lovecraft (1931)

Lake Henry is not a saline, but there is a connection between Scotland, South Dakota and the American horror writer Howard Philips Lovecraft.

Lovecraft (whose fiction was excellently annotated by S.T. Joshi) and tdaxp are distant relatives. We both trace our family’s earliest arrival to America to the same ship, where are male ancestors married two Chandler sisters (one each, obviously). Lovecraft’s fiction centered on rural New England, and the towns and roads which were already dying and decaying.


“The only person who saw Wilbur during the first month of his life were old Zechariah Whateley, of the undecayed Whateleys, and Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife, Mamie Bishop. Mamie’s visit was frankly one of curiosity, and her subsequent tales did justice to her observations; but Zechariah came to lead a pair of Alderney cows which Old Whateley had bought of his son Curtis. This marked the beginning of a course of cattle-buying on the part of small Wilbur’s family which ended only in 1928, when the Dunwich horror came and went; yet at no time did the ramshackle Wateley barn seem overcrowded with livestock. There came a period when people were curious enough to steal up and count the herd that grazed precariously on the steep hillside above the old farm-house, and they could never find more than ten or twelve anaemic, bloodless-looking specimens. Evidently some blight or distemper, perhaps sprung from the unwholesome pasturage or the diseased fungi and timbers of the filthy barn, caused a heavy mortality amongst the Whateley animals. Odd wounds or sores, having something of the aspect of incisions, seemed to afflict the visible cattle; and once or twice during the earlier months certain callers fancied they could discern similar sores about the throats of the grey, unshaven old man and his slattemly, crinkly-haired albino daughter.”
The Dunwich Horror,” H.P. Lovecraft (1928)

At that time, though, times were looking good. Though the depression was very hard, and many families lived in third-world conditions, the underlying economics of agriculture in the Midwest remained good. Densely populated countrysides created commercial centers in many small towns, creating a dense network of people, loves, and lives throughout the Central Plains.

“West and I had met in college, and I had been the only one to sympathise with his hideous experiments. Gradually I had come to be his inseparable assistant, and now that we were out of college we had to keep together. It was not easy to find a good opening for two doctors in company, but finally the influence of the university secured us a practice in Bolton — a factory town near Arkham, the seat of the college. The Bolton Worsted Mills are the largest in the Miskatonic Valley, and their polyglot employees are never popular as patients with the local physicians. We chose our house with the greatest care, seizing at last on a rather run-down cottage near the end of Pond Street; five numbers from the closest neighbour, and separated from the local potter’s field by only a stretch of meadow land, bisected by a narrow neck of the rather dense forest which lies to the north. The distance was greater than we wished, but we could get no nearer house without going on the other side of the field, wholly out of the factory district. We were not much displeased, however, since there were no people between us and our sinister source of supplies. The walk was a trifle long, but we could haul our silent specimens undisturbed.”
Herbert West: Reanimator,” H.P. Lovecraft (1921-1922)

Yet the same forces which ravaged the ancient sites that Lovecraft so loved would come to South Dakota. The greatest was industrialization. The industrialization of agriculture cleared out the countryside more effectively than ethnic cleansing bands of Sioux ever could. Technology constantly optimized for capital, reducing the amount of labor needed and subsequently concentrating land. What industrialization also gave was factory towns, whose wage-salaries and mobility of labor Lovecraft despised. (Scotland is home to the Broin plant, first ethanol facility in South Dakota.)

“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent. Some times it enters directly into the composition of the events, while sometimes it relates only to their fortuitous position among persons and places. The latter sort is splendidly exemplified by a case in the ancient city of Providence, where in the late forties Edgar Allan Poe used to sojourn often during his unsuccessful wooing of the gifted poetess, Mrs. Whitman. Poe generally stopped at the Mansion House in Benefit Street – the renamed Golden Ball Inn whose roof has sheltered Washington, Jefferson, and Lafayette – and his favourite walk led northward along the same street to Mrs. Whitman’s home and the neighbouring hillside churchyard of St. John’s whose hidden expanse of eighteenth-century gravestones had for him a peculiar fascination.”
The Shunned House,” H.P. Lovecraft (1924)

Scotland is home to one inn, recently opened. It is too young to have steady clientele yet, but my assumption is that it’s pinning it’s business on the lake.

“Ammi would never go near the place again. It is forty-four years now since the horror happened, but he has never been there, and will be glad when the new reservoir blots it out. I shall be glad, too, for I do not like the way the sunlight changed colour around the mouth of that abandoned well I passed. I hope the water will always be very deep – but even so, I shall never drink it. I do not think I shall visit the Arkham country hereafter. Three of the men who had been with Ammi returned the next morning to see the ruins by daylight, but there were not any real ruins. Only the bricks of the chimney, the stones of the cellar, some mineral and metallic litter here and there, and the rim of that nefandous well. Save for Ammi’s dead horse, which they towed away and buried, and the buggy which they shortly returned to him, everything that had ever been living had gone. Five eldritch acres of dusty grey desert remained, nor has anything ever grown there since. To this day it sprawls open to the sky like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields, and the few who have ever dared glimpse it in spite of the rural tales have named it “the blasted heath.””
The Colour out of Space,” H.P. Lovecraft (1927)

Scotland Lake Henry might be called Lake Henry 2.0. The previous lake was drained, and her damn broken, by the state because of encroaching collapse. The downriver Maxwell Hutterite Colony was in some danger of deluge, and as a lake for the residents of a 1,000 population town just an hour of Lewis and Clark Lake made little sense, then Governor Bill Janklow announced he would never spend a dime on “that pond.”

Then Janklow decided he wanted to run for Congress:

“Kuranes came very suddenly upon his old world of childhood. He had been dreaming of the house where he had been born; the great stone house covered with ivy, where thirteen generations of his ancestors had lived, and where he had hoped to die. It was moonlight, and he had stolen out into the fragrant summer night, through the gardens, down the terraces, past the great oaks of the park, and along the long white road to the village. The village seemed very old, eaten away at the edge like the moon which had commenced to wane, and Kuranes wondered whether the peaked roofs of the small houses hid sleep or death. In the streets were spears of long grass, and the window-panes on either side broken or filmily staring. Kuranes had not lingered, but had plodded on as though summoned toward some goal. He dared not disobey the summons for fear it might prove an illusion like the urges and aspirations of waking life, which do not lead to any goal. Then he had been drawn down a lane that led off from the village street toward the channel cliffs, and had come to the end of things to the precipice and the abyss where all the village and all the world fell abruptly into the unechoing emptiness of infinity, and where even the sky ahead was empty and unlit by the crumbling moon and the peering stars. Faith had urged him on, over the precipice and into the gulf, where he had floated down, down, down; past dark, shapeless, undreamed dreams, faintly glowing spheres that may have been partly dreamed dreams, and laughing winged things that seemed to mock the dreamers of all the worlds. Then a rift seemed to open in the darkness before him, and he saw the city of the valley, glistening radiantly far, far below, with a background of sea and sky, and a snowcapped mountain near the shore.”
Celephais,” H.P. Lovecraft (1934)

However, the new & improved (bigger and deeper) lake was not without a local cost. Old Scotland, the Eldmournholdish chalk remains of the pre-railroad settler community, now lies dead dreaming other the waves. The land was previously owned by a relative, but the city buyout and subsequent increased led to the building of a gate on that lake pasture. On the other side of the little hill, between the current gravel road and the old chalk town, lies a portion of the Yankton Trail, which connects to the territorial capital of Yankton.

“Great excitement once came to the Street. War and revolution were raging across the seas; a dynasty had collapsed, and its degenerate subjects were flocking with dubious intent to the Western Land. Many of these took lodgings in the battered houses that had once known the songs of birds and the scent of roses. Then the Western Land itself awoke and joined the Mother Land in her titanic struggle for civilization. Over the cities once more floated the old flag, companioned by the new flag, and by a plainer, yet glorious tricolour. But not many flags floated over the Street, for therein brooded only fear and hatred and ignorance. Again young men went forth, but not quite as did the young men of those other days. Something was lacking. And the sons of those young men of other days, who did indeed go forth in olive-drab with the true spirit of their ancestors, went from distant places and knew not the Street and its ancient spirit.”
The Street,” H.P. Lovecraft (1920)

Over the years Scotland’s War Monument was upgraded, from a single article of war to now contain a flag, a plaque, and a fence. In my opinion the town is the worse for it. The old design put the artillery in the center, inviting children to approach and behold the scale. Still, not all is lot. The clearly political “Scotland Area Veterans Memorial” implies an attempt to get more money from the state by trying to incorporate surrounding communities, and it is this open local politics that identifies South Dakota and the United States.

“Willett saw no more, but somehow this small glimpse gave a new and vague terror to the painted features of Joseph Curwen which stared blandly down from the overmantel. Even after that he entertained the odd fancy – which his medical skill of course assured him was only a fancy – that the eyes of the portrait had a sort of wish, if not an actual tendency, to follow young Charles Ward as he move about the room. He stopped before leaving to study the picture closely, marvelling at its resemblance to Charles and memorising every minute detail of the cryptical, colourless face, even down to a slight scar or pit in the smooth brow above the right eye. Cosmo Alexander, he decided, was a painter worthy of the Scotland that produced Raeburn, and a teacher worthy of his illustrious pupil Gilbert Stuart.”
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” H.P. Lovecraft (1927)

Scotland was once Scottish, or at least, Scotch-Irish, but no longer. Long ago the German settlers who would give Bismarck her name, on the opposite end of the Territory. Still the memory of the Stots lived on, if not accurately. The Scottish people have, for the most part, spoken English for more than a thousand years in the Lowlands. But the Highlanders receive the fame, because we lionize those who end connectivity.

“Still nearer the end of the passage was painted scenes of the utmost picturesqueness and extravagance: contrasted views of the nameless city in its desertion and growing ruin, and of the strange new realm of paradise to which the race had hewed its way through the stone. In these views the city and the desert valley were shewn always by moonlight, golden nimbus hovering over the fallen walls, and half-revealing the splendid perfection of former times, shown spectrally and elusively by the artist. The paradisal scenes were almost too extravagant to be believed, portraying a hidden world of eternal day filled with glorious cities and ethereal hills and valleys. At the very last I thought I saw signs of an artistic anticlimax. The paintings were less skillful, and much more bizarre than even the wildest of the earlier scenes. They seemed to record a slow decadence of the ancient stock, coupled with a growing ferocity toward the outside world from which it was driven by the desert. The forms of the people – always represented by the sacred reptiles – appeared to be gradually wasting away, though their spirit as shewn hovering above the ruins by moonlight gained in proportion. Emaciated priests, displayed as reptiles in ornate robes, cursed the upper air and all who breathed it; and one terrible final scene shewed a primitive-looking man, perhaps a pioneer of ancient Irem, the City of Pillars, torn to pieces by members of the elder race. I remembered how the Arabs fear the nameless city, and was glad that beyond this place the grey walls and ceiling were bare.”
City of Pillars,” H.P. Lovecraft (1921)

It was once true that “There Is A Pillar On Each End of Town.” The roofs that held the horse and car centers can mostly still be seen, and some are now used to house gardens or other simple goods. Yet as part of Janklow’s tow rejuvenization efforts the old signs were torn down, now replaced with cryptic notes that historic signs once existed here.

One cannot one say in a town of memories, and leaving town to the north quickly brings one to Highway 18. Travel east along that for a bit and find Meridian Corner, an abandoned gas station and goods store on the 18 and 81 interchange.

From there, head south for Yankton.

7 thoughts on “Scotland: A City of Lovecraftian Dreams”

  1. The story “The Picture in the House” about cannibalism always haunted me driving on South Dakota roads. It's about a man who gets stranded in the rain and goes to the first farm house he sees.

    “They say meat makes blood an' flesh, an' gives ye new life, so I wondered ef 'twudn't make a man live longer an' longer ef 'twas more the same – ”
    -
    The open book lay flat between us, with the picture staring repulsively upward. As the old man whispered the words “more the same” a tiny splattering impact was heard, and something showed on the yellowed paper of the upturned volume. I thought of the rain and of a leaky roof, but rain is not red.”

  2. Biz,

    “The Picture in the House” is one of the stories in More Annotated HP Lovecraft. [1] If you enjoy his fiction, I recommend you check the book out. I know annotations have helped me immensely with understanding and enjoying Lovecraft's world.

    The spookiest experience I have had, in that style, was on the Greyhound around Kansas City, when my West Virginian fellow travelers were talking about spells, Masonic cannibals, etc (these gentlemen were aged from their 20s to 50s, and seemed otherwise sound).

  3. I grew up in Scotland…. Theres a museum there… with all the old things and house items and equipment of dentists and aerial shots… of the town…its funny… because the city once was split apart seperated by the chechs and the germans… divided to stop the fighting…. some homes built with deep sellars…. filled with rooms that led on.. deep down with dirty floors… covered in old shoes and pillows that once kept heads of children and mothers sleeping in the night… hidden by darkness… while they hide their color… they where black and stayed in black……farmers… immigrants… germans.. frenchmen…theres alot of history in that littleo town.. besides me wanding its cold streets.. sitting on buildings… and watching the stars…..

  4. I remember visiting that Museum.

    My grandma told me about the book burnings, as well as the disruption of the cattle relief that the Germans were sending back to the old country after the first world war.

    What a deep town.

  5. My mother was raised in Scotland sd, with her sister + or – 1940. Their mother was Minnie ( Albert) Geis. Fathers was Frank Geis. Moved to Hastings Ne. to work during the war. I have a ceramic shaving mug my grandfather had with a picture of the Maxwell mill on it. On the bottom of the mug is stamped, (E. H. TREISER Jewery and Art goods Scotland SD) Any kind of history on this would be appreciated. Thanks Fred Maggart

  6. Fred, The Maxwell Mill would be the Maxwell Hutterite Colony Mill – a place tdaxp is very familiar with. Being originally from Scotland and with relatives still there I will check on the Geis family. My parents are now deceased but I am sure they could have told you the ‘whole story’ of the family.

  7. Thanks Caryl

    I’ve come to SD to phesant hunt in the past, never stopped at Scotland but drove near it. I’ll have to stop next time, maybe pay a little visit to the museum. Things like this interest me now that I’m older.

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