Mysteries from the morgue: Did a H.P. Lovecraft collaborator live in North Adams?
Did author Anna Helen Crofts exist? Check her gravestone
NORTH ADAMS — Anna Helen (Crofts) McCuen lived a secret literary life.
It was so secret, that her achievements, including co-authoring a short story with the master of horror fiction, H.P. Lovecraft, went untold until decades after her death.
All mention of her literary endeavors are non-existent in her 1975 obituary, which mentions her 22-year career as a teacher at Sarah T. Haskins School in North Adams, from 1920 until her resignation in 1942, as well as her education. Mostly, it mentions that she is a direct descendant of Thomas Meagher, designer of the Irish flag and once acting governor of Montana.
The same omission is true of her profile in the 1919 North Adams Normalogue, the yearbook of the North Adams Normal School (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts). There, a paragraph besides her photograph includes: "She must have some magnetic power, for all who come to know her, love her. She is ever ready to help the poor and weak with their lessons. She seems to know everything about every subject. Lesson plans? Why, they don't bother her! She could write a dozen while one of the rest of us could write none."
The only mention of her writing, other than that of writing lesson plans, was a 1932 North Adams Transcript article about her essay, "Guidance versus knights in the road," being published by the nationally circulated Guidance Vocational Magazine.
But, McCuen, as Anna Helen Crofts, had dipped her toes into the literary waters. In 1920, she co-wrote the essay, "Poetry and the Gods," with Henry Paget-Lowe. Published in the September edition of The United Amateur, the official publication of the United Amateur Press Association, the story may have gone unnoticed. However, the publication's editor was H.P. Lovecraft and Henry Paget-Lowe was one of several pseudonyms he used. (His real name was used several months later when the pair won an award for the piece.) Both McCuen and Lovecraft were board members of the United Amateur Press Association.
Lovecraft, a master of the horror genre, was editor and publisher of several publications. He had published Crofts' work twice before in The Tryout, a literary magazine out of Haverhill. Her short story, "Le Silent," was published in 1918, and an article, "War Literature," followed in 1919. A publication, The Vagrant, not affiliated with Lovecraft, published one of her poems, "To Autumn," in 1918.
It's not clear why she kept her writing secret. But, what is known is that McCuen's foray into fiction coincides with the start of her teaching position in North Adams. She taught first and second grade, as well as elementary sewing and canning classes, until she resigned at the age of 52. She married Joseph McCuen in 1945 and settled in to married life until she was widowed in 1963. From that time on, she was known as Anna Crofts McCuen and spent most her time traveling to exotic locations. Upon her death in 1975, at the age of 85, she left behind a fortune of $500,000, in addition to $57,000 in property. She also left a trust of $5,000 to care for her French bulldog, Mr. Grinch.
Nearly a century after McCuen penned "Poetry and The Gods" with Lovecraft, fans and scholars are still debating her contributions to the work and at one point, whether or not Anna Helen Crofts even existed, arguing the name was a pseudonym for another writer, not an actual woman.
McCuen may have left a posthumous answer for those who doubt her existence. The answer is as simple as the name on her gravestone: Anna H. Crofts.
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