Is It Lovecraft?

Recently, redditor daemose123 posted images from a yearbook he had purchased on ebay, and asked for help from the community to compare an image in the yearbook with a known H.P. Lovecraft portrait, taken approximately 5 or 6 years apart.

Photo A is the known, confirmed portrait photograph of H.P. Lovecraft, taken 1914. Photo B is a photograph of an unknown young man which appears in the 1909 Hope Street High School Blue and White Yearbook.

Photo A

Photo B

I did some research on the names listed in the yearbook (Classical Department), where the photo of the subject in question appeared. There are 56 persons in the photograph, but only 55 people listed, which at first glance means there was a name omission (either accidental or intentional, presumed by the owner of the yearbook to be because Lovecraft dropped out the prior semester). The problem is that of the 56 persons pictured, there are 29 girls and 27 boys. But in the list under Classical Department, there are 26 girls named and 29 boys, leaving more grey area regarding who sat for the group photo and whose names were recorded in the Classical Department of the class. The number discrepancy in the names list appears to be more than just a single male omission.

In my research I was able to confirmed the sex of all the subjects listed through online records such as Ancestry.com, Rhode Island State tax records, Theta Chi fraternity, The Providence Journal, and the Social Security Administration. The only person I was unable to confirm with 100% certainty was a person by the name of Marion Hargraves Barney, who was the twin sibling of Ruth Stiles Barney. This means the list of names could instead be 27 girls and 28 boys, bringing us closer to the ratio in the photo, but not close enough to establish whether the omission was either male or female, and still doesn't account for who the extra girl(s) would be.

I'd like to hear from Lovecraft biographer, Henry L.P. Beckwith Jr, whose father is listed in the names of the Classical Department (and who may also appear in the photograph).

Establishing a Foundation for Measurements

Since the images are taken at different angles, with different lighting, the images have to be "equalized" based on measurement of a feature that does not alter with age or superficial changes. I aligned pupils horizontally, and resized the images so the pupils are at the same distance apart along this line. This measurement is my foundation for the geometrics, since it's an anatomical measurement that does not change with age. Features that may change with age are the hairline, the jawline, the length of the nose, the ears and the teeth. For the purposes of this evaluation, a six year difference in age (18-24) would not typically show significant changes in growth of these features.


Visually Comparing Features

I traced a known portrait of Lovecraft taken at the same angle as the yearbook photo and visually compared the features (below). The most notable differences are the ratio of skull size to jaw. Lovecraft (A) has mandibular prognathism (an undershot jaw), a narrow pointed jaw, a narrow nose bridge, and a relatively wide forehead. The subject in the yearbook photo (B) has a larger skull, wider, more squared jaw, wider nose bridge, and a comparatively narrower forehead. Subject A's eyes are more prominently set, with more iris exposed by the lid. Subject B has deeper set eyes, less iris exposed, and slightly hooded lids. Finally, Subject A has slightly larger, more elongated ears that lay flatter against the head than Subject B.

In virtually all known portraits of Lovecraft as an adult, his eyes appear dark, prominent, and piercing. I traced the eye area on several Lovecraft photos. Consistently, the majority of the iris is exposed and the bridge of the nose is narrow between the eyes. In the yearbook photo, the eyes of the subject are not nearly as prominent. The iris is nearly halfway covered by what appears to be a slightly hooded lid.



Using several known photos of Lovecraft, I was able to establish facial geometry which remained consistent for 20 years, beginning with the 1915 portrait. Measurements taken with the baseline of equidistant pupils are re-centered to illustrate their relation to other features. When compared to the re-centered geometrics of the subject in the yearbook photo, there were noticeable differences (red, below).

Comparison of eyebrow angulation, eye shape to original grid line. Far right image is Gen. McClellan 1862

Comparison to Other Portraits


Lovecraft was a sickly child and missed a year of school. He would have been 19 years old in the yearbook photo, but according to his biography had suffered a breakdown in 1908 and dropped out of school the year the photo was taken. In the yearbook photo, the subject appears to have a different hairline and hairstyle. In all known photos of Lovecraft taken between the age of 24 to 43, he did not change his hairstyle, and his hairline receded only slightly. He is instantly recognizable, with very distinctive features.

While the subject in the yearbook photo does bear a resemblance to Lovecraft, the features are not close enough to be a match.
Based on my many years of experience of studying facial structure and features, as well as using the above geometric comparisons, I can reasonably conclude that the yearbook photo is not H.P. Lovecraft.


Facial Recognition