Lovecraft’s friend James F. Morton (1870-1941) secured the curatorship at the then-new Paterson Museum in New Jersey in 1925. The contemporary Museum’s website has historical details…
“The Paterson Museum was organized in 1925 by the City of Paterson Library’s Board of Trustees. The Museum began its operations in the assembly room of the Danforth Public Library [the Danforth Memorial Library, 1903–6] with a display of natural history items that had been donated to the library by local residents. In 1927, the collections were moved to the [1893 shingle and turret-style] carriage house of former Paterson mayor and philanthropist Nathan Barnert. The [carriage] house was located on Summer Street next to the Danforth Library.”
The name “Danforth” will of course instantly remind Lovecraftians of a key character in Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness (1931). Since there is so much geological science detailed in Mountains, perhaps Lovecraft’s naming of a key character “Danforth” was a quiet and oblique personal thank-you to Morton? Perhaps because Morton had ensured that Lovecraft had all the geological facts straight in his story? Morton was primarily interested in mineralogy, and took samples for his new Museum from the small quarry that the Lovecraft family owned. Morton built an international reputation for the collection of minerals at Paterson.
That may be so, but a more intriguing possibility arises once we know more of Charles Danforth (c.1797-1876) (1). He had been a major locomotive manufacturer in the town — and Lovecraft had an abiding interest in trains when young, reading vast amounts of railroad stories including… “the entire run of Railroad Man’s Magazine“. Interestingly, in At The Mountains of Madness the famous scene with the monstrous shoggoth bearing down on Danforth compares the shoggoth to a subway locomotive. There is perhaps a certain amount of hidden irony in this comparison, if the Danforth name did indeed come from the location of the Museum. Lovecraft had written rather bitterly about his dashed hopes of a job at Paterson, and having Danforth run down and sent mad may have been his subtle revenge on the Danforth family and the Trustees.
Lovecraft had hopes that he might be hired as an assistant to Morton at the Museum, allowing him to escape from his deepening New York poverty. But the hopes came to nothing.
The current Museum’s website has what looks to be a very early photo of what might be the first incarnation of the Museum, in the assembly room of the Danforth Public Library…
Lovecraft gives some (possibly slightly factually astray?) early details of the Museum’s establishment in a letter of February 1925 to Lillian [Letters from New York, p.115], six months before he actually visited. In December 1925 Lovecraft reported in a letter that… “the work on the museum building is being held up” [Letters from New York, p.254] and that the initial public displays were therefore at the Danforth Library.
The Museum was an hour from New York City and Lovecraft visited it at least twice. Once in Aug 1925 [I Am Providence, p.527], which he transmuted into fiction in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926)…
“I had largely given over my inquiries into what Professor Angell called the “Cthulhu Cult”, and was visiting a learned friend in Paterson, New Jersey; the curator of a local museum and a mineralogist of note.”
In November 1925 there was a Kalem Klub meeting at Paterson. I’m unsure if Lovecraft attended this. Visiting Morton occasioned some soul-searching and wallet-shaking on Lovecraft’s part, since the cost of the train fare would leave him without food money…
“a survey of my unwontedly depleted coffers reveals the embarrassing circumstance that if I attempt the scholarly Paterson pilgrimage tomorrow night (.62 plus .62
equals $ 1.24) I shan’t have pence enough left to finance my meals” — Selected Letters II.
He visited Paterson again in May 1928, by which time the Museum was apparently fully located in the carriage house “on Summer Street next to the Danforth Library”. Morton also became a leading light in the Paterson Hiking Club, and… “very occasionally Lovecraft joined them” [S.T. Joshi in Lovecraft's New York Circle, p.209]. The Danforth Library had, from 1925, a substantial art collection donated by Danforth’s relatives, including a centerpiece painting called “Ye Old Books”. This latter sounds as though it which might have interested Lovecraft had he visited.
A modern-day guidebook states of the modern Paterson Museum…
“Paterson seems to be the only community in New Jersey that does not equate the historical with the quaint.”
…which may in some small measure be a legacy of Morton’s early work in establishing the collection?
(1) Encyclopedia Americana: Volume 21, 1965: “The Danforth Memorial Library (1905) commemorating Charles Danforth, Paterson locomotive manufacturer.”
S.T. Joshi & David E. Schultz (eds.), Letters to James F. Morton, Hippocampus Press 2011.