Banned in Boston and the Cthulhu Mythos



While Boston has a modern reputation as a liberal bastion (though it pales next to its neighbor, the People's Republic of Cambridge), embedded in its history is a strong undercurrent of conservatism. One example of this is the crusade launched by Anthony Comstock and embraced the New England Watch and Ward Society. Under this regime, books, plays, films, music, etc. of objectionable moral character would be banned in Boston.

Some of the works banned in Boston include:

  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Oil! by Upton Sinclair
  • Strange Interlude by Eugene O'Neill
  • Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
When I was a kid, the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain was still popular, though by the 1990s they were undergoing a rapid decline and the chain no longe exists today. However, its initial success is due to the Banned in Boston movement - in 1929 the play Strange Interlude being unable to be performed in Boston so it relocated to nearby Quincy. The play was five hours long with a dinner break intermission. Across the street from the theatre it was performed in was the first Howard Johnson's restaurant - giving it a massive boost.

One thing I find myself wondering is what this movement would mean for the tomes of the Cthulhu Mythos. One can certainly say these tomes are of objectionable material. Now the Watch and Ward Society was primarily concerned with in-print works and ongoing productions, so it's unlikely they would visit Brattle Book Shop to search for copies of the Necronomicon. At least the core of the organization would not be likely to.

I could see members of the organization using it as a pretense to finding such tomes - a bit like the Bookhounds of London campaign for Trail of Cthulhu. Perhaps they are cultists trying to find such tomes. Perhaps they are player investigators trying to keep humanity safe from such works. Perhaps someone like Henry Armitage from Arkham feeds the organization information about such books.

Neil Miller's book Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society's Crusade against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil, pictured at the top of this post, is a great resource for this activity and a good glimpse of late 19th century and early 20th century Boston. Obviously it doesn't delve into the Cthulhu Mythos...


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