The Miskatonic Society
History of The Miskatonic Society
The Miskatonic Society was founded in 1871 by Edmund Fitzsimmons, Henry Derby, and Richard Mund, professors at Miskatonic College. Intended to be a professor’s club for the college’s naturalists, geologists, archeologists and other scientific fields, the Society gained a respectable reputation with nearby colleges and universities. Professors from Brown, Princeton and Harvard would come to listen to the reports given by Professors Fitzsimmons, Derby and others about their travels and findings around the world.
Over time, the Society grew out of the simple cottage that the membership rented close to campus. Through the combination of a large windfall Henry Derby received from a distant relative, a donation from the now Miskatonic University, and a sizable contribution from an unnamed benefactor in Boston, the Society was able to purchase the Dewitt House on the corner of Garrison Street and Miskatonic Avenue in 1885. The remaining monies were placed in a trust for the upkeep of the Society, the Dewitt house, and to establish a fund to finance expeditions in the name of the university.
Refocusing of the Society
After traveling to Boston in late 1893 to visit the Society’s unnamed benefactor, Derby returned to Arkham with a new agenda. He and Laban Shrewsbury, a professor of philosophy with a background in anthropology, slowly started refocus the Society. Derby solicited exclusive memberships from selected professors in the New England area, meetings became invitation-only affairs, and more Society presentations focused on ancient occult practices and the supernatural. By the turn of the century, the Society became known only as a gathering of eccentric professors in the region. Although many reputable professors grieved and avoided the Society they once enjoyed, it attracted the academics that it sought the most.
Almost nightly, presentations on the occult and the supernatural were mixed with lectures on archeological finds and discussions of cults all over the world. Academics from all over the United States traveled to Arkham to share their findings with the Society. Occasionally, guests from over the Atlantic would come to discuss what they found and find some common ground others who had the same interest. The Miskatonic Society became a lodge of knowledge about the occult, the supernatural and what was considered fringe archeology and anthropology at the time.
In the spring of 1907, professor Shrewsbury proposed that the Society open up its membership to select individuals who had experiences or wrote knowledgably about the occult and supernatural, allowing the shared knowledge of the Society to grow from pure academics. Shrewsbury spearheaded the development of the Miskatonic Society archives to incorporate the expansion of collected information. He also fostered a good relationship with the University’s new head librarian, Henry Armitage and the curator of the university museum, James Ansley, who both have membership in the Society.
During this time, the old Dewitt House underwent a transformation. The basement was refurbished to contain a vault of important items for safe keeping, the ground floor and first floor was expanded to accommodate a library, a presentation area and sizable dining room, and a third floor added to accommodate two resident academics and administrative office. Some in Arkham started referring to the old house as the “Old Dewitt Hotel”.
In 1908, Henry Derby led the first Miskatonic Society expedition to the ruins of ancient Iram on the Arabian Peninsula. The expedition was in part funded by the university, and despite Derby’s objections, several Miskatonic students accompanied the expedition. In Iram, Derby discovers that some ancient and dark artifacts have power, and is nearly killed when he and a native guide attempt to translate a clay tablet. The native guide is said to have cut out his own heart out ate it in front of Derby. After this episode, the expedition is recalled back to Miskatonic. An investigation exonerated Derby, but he was left with a shattered mind and retires in 1909.
The Society thrives for some time, devoting much its energy to research and investigation. The investigations are at first simple interviews, slowly incorporating investigation techniques taught by the members with law enforcement and investigation backgrounds. During an investigation in 1911, Shrewsbury discovers an English version of the R’lyeh Text in Innsmouth and convinces the owner, Cordelia Parker, to part with it for $50. Shrewsbury’s interest in the text extends from Harold Hadley Copeland’s discovery of the same titled book in China, and he becomes obsessed with studying both versions. In 1913, he publishes An Investigation into the Myth-Patterns of Latter-Day Primitives with Especial Reference to the R’lyeh Text through Miskatonic University Press. Afterwards, many in the Society note that Shrewsbury seems to be changed.
The Society and the Great War
The Society begins to receive correspondence from around the United States, Canada and Mexico reporting bizarre artifacts, rituals and supernatural happenings. Members also research previous expeditions that had found mysterious artifacts or had simply disappeared. Just when the Society was able to begin investigating these things in earnest, the Great War begins in 1914, temporarily causing a shift of interest from things supernatural to seemingly more pressing concerns in the world. A handful of Society members join Canadian, British or French forces.
Come 1917, the United States enters the Great War, and many in the Society are swept up in the war effort. This puts many Society projects on hold until the war comes to an end in 1918. Stories of dark deeds surface and are reported by Society members serving abroad, who have a new perspective on the occult and supernatural. The Society’s focus shifts from North America to the rest of the world, and the prevailing feeling among many in the Society is that the darker truths are active in the world. Quiet theories abound that the Great War was not wholly endeavor of mankind. Immediately after the war, the unnamed benefactor in Boston increases his share and elects Grace Barstow to be his proxy as well as manager of the Dewitt House.
In 1919, the Society begins to regroup from the horrors of the Great War, finding members from all professions to conduct investigations into the occult, supernatural and the otherwise esoteric. In January 1920, a new era dawns for the Miskatonic Society.