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Seven thousand military boots with flags representing each of the American service members killed since September 11, 2001.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, Will and I visited Fort Adams State Park. The timing was serendipitous and we benefitted by being able to see a Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, put on by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. As we walked inside the walls of the fort, we saw a memorial display of military boots, each adorned with a name placard and an American flag, honoring service members killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

I could not walk among the flags and boots for long.

As a result of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan since the Trade Towers attacks, around 7,000 American soldiers have died. OSTDI is right to draw our attention in such a dramatic way to those who died. I would like to draw your attention to additional numbers, such as the estimate of around twice as many private contractors who also died while providing support to the Americans. Those private contractors don’t get the honor or the benefits that military people get, though they serve in the same theatres. And if we are kind enough to feel empathy for all of the people who died, then consider that of all nationalities involved, at least 480,000 people have died in these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians. And “In addition to those killed by direct acts of violence, the number of indirect deaths — those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure — is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions.” We could layer boots across the grounds of Fort Adams a couple feet deep, if we were able to honor everyone in this way.

I was drawn to the display immediately, and walked into the center of it, picking up cards attached to each boot, with photos and information about the service members from South Dakota and Kentucky and Ohio who gave their lives to their country and died at age 24, 27, or 19. It was suddenly too much and my chest heaved for breath as tears began streaming down my face. I marched out of the expanse of flags and over to the walls of the Fort. Will quickly followed and helped me get interested in Fort Adams history, in order to let the pain go.

Inside the walls of Fort Adams.

Is this a boiler? The remains of the Fort are very interesting and in my mind, beautiful.

Greenery takes over when the soldiers are no longer here to sweep and whitewash.

Fort Adams occupies a peninsula at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The fortifications in the bay are the only ones in the area to have seen action against an enemy. The first earthen fort was built on this location in 1776 to protect the people who lived on and used the harbor, and also to prevent enemies from using the harbor as a base. Though there were fortifications and cannons placed all over the bay, it was not enough, and in December 1776 the bay was captured by the British. They successfully held off a major, months-long attempt by combined French and American forces to retake the bay in 1778. Then the British voluntarily evacuated in 1779 (like my cat, I guess, it just had to be their idea before they would leave), and the French took over. Put a pin in that, and I’m going to bring it up later. Major Tousard, a Frenchman who had fought there and lost an arm in 1778, was commissioned by the US Army and oversaw restoration of the defense structures. He reopened the fort in 1779 and christened it Fort Adams, after President John Adams. The current structure was completed in 1857.

Outside the Fort we walked to the tip of the peninsula and watched some college sailboat racing competitions.  It seemed too windy of a day for sailing but the water was filled with sails. The teams were 100% women and the racing was so fast it seemed reckless. After completing their loops, they hurtled their boats into the marina and practically skidded sideways up to the docks. I would have thought the speed and daring was dangerous, except that with only a little observing, I could see that these women knew exactly what they were doing. It was not reckless at all. I am impressed.

A tall ship replica.

A pet peeve of mine: when communities decide to approach the litter problem by removing trash barrels.

Will had been trying to introduce me to as much Rhode Island-ness as possible, and thus when we came across a stand selling Del’s frozen lemonade, we had to get some. Other RI traditions he ate while I was there included coffee milk, lobster rolls, and johnny cakes.

The beach at Kings Park. On a warm day with no agenda, I could have so much fun sifting through these shells for hours.

A monument to French nobleman and General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. Now there’s a mouthful.

At the waterfront of Newport in Kings Park, we found a statue of American gratitude to General Rochambeau, who led the French force that helped the colonies to win the Revolutionary War.

Trusting in a tourist map and a nearby information sign, we hunted and hunted for the next lighthouse. If anyone at home is still playing lighthouse bingo, this is #8! We couldn’t see a lighthouse anywhere, but for the hell of it decided to follow the maps even though it was clear we were only walking out along a pier to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. It was quaint and interesting, so we ended up wandering around and admiring the place and…guess what?! We found the light! The Lime Rock Lighthouse was renamed in 1924 for Ida Lewis, the lighthouse keeper who became famous for many rescues she managed while working at Lime Rock.

Never would have guessed it without seeing it, but the light is mounted to the back wall of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, above the dining room. I wonder how many Yacht Clubs can claim to also be lighthouses?

Since it was nearby, we also stopped at Goat Island, connected to land by a bridge. Goat Island was the first piece of land purchased for the purpose of building fortifications for defense of the bay. We did not see any remaining defense structures. Today it is a tamed location with a marina, restaurant, and condominiums.

We were after lighthouse number nine, so we went to Jamestown and visited Beavertail Lighthouse next. On the way we made a quick stop at Fort Weatherill State Park. There we got a great view of Castle Hill that we had been so recently standing upon, and a better look at Castle Hill Lighthouse, mentioned in my last post. My apologies for the blurry photos in zoom. For the entire two-week trip I relied only on my iPhone, having left my Nikon at home accidentally. I did remember to bring the Nikon battery charger, but alas, the gesture was entirely inadequate without the camera itself. 😦

Gorgeous coves at Fort Weatherill State Park.

View of Castle Hill Inn and the Castle Hill Lighthouse.

Poor resolution image of Castle Hill Lighthouse that we had spotted earlier in the day.

At the parking lot for the Beavertail Lighthouse, I examined a giant metal ball that looked a lot like a WWII mine. I’ll have to assume that someone has checked it out and it no longer carries a charge. Actually, it’s probably just a giant rusted float. Then we made our way to the lighthouse at Beavertail State Park.

Brave? Dumb? Actually, just convinced that a thousand other tourists stood here first, and if they didn’t trigger it, I wouldn’t.

Approaching Beavertail State Park and Lighthouse.

The Beavertail Lighthouse was first erected in 1749 and was the third lighthouse in the country. That wooden lighthouse burned down. Have you noticed how frequently I’ve mentioned that the first – and usually the second – lighthouses were destroyed, but then the current one has been sitting there for 150 years? I guess everybody figures out right away that to build a lasting structure on the coast, one needs to spare no expense or quality of materials. Anything less will be ruined. The sea isn’t mean, she’s serious, and you need to take her seriously. When you do, the lights are allowed to stand. Anyway, the one here was built in 1856.

Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1856.

Remember how I said that the “British voluntarily evacuated in 1779” up above? Well, history of Beavertail Lighthouse website mentions that while the British were leaving the bay in in 1779, the lighthouse building was damaged. No further information. But doesn’t that make you wonder? Where is the rest of the story? If the British left their occupation of Fort Adams because they had made a strategic decision, then did that decision involve damaging structures on the way out? Were the Americans confused about what was happening and fire on them on their way out? Was there a battle? Was there an accident? Oh, History. There is so much you continue to hide from me.

The foundation of the original wooden lighthouse, erected in 1749, still stands.

Will and I kept noticing rocks and wished that Tara was with us so we could ask geology questions.

A fisherman stands alone and fishes off Beavertail Point, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Then we found a classy restaurant in Newport for dinner and still the night was not over. Will had a surprise, but he wasn’t sure if I was still game. Should he tell me? No, I love surprises! Lead on! The last thing we did that night was private dance lessons, followed by an hour of group dancing with beginners. Oh gosh it was so much fun. I know nothing about dancing but I’ve always wanted to learn. Though one night of dancing is certainly not enough to know how to dance, I did discover that when put to the test, I still want to learn to dance.

Ok, seriously. Can you believe all that was in one day? My last post plus this post? Wow. Maybe I’m not old yet after all.

Statue of William Ellery Channing, Unitarian preacher of the early 1800s, born in Newport, Rhode Island.

We packed so much touring into our next day in Newport that I’m going to split it into two posts. We began at Touro Park to see the Newport Tower, the remains of a windmill built approximately 1660. The round stone structure is beautiful, and I am reminded that arches are one of the strongest structures humans have ever built.

Newport Tower remains standing after nearly 400 years. Maybe because of the strength of the arches.

Inside the tower is also interesting. You can see Perry through an arch.

After exploring the tower, we stayed in the park for some time. There are multiple monuments surrounded by examples of period architechture. We admired the statue of Matthew Calbraith Perry, who was instrumental in bringing the Japanese into commercial and diplomatic relations with the West in 1854. The bronze bas reliefs on the pedestal reflect scenes from Perry’s life.

Mounted on the cast iron fence surrounding the pedestal were two plaques. One in Japanese and one translated. The title in English is The 2012 Shimoda TOMODACHI Declaration. I recalled that name from when I was staying at a Navy base in Japan, and said to Will, “Oh hey, Tomodachi is the name of the operation in which US service members helped out the Japanese after the tsunami wiped out the nuclear plant.” I kept reading, and rather than find a different use of the word tomodachi, the plaque referred to exactly what I was thinking of. It’s a Thank You from Shimoda City, acknowledging the beginning of Japanese-US relations 150 years previous, due to Perry’s work, and the continuing good relations today. Since I’m always pointing out Indian perspectives in an attempt to shed light on the nuances of our relationships, I think it’s only fair to point out that our “good relations” with Japan today are a result of the Japanese choosing to be an extraordinarily polite and accommodating people, after being bombed and invaded (and still occupied) by Americans. I do not at all assume our countries are friendly without deeply complicated undercurrents. Anyway, it was fun for me to recognize the name Tomodachi.

Naval Officer and diplomat Perry. You can see the Tomodachi Thank You plaques.

Scenes from Perry’s career.

Interesting handles of this flower pot in the shape of fauns, sitting on the heads of goats.

From there we walked to the Touro Synagogue, down lovely streets filled with late spring colour on the trees and in flower gardens.

We stopped first at the small Colonial Jewish Burial Ground, since it was on theme. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about this cemetery, called The Jewish Cemetery at Newport. Another author, Emma Lazarus (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) wrote about the cemetery and the synagogue. It is the first Jewish cemetery in Rhode Island, acquired in 1677. Abraham Touro had the first protective wall erected, and his brother Judah Touro established a trust to care for the cemetery upon his death in 1854.

Colonial Jewish Cemetery was locked so we couldn’t go in for a better look.

We arrived at the Touro Synagogue just before a tour began, so we quickly paid and ran up the hill to listen to the tour guide tell us about the site, the oldest synagogue in the United States. We sat in the pews and listened while the older man intoned, and it was clear he was used to teaching and used to people listening. He invited questions, and I tried to re-state in my own words something he had said, to make sure I had understood his point. He was not at all pleased with my attempt, and moved on with his story. I felt like I was 9 years old in Bible School again. It was very sweet and funny.  Even though he denied my description of the story, I still think what he explained is that since Jews in the 18th century had been welcomed in the Netherlands, when Jewish emmigrants were looking for a new home, they hoped for a warm welcome from the Dutch colonists on the American east coast. It didn’t go as well as hoped, but there was enough tolerance to allow a Jewish community for some of early Rhode Island history. The Jewish community grew in Newport, and in 1763 this house of worship was dedicated. I can promise you that the guide would explain it with different words! 🙂

Interior of the Touro Synagogue.

The inside of the synagogue is gorgeous, but we were not allowed to take photos from inside. We were invited to stand outside, at the doorway, and photograph into the building, however. The architect knew nothing about synagogue construction, and it is assumed for the interior that he relied entirely on the guidance of members of the congregation, some having only recently left their Jewish communities elsewhere. The tourguide told us to notice two important things about the outside: first that its orientation is east (facing Jerusalem) rather than perpendicular with the street, and second that it is built to blend in with the colonial construction of the time, and not stand out and probably irritate the other settlers.

Facing east, and thus at an angle compared to the other buildings.

The lovely site includes the Loeb Visitor’s Center, the Touro Synagogue, and an inviting garden between them.

In 1781 a Town Meeting was held here during a visit by George Washington. Later, when he was President in 1790, Washington wrote a letter to the Newport Hebrew community that the whole nation should be proud of. I had never heard of this letter, but copies are provided free of charge at the visitor’s center. The text includes this,

…happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

How much less of a country we are today because our leadership embraces, rather than rejects, bigotry and persecution.

Our next stop was to find Castle Hill Lighthouse, the 7th lighthouse of the trip. We parked at the Castle Hill Inn parking area, and crashed the rather posh grounds, walking across manicured lawns, past white lawn chairs filled with paying guests, and up a hill to a spot where we could see the lighthouse above the bushes along the rocky beach. It was windy and cold and we didn’t stay long. We were near Fort Adams State Park, and we went there next. I’ll talk about the rest of the day in my next post.

Castle Hill Lighthouse as viewed from Castle Hill Inn.

Looking toward the Claiborne Pell/Newport Bridge

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