Documentary ‘Strange Magick’ Films in Haverhill, Explores Mystery Between H.P. Lovecraft and Crowley

Devin Massarsky as H.P. Lovecraft, Rachel Frederickson as Myrta Alice Little and Matt Allen as Charles W. “Tryout” Smith. (Courtesy photograph.)

(Additional photograph below.)

A documentary, “Strange Magick,” filmed partly in Haverhill and with a significant focus on the city in the 1920s, is destined for the film festival circuit and possibly a streaming television network.

Filming last month in Haverhill and nearby locations, Haverhill native and WHAV writer Dave Goudsward helps investigate the connection between Howard Philips Lovecraft and infamous occultist Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley, in the documentary.

In the early 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft, as he was popularly known, wrote amateur short stories and essays for the United Amateur Press Association, and Crowley was a well-known poet, novelist, ceremonial magician and, according to writer/researcher Richard B. Spence, suspected counterintelligence agent for the British government during World War I. The two did not have a direct connection, says Goudsward, an executive producer of the documentary. He explains the documentary explores a possible conspiracy between them produced by their mutual acquaintance with fellow amateur author Myrta Alice Little.

“The whole key to this thing is Myrta Little—in terms of my end, which is the connection to Lovecraft and Tryout Smith.”

Goudsward notes Little, who was a very successful published author during her lifetime, was also connected to Crowley through her wider publishing circles. She knew Lovecraft through a meeting between the two of them and their Haverhill publisher Charles W. “Tryout” Smith. Goudsward says after the meeting, “Lovecraft wrote it up—tongue in cheek a bit perhaps—and it is an essay by him called ‘The Haverhill Convention.’”

“Haverhill has a starring role” in this investigation, says documentary director Bill Darmon. And, when it comes to Lovecraft, Goudsward agrees. “It’s a vital cog. Haverhill is almost an adjunct at times. He went when he could. He brings other famous—comparatively speaking—publishers in amateur-dom to visit Tryout Smith.”

Indeed, much of Lovecraft’s work contains references to Haverhill and the surrounding areas. For instance, the protagonist Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee in Lovecraft’s novella “The Shadow Out of Time” is one continuous nod to Haverhill and Smith.

“He was born on Boardman Street in Haverhill and raised on Silver Hill in the ancient family mansion, and then graduates high school — which of course would be the city hall today … so you see in some of his stories these very obvious to an amateur journalist inside jokes, such as a character who was born near Tryout Smith and raised near Tryout smith and has a name from the cemetery near Tryout Smith.”

By investigating Lovecraft and Crowley through their connection to Little and Haverhill, Darmon hopes to shed some light on Crowley’s actions in the United States and deepen the public’s understanding of both men.

“Strange Magick” has been 10 years in the making and is produced by Bill Darmon, Ryan Darmon and Kyle Haraldsen. It features narration by Goudsward and occult history specialist Spence as well as reenactments of pivotal moments in Lovecraft, Crowley’s and Little’s acquaintanceship. Those interested should look for the “Strange Magick” trailer to be released in a few weeks, and its first screening Darmon hopes will release in the fall.

Dave Goudsward at Myrta Little’s grave in Hampstead, N.H. (Courtesy photograph.)

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