Today’s Daily Beast asks the question: “When’s the last time something exciting happened in Delaware?” The Web site is referencing the state’s bruising but politically intriguing Senate primary contest pitting a couple of red-leaning Blue Hens – one a moderate, the other a staunch conservative. But, here at Half Shell, we’re more interested in the wider ramifications of the question.
Delaware residents once proposed giving away some of their land so that Little Del could reap the cultural attention that Little Rhody gets for being the smallest state in the USA – media props that include, but are not limited to, being an official standard of measurement for anything in the neighborhood of 1000 to 1,500 square miles, serving as a common punch line at the end of any joke about size and earning undue influence as a popular point of reference on The Weather Channel.
Anyway, enough about Delaware. The real reason for this post is to rephrase the Daily Beast’s question: “When’s the last time something exciting happened in Rhode Island?”
Some folks may point to the floods of last March. (Conveniently, Independent Newspapers has just published “Raging Waters,” the story of “The South County Flood of 2010” in words and pictures, available in Wakefield at our 10 High St. offices, Healy News and Damon’s Hardware.) Those old enough, however, can always play the natural disaster trump cards, including “The Blizzard of ’78” (Feb. 6, 1978) or “The Hurricane of ’38” (Sept. 21, 1938).
Rhode Island, not being much of a “buzz”-generating state, gets excited about things that draw yawns elsewhere. Sailing, for instance. Folks not only sail here, they watch other sailors sail from their vantage points on boats and docks and piers and island perches – especially island perches that serve frozen drinks. So maybe the last exciting thing that ever happened here occurred on Sept. 26, 1983, when the Australians won the America’s Cup, yanking the 12-meter yachting trophy out of Newport for the first time, well, ever. And if the Cup races ever were to return to this corner of the Atlantic, we might just have to declare a month-long state holiday, which we’d probably call, given the current vernacular, “Rhodypalooza.”
The other thing that generates excitement in Rhode Island is scandal. We’re not talking about the daily sort of scandal that fills our airwaves and papers and diners and “bubbla” talk on a pretty much every-second basis. We’re talking epic scandal. The kind that Greeks named Homer wrote poems about. So Paris kidnapped Helen from a Greek king and started the Trojan War. Big deal. In the 1990s, we had a guy, a fugitive banker named Joe “Puppy Dog” Mollicone, who single-handedly managed to collapse the state’s entire financial system. Suddenly our credit cards weren’t worth the plastic they were made out of, and Rhode Island money was deemed no good anywhere in the world. (Not for the first time. Something similar happened in Rhode Island during our Revolutionary youth, when we were still deciding whether we wanted to go along with this America thing. An excess of paper money was printed, which farmers took at face value but merchants declined to match. At one point, the legislature passed a law commanding everyone to consider paper the equivalent of gold. The merchants responded by shutting their shops. In the summer of 1876 in the once-thriving cities of Providence and Newport, no business whatsoever was conducted, except in the pubs. At Half Shell we like to think of that as the first “Rhodypalooza.”)
The thing of it is, Mollicone, after a stint in prison, still lives here and still owes us cash. He’s not as visible as he once was, but you can probably friend him on Facebook.
Other days when exciting things happened in Rhode Island:
Sometime in June, 1936: Roger Williams dropped anchor. Started his own colony.
July 19, 1769: British sloop Liberty destroyed at Newport, representing the first overt act of violence against British authority in America.
June 9, 1772: British schooner Gaspee burned in Narragansett Bay, an act of defiance commemorated annually at a Warwick festival.
July 25, 1965: Dylan goes electric at the Newport Folk Festival.
That’s about it.