NYC History, Photomapped

A while back we had a creepy rhapsody over archived crime scene photos from the NYPD, as useful handouts in Trail of Cthulhu games. On a like note, let’s applaud the team who took historical photos of New York as digitized by the New York Public Library and keyed them to a map of the city. Now whenever your investigators prowl the streets of the Big Apple in search of shoggoths and/or Nyarlathotep’s pulsing network of financial interests, you can call up images of their locations rife with period flavor. Not all of the images date to the 20s and 30s, but enough of them do that an exploration of the map is well in order for any GM planning an excursion into urban terror. You can easily use your Keeper’s license to pretend that the photos depict street scenes of other large American centers. The NYPL has not licensed the images for commercial use, so I’m going to respect that by linking to the images rather than embedding them.

At Grand and Ludlow we see a fortune teller with kid sidekick, plus parrot to bring in business. Talk about your combination of evocative details you’d never think to make up!

Or how about this excavation on Court Street in Brooklyn, from 1926, near the events of “Horror at Red Hook”? You decide what’s lurking in its shadows at night. You could even sell it to your players as the aftermath of the building collapse mentioned in that cringeworthy entry in the Lovecraft canon.

In need of inspiration? Click on a dot in the map and find what it throws up as the site of your next unspeakable incident. Hey, here’s the Brooklyn Eye and Ear Hospital, in all its stolid, sepia glory, overshadowed by the gothic heights of a German evangelical church. What this tells me is that Mi-Go have occupied the hospital on a tissue harvesting mission, and have installed a beacon in the church spire to guide the mothership back to them when the time comes. You of course might interpret these elements entirely differently.

At Manhattan and Wooster we see two lonely figures walking together in what I can’t help seeing as the early morning gloom. This historical-geographical flashcard might inspire you to think about a surveillance scene, in which the investigators will want to shadow these guys and find out what they’re whispering to each other.

I’m sure no Trail Keeper needs any more prompting that that, so I’ll leave you to it. If you find a shot of ghouls dragging a victim into an alleyway, I’m not sure I want to know…


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

One Response to “NYC History, Photomapped”

  1. Frodo of the Nine Fingers says:

    Lovecraft lived at 169 Clinton Street, on the corner of State Street, in 1925:

    http://www.oldnyc.org/#703665f-a

    Before that, in 1924, he moved to Sonia Green’s apt. at 259 Parkside Avenue in Flatbush. General area:

    http://www.oldnyc.org/#704257f-a

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