Howard Phillips Lovecraft, as far as I’m concerned, set the groundwork for urban fantasy. The area known as “Lovecraft Country,” encompasses both countryside and urban areas, and anyone living in the north-eastern United States has, undoubtedly, passed through Lovecraft Country at least once in his or her life. Even those who have haven’t read any of Lovecraft’s works (and if you have an interest in urban fantasy and horror, you really ought to stop reading this right now and not return until you’ve read some Lovecraft) have likely gotten a bit of the uneasy feeling that Lovecraft communicates to his readers when passing through parts of rural New England.
But Philadelphia isn’t in New England; what does this have to do with anything? Plenty. Some of Lovecraft’s best pieces have to do with abandoned places, and any city is bound to have its share of abandoned buildings and other areas. Focusing on Philadelphia, two of the places that spring to mind are Eastern State Penitentiary and the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. Just thinking about going into either of these places gives me the heebie-jeebies.
These places, of course, are just two of the better-known examples of abandoned places in Philly. Another abandoned area in the city that I discovered through the magic of Wikipedia is the Reading Viaduct.
Visiting, or simply seeing pictures of abandoned places can help you capture the sort of atmosphere that is essential for urban fantasy. Everything you can do to establish the total other-ness of a world that is both known and unknown will help your work and help you immerse your readers.
In the course of my research, I also found a listing of abandoned and interesting places in and around Philadelphia. Even if you don’t go off and explore these places for yourself, the pictures alone should be inspiration enough to get your creative juices flowing.
One of the problems that I have with such research is that my principal urban fantasy arc is concerned with Philadelphia in the mid-70’s, so I often find something really interesting and inspiring, only to learn that it didn’t exist, or didn’t exist in its current incarnation, at the time that my stories are set. I sometimes find it frustrating to write about an earlier era when such problems arise, but I find it rewarding because I don’t have to worry about modern technology mucking things up.
I would like to note, before signing off, that although I have posted links to sites concerned with the exploration of abandoned buildings, some of which may be located on private property, I do not endorse trespassing. If you get hurt or arrested exploring a really cool abandoned building, don’t come crying to me.