Monday, June 14, 2010

Rhody, Believe It or Not

Drivers entering Barrington along the Wampanoag Trail enjoy a New England-as-pictured-in-Yankee magazine kind of view, showing off watery Rhode Island in a long reach of river aiming toward an archetypal white steeple and a big white booster board fronting the high school athletic fields. That scene of river, road and The White Church –it’s officially the First Congregational Church but everyone in the East Bay knows it as The White Church – has a Hollywood movie set quality to it, which may be why we grew up believing the suburban legend that it was used in the opening scene of the nighttime soap opera “Peyton Place.” (Not so much, it turns out.)

We also believed the stories that the art deco-style Fleet Building (now the Bank of America Building) in Providence was the edifice that became The Daily Planet in the “Superman” TV serial. (It wasn’t, even though to this day in Rhode Island people call it “the Superman Building.”)

An old urban legend that circulated at the Rhode Island School of Design warned students not to fall into the canal, since such a plunge would dissolve your skin.

There are a number of local island legends about pirate treasure. Capt. William Kidd reportedly had gold and other valuables stashed away variously on Patience Island, Hog Island and Block Island. Thomas Tew may have left treasure somewhere in Newport. Another pirate, Charles Harris, bragged about hiding a chest full of jewels and coins under the Newport Cliffs. And supposedly there is some booty still to be found at Beavertail, if the tides and good fortune favor you.

Those of us of a certain vintage also may remember jumping out of the Olympic swimming pool at Rocky Point Amusement Park when Electric Boy dove in. The story was that the poor guy had been electrocuted while trying to climb a fence in the park and had his arms amputated as a result. But he happened to be a champion swimmer and diver, so despite his injuries he kept coming back to the park to dive off the high board in the saltwater pool, doing tricks and swimming laps. Because of his horrific accident, many kids believed that he was highly conductive and that they risked electrocution if they swam in the pool when he was in it. In this case at least, the man was real but his zapping power was a myth.

What Rhode Island urban legends do you know?