For the next few months, as a way to get organized and have a place for all this randomness I’ve been collecting, I am going to post various articles related to my short story research. Hopefully this results in encouraging some forward momentum for my writing projects and engagement with a wider community on inspiration and the artistic process.
Short Story ideas? Below are two Providence Journal articles of interest. The first covers the nearly forgotten history of the human cost of the Scituate Reservoir, our state’s main source of drinking water. The second is about some atmospheric anomalies (um? strange, huh?) that made little Scituate a vital piece of America’s war effort in WWII. Not sure how I will incorporate this information yet, but the wheels are turning!
SCITUATE, R.I. — On an April day in 1915, Scituate residents went about their daily routines checking for the mail wagon, plowing fields, stopping in at Fred Jacques’ Richmond village store, pausing perhaps, to discuss the weather.What they got that day was certainly a grim forecast, but it had little to do with the springtime skies.Weeping through the ringing crank telephone was the storekeeper’s daughter Vera bearing stormy news: The Rhode Island General Assembly had passed a bill that would drastically change the face of their town, news that would have an effect on a large portion of its 3,342 residents. A reservoir, to provide water for the city of Providence, was to be constructed through the heart of Scituate. It would eventually erase five decades-old villages — Rockland, Ashland, South Scituate, Richmond and Kent, and portions of other villages.Some 1,195 homes, churches, mills, shops, schools and farms — even hundreds of graves — would be moved, torn up, demolished. Many of the homes and farms to be erased had been in families for generations, and the fear and anger, historical accounts say, tell of townspeople protecting their property at gunpoint, while other residents took their own lives, unable to witness the loss of homes and livelihoods. Some people packed up and moved elsewhere rather than witness the newly formed Providence Water Supply Board blot out their villages.But those 10 years, 1915 to 1925, were documented and hundreds of photographs were actually shot by the Providence Water Supply Board before buildings, many large, ornate and handsome, were torn down.
Lost Villages of Scituate
Some 1,500 of those photographs can be found at the Providence City Archives, notes city archivist Paul Campbell, with 30 presently on exhibit at the North Scituate Public Library through July 1 in a project called “Before the Reservoir: Pictures of Buildings That Are No More.”“These photos showcase some beautiful architecture, but also capture some of the reactions that people had in this traumatic event,” said Rachael Juskuv, North Scituate Library’s reference librarian and organizer of the project, which captures aspects of village life before the reservoir. “A hired photographer,” she said “traveled to each house and had to explain to each person what he was doing.”The exhibit marks the beginnings 100 years ago of this major change in Scituate, attracting a good bit of attention at the library, where Juskuv said most people are aware of the villages that disappeared under today’s large stretch of reservoir, but given the passage of time and residents, the reality of it is growing dim.
Fortunately, in the 1970s and ’80s, several residents realized that memories and facts regarding the 1915-25 town event would be lost if those who remembered didn’t document what they knew. Several films, videos, books and projects came together as a result, such as a 1988 Scituate Lions Club video, seven hours of slides and memories; a 1985 graduate course video; individual town histories, including a 1981 cookbook, illustrated by Marion King Wieselquist .More recently, several “Images of America” series books have been published, one written in 1998 by the Heritage Room Committee called “Scituate,” and another, “The Lost Villages of Scituate,” compiled in 2009 by Raymond A. Wolf, 73, a town native who recalled his late mother lamenting the loss of her village of Rockland.“She never got over it,” he said. His mother, Helen O. Larson, died at age 94 in 2005.“The pain and agony of seeing her dad’s mill torn down, her school torn down, the store where they shopped torn down — many people she never saw again,” he said of those who moved on. His books contain dozens of the photos taken by the Providence Water Supply Board, including one of his mother’s family farm.
Haunting photos of large mill complexes and rambling homes with wrap-around porches are in his book and in the library exhibit.“My father said some of the houses that were moved were sold for $50,” said Esther Tidswell, 78, a lifelong Scituate resident and daughter of the late local historian Frank Spencer. It was her father, born in 1908, who devoted many hours to recording his Scituate recollections for the Lions Club video.Scituate native Wayne K. Durfee, 90, now of Narragansett, a retired University of Rhode Island professor, recalled the reservoir as “just being there” by the time he was born in 1924. It became a place in his boyhood for youngsters to sneak a swim on a hot day, hoping “the city men” patrolling it wouldn’t catch them. Both Tidswell and Durfee pronounce the town name as Scit-u-ate, as they say it was pronounced when they were children. Durfee even recalls the reservoir being referred to as the “reser-voi.” And he said he regrets not paying more attention to his mother, a schoolteacher, when she spoke of local history. But much of it can be found in Scituare libraries, including a 1975 newspaper article written by the late mapmaker and historian George E. Matteson, who captured in an essay that 1915 day, April 21 as he has it listed, when the news came to the village store.These 100 years later, the Scituate Reservoir stands as a stunning surprise when it appears beyond the hundreds of grown-up evergreen trees planted to protect the watershed area.
According to historical information emailed by Lauren DeRuisseau, public information director at Providence Water, the “reservoir system and treatment plant on the north branch of the Pawtuxet River in the town of Scituate still provides water to most of the State of Rhode Island … The original treatment plant was state-of-the-art at the time of its construction. The plant was considered to be among the most technologically advanced of its day, and for many years was the only plant of its type in New England.”While many people suffered great loss a century ago, some, Raymond Wolf included, say in the long run, the addition of the reservoir helped maintain the rural character of Scituate and, he asks, “what would Rhode Island do without it?” Sixty percent of Rhode Island residents get their water from it.
Global eavesdroppers: In World War II, dozens of radio operators in Scituate dialed into enemy conversations worldwide
seventy years ago this week Rhode Islanders swarmed into the streets with other joyous Americans celebrating the end of World War II. It would be three more months before the world learned of Rhode Island’s top-secret role in defeating Germany and Japan.
It was a tale of espionage, now virtually forgotten, centered in, of all places, an old farmhouse in Scituate.
The clandestine mission that went on up there on Chopmist Hill from 1941 through 1945 not only helped defeat the enemy, historians say, but brought to Rhode Island the representatives of a new organization called the United Nations, looking for a headquarters location.
“They even had plans to build an airstrip if the United Nations ended up here,” says Scituate Town Historian Shirley Arnold. “Can you imagine that? In Scituate?”
No one knows the story anymore, she says. “All the old-timers are gone.”
There was nothing remarkable to see on Chopmist Hill in 1940 when, a year before the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and bring America into the war, a Boston radio technician by the name of Thomas B. Cave drove up Darby Road.
England was already at war with Germany, and Cave knew it was inevitable that the United States, already fortifying Great Britain with supplies and weaponry, would enter, too.
Cave worked for the Intelligence Division of the Federal Communications Commission, charged with finding a hilltop in southern New England that could serve as one of several listening posts to detect radio transmissions from German spies in the United States.
What he discovered up at William Suddard’s 183-acre farm was nothing short of miraculous.
Because of some geographic and atmospheric anomalies, Cave reported he could clearly intercept radio transmissions coming from Europe — even South America.
As a Providence Journal story revealed after the war, military officials were initially skeptical. They wanted Cave to prove his remarkable claims that from Chopmist Hill he could pinpoint the location of any radio transmission in the country within 15 minutes.
The Army set up a test. Without telling the FCC, it began broadcasting a signal from the Pentagon. From atop the 730-foot hill in the rural corner of Scituate, it took Cave all of seven minutes to zero in on the signal’s origin.
In March 1941, the Suddards obligingly moved out of their 14-room farmhouse, leasing the property to the FCC.
Workers set off erecting scores of telephone poles across the properly, purposely sinking them deep to keep them below the tree line. They strung 85,000 feet of antenna wire — the equivalent of 16 miles — around the poles and wired it into the house.
They fenced off the perimeter, erected floodlights and established armed patrols to keep people out. They filled six rooms with banks of sensitive radio receivers, transmitters and directional finders.
Then the FCC turned loose a 40-member spy team of men and women to listen in on the world —although none of them knew the full extent of the information they were cultivating.
The interceptors kept tabs on more than 400 different enemy radio transmitting stations broadcasting on any given day. They ferreted out secret low-frequency transmissions hidden under the beams of commercial radio stations abroad.
Much of what they intercepted were coded messages that were then recorded and sent electronically to Washington’s “black chamber” for decoding.
Shaping the war
The Chopmist Hill listening post soon became the largest and most successful of a nationwide network of 13 similar installations. Its ability to eavesdrop on German radio transmissions in North Africa, for instance, was so precise that technicians could actually listen in on tank-to-tank communications within Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s infamous Afrika Korps.
The Germans’ battlefield strategy was then relayed to the British, who under Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery eventually defeated Rommel at El Alamein.
The Chopmist station is also credited with saving the Queen Mary, the pride of England’s maritime fleet, as it was about to sail with 14,000 troops from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Australia.
The station intercepted orders from Germany to the Nazi’s submarine wolf pack operating in the south Atlantic to sink the ship. The radio station alerted the British, who ordered the ship to change course.
Cave, who supervised the Chopmist Hill station, told The Journal in November 1945 that virtually all the wartime messages sent by German spies working in the United States were intercepted in Scituate.
Often, those German spies were allowed to continue operating so counterintelligence officers could run down their sources of information.
One of Scituate station’s most important jobs was to intercept German weather reports from Central Europe.
The reports, broadcast at a frequency undetectable in England, flowed easily across the Atlantic to Chopmist Hill. The information proved vital for British bombing raids over Germany.
Occasionally the station assisted in air and sea rescue operations. On one occasion a plane carrying actress Kay Francis got lost off the coast of Florida en route home from a USO tour. No other radio installation on the East Coast had picked up the pilot’s distress calls, but the Chopmist Hill station did, guiding the plane home safely.
In 1981, George Sterling, who had been the FCC commissioner during the war, told a Providence Journal reporter that he never understood why the United States was caught by surprise in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor since the Chopmist Hill listening station had for months been intercepting Japanese messages in the Pacific indicating an impending attack.
Once war broke out, the station thwarted Japanese attempts to bomb the United States using unmanned hot-air balloons laden with explosives. The Japanese had placed radio transmitters on the balloons to track them as they rode the jet stream across the Pacific in the hope they reached the West Coast of America. Many did, and the Scituate eavesdroppers heard the balloon signals. They relayed the information to Washington. U.S. fighter planes intercepted and destroyed the balloons.
Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, a week after Hitler committed suicide in a bunker in Berlin. The Japanese agreed to surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, five days after the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki.
UN takes a look
The remarkable radio capabilities of Chopmist Hill captured world attention after the war when, in November 1945, the FCC permitted a Providence Journal reporter to visit the monitoring station.
Two months after her story ran, seven inspectors from the United Nations Organization were climbing an icy fire lookout tower on Chopmist Hill and scanning the rural landscape below for what might become their new headquarters.
The Jan. 26, 1946, issue of The Providence Journal carried the lead headline: “Chopmist Hill District is rated One of Top Potential Locations for UNO Quarters by Committee.”
The story described how inspectors were seriously considering the site as its headquarters because of area’s unmatched capability to reach every corner of the globe by radio.
“This is a possible site,” Dr. Stoyan Gavrilovic, of the Balkans and chairman of the inspection committee, told reporters during the tour. “It meets most of the technical points. It is good.”
During the tour the inspectors went into a room in the Suddard farmhouse where on one bank of radio equipment signs hung listing the cities of Lisbon, Madrid and Cairo — the cities the radios were tuned to. One of the inspectors asked Cave, directing the tour, what was the range of the radio station?
“Well, Sydney, Australia,” replied Cave. “That’s about the farthest place there is.”
The inspectors said they were also looking for a wide tract of land to build an airport as well as a headquarters. Cave said the site offered about 50 square miles of property spanning Scituate, Foster and Glocester that could be available, although about 1,000 people would have to be relocated. The inspectors were in town for only a couple of days before heading off to inspect possible sites around Worcester and Boston.
In the end, the United Nations officials settled on New York City after John D. Rockefeller Jr. offered them $8.5 million to purchase a six-block tract of land along the East River.
Today the Suddard house still stands behind the same ornate stone wall it did more than 70 years ago. But the hill around it, once mostly pasture and scrub, is covered with tall trees and dotted with new homes.
The house, privately owned again, reveals few clues to what happened there the last time the world went to war, save for a tall, thin radio tower in the yard, now covered in ivy, reaching for the clouds.
more info: http://www.quahog.org/factsfolklore/index.php?id=5