The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach. Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to
the island. This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though. The ocean only subsides from the tombolo during low tide and this land path is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull. On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile. The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.
Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center. Not many extensive ruins to find. Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938. Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.
There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.
This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.
We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island. Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.
And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!
It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon. There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.
Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel? In the 1860s, there was resort here. Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!
I’m heading back to school this week. So before work gets too hot and heavy, I want to post a blog on one of the wonderful short trips Yang and I took when we went away for two days. The first day was a visit to NYC to explore Central Park and have a yummy tea at Alice’s Teacup – another blog on that later! The second day, as we made our way back from where we’d stayed in Milford, brought us to Danbury’s Tarrywile Park and the Hearthstone Castle. If you click here, there’s a wonderful history on this link about the castle.
We walked up a fairly short, but decidedly steep, wooded path to be greeted with this sight. What a pity that the castle has been defaced and let go into such disrepair. Still, it was deliciously eerie, with the afternoon sunlight rising in a clearing amidst the trees. Note the turrets with sharp field stones acting as the crenellation. There in front was the portico where the wealthy would arrive in their carriages to be dropped off at the door for a summer weekend in the country or a formal dinner or ball. They must have had a ballroom! And here I am walking quite determinedly up to get a closer view, braving assault from ticks and poison ivy.
We took some neat shots of the ruins, so you could see the sky pouring blue through a window in the back wall out to you from a smashed window or a broken wall in front of you. Unfortunately, the sun was so bright that it washed the blue right out of most of these shots. I love the gorgeous turret here and wonder what kind of round rooms were inside on each floor. The view must have been a delight. A great place to sit with your tea and a good book. Perhaps a Scarlet Tanager or Rosebreasted Grosbeak might fly by, even perch on the ledge? Looking through the smashed windows, where the boards had been pried away, you could also see the brick that lined or insulated the interior where the material covering the interior walls had been stripped away. I couldn’t help recalling the marvelous ruined abbeys I’d seen on my trip to England – sky gleaming blue through soaring arches and graceful architecture. Of course, this ruin is on a much smaller scale – and more jagged than the medieval constructions. Still, doesn’t the setting lend itself to a novel? Hmm, maybe that’s what I’m working out in my mind here.
Here’s a neat farewell shot of the ruin. I’m not sure if Yang or I took it. I would love to go back in the fall, when the leaves turn gorgeous! You should make a visit, too. And remember that the park has lots of inviting hiking trails. Yeah, I think this place has to make it into a novel. It’s just so Thornfield or Manderly!
P.S. A tip of one of my many hats to Robert Johnson for putting me wise to this site.
The same day that we visited Battleship Cove, we also gave ourselves a walking tour of the older architecture in the downtown section of Providence. Yang and I had come here for a walk once before in the winter and marveled at the beautiful buildings with their ornate decorations. We’ll start with the Shepherd Department Store Building.
The Shepherd Department store was once the largest department store in the country, covering an entire block and consuming three buildings. First built in 1880, the store continued to grow and became a mainstay for about 100 years. Unfortunately, like many of the other big department stores (Bon Marche, Filenes, G. Fox) it was undone by the viral spread of malls. Check out the interesting background info on this store and on it and similar ones. Fortunately, Shepherd’s facade has been preserved, with a major portion of the building serving as campuses for URI and CCRI, as well as offices for the RI Department of Education, making the relief of the owl pictured above both prescient and appropriate!
And of course, you can’t help but admire this fierce lion head decorating the building.
He isn’t the only lion. This building, now a dance club, is protected by a line of threatening Panthera Leo – so you’d darn well better heed the sign warning that the rest rooms are only for patrons!
There are also far less threatening carvings or reliefs. With this building that was once a nineteenth-century performance center, we have musical instruments: mandolin and horn on one side and lyre on the other.
On another building, I found these reliefs: a pilgrim-looking guy and the female head from the old dimes. How wise to pick a relief that has rays coming from her head that can also double as pigeon repellers. Note that anchor relief just around the corner.
Between them was a medallion with this cherub.
I was struck by the Providence Performing Arts Center. This gorgeously ornate building covers an enormous amount of territory. It seems like an entire block. The front is impressive, predominating the view at this end of Weybosset Street. The sides are no less impressive. Originally built as Loewe’s Movie Palace in 1928, the theatre opened to an audience of 14,000. Loewe’s went through some tough times in the latter half of the twentieth century before its redesign as a successful multipurpose performance venue. Click here for background on this magnificent building.
Last weekend, Yang and I paid a twilight visit to the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. It’s a beautiful cemetery on the bay, encircled and populated by graceful old trees. The graveyard is designed in the Romantic style initiated by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and emulated by others, such as Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, the Lowell Cemetery (guess where), and Sleepy Hollow in Concord – Tarrytown, too!
This style is characterized by sloping greens; stately, shady trees; ponds; and monuments created to reflect both the sadness of loss and the serenity of eternal peace. Keats and Shelley would just die, so to speak, for a sojourn here.
This cemetery is surrounded on the street side by a stone wall of large rocks. So, it captures the New England tradition of dry stone walls, but adds solemn majesty by using boulders as its dry stones. I love this configuration near the entrance. We came here close to dusk because Rosie and ‘Tasha kept us out later than usual walking in the yard. So, we had to hurry a bit and were unable to stroll and take photographs at our leisure.
The posture and positioning of many of these statues seem to tell a moral about death. Perhaps women were usually chosen to immortalize in keeping with Poe’s dictum that the saddest thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman. Each of these beautiful figures seems to convey a message back to the living. This woman looks down on our world, bearing a veiled gift. The broken column signifies a life cut off. I’m not sure where I learned about the column, but I do remember it was a legitimate source.
Here, a woman peers off into the beyond, urging us to look upward and outward, past this vale of tears – or is that veil of tears? Either makes sense in this context. She also holds an anchor on her far side. Does it symbolize that she is anchored to us, though she is looking to attain something beyond the earthly realm – or is she from a seafaring family?
I’m particularly interested in this figure, looking down at us from the heights of a pillar, perhaps symbolizing she is no longer anchored to this earth but soars above us toward the empyrean. Still, her gaze of concern is fixed on us suffering mortals below.
I found this stylized monument of an angel particularly intriguing. Yang thought it had an Egyptian look, but I find it much more art deco. It seems to flow down into the ground – or does it shoot upward?I didn’t have a chance to check the date on it to see if it fit into the deco period. I’m so impressed by its soft but still clean lines.
The weathering of this limestone angel blurs and softens it’s features so that it seems ethereal – and more than a little eerie. What do you think? What does she perceive hovering above even her? Don’t blink!
The cemetery has other lovely qualities. There is a pond surrounded by hedges, but I didn’t get any pictures this time. We had to rush. However, I did get a shot of this gazebo. What a wonderful place to sit and read. Yang graded papers here, while I attended a Renaissance Conference in town one time.
I have to add that there are some impressive selections of Celtic crosses. Some in family groupings.
I especially loved the balustrades or curved stone work surrounding or leading up to family burial plots. The first of these pictures shows a lovely plaza surrounded by a bowed stone rail. I remember when there were actually a barrier of tall yews forming a second circle inside the balustrade. You couldn’t see within the green cavern it created. One of the grounds-people told me they had to cut down the yews because weird stuff went on in there at times. This was some time ago that I heard this tale. I hadn’t heard any tales about these gently curving steps and barrier, leading to this prominent family’s plot. I do love the graceful shape.
Of course, here are the pictures that all you faithful Lovecraftians are waiting for: Mr. Lovecraft’s family plot and monuments. We actually had some shots of me next to the monuments, but I looked awful enough to give a Shuggoth the willies. So, vanity prevailed and I ditched them. You may notice that there were deposits of presents by Mr. H.P.’s grave. If you look carefully on the gravestone, you can see that his birthday had been just a few days before.
There are lots of beautiful scenes that I hadn’t time to photograph that twilight, but seeing that I couldn’t fit in all the wonderful images that I took this trip, I don’t feel too bad now about not getting them. There should be another trip, maybe when the fall colors are aflame. Won’t that be a treat to see? So, with this proud, victorious angel, I will bid you adieu and slip away into the gloaming – whatever the heck a gloaming is!
I recently posted a blog on the Touchpoint Publishing Web Site discussing how real life settings inspire my writing as well as how ideas for my novel inspire me to seek out real life settings. Click here to read “Location! Location! Location!”
Being a Gothic kind of a gal, I’ve been fascinated by the gargoyles I’ve found on churches in Worcester. There may be more than these three examples, but these churches caught my eye.
The first example is a single, friendly gargoyle that curves along a corner of the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Southbridge Street. He gracefully curls his undercarriage toward you, his wings unfurl smoothly, and he seems to offer a friendly smile. Unlike traditional gargoyles, designed to scare away demons or to embody the sin and monstrosity lurking in the human soul, he almost seems to embody the thought that what we may judge monstrous, out of our own fears and prejudices, may actually be good and loving. An interesting thought, right?
All Saints’ Church has two gargoyle guardians on its tower. These fierce protectors are poised and ready take flight and dive bomb whatever demonic threats to the parish’s spiritual stability may lurk in the environs of Irving Street, Worcester, Ma. The church has played host to the Worcester State Chorale performances, and the acoustics for their exquisite singing was breath taking!
The final church has a veritable feast of gargoyles, although some have disappeared mysteriously since first I sighted them. Did they fly away? Don’t blink, then, Dr. Who fans! Originally, the Union Congregational Church but now the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, this building is magnificent. The church has been likened to a scaled down version of Notre Dame de Paris. Not as many gargoyles, but a respectable showing nonetheless. Apparently, the missing gargoyle did not fly off (no Mr. Norell around), but was removed and sold to clear debts (see WT&G story.) The gargoyles that remain are, indeed, something else. My husband and I took these photos early in January, when streams of frozen ice lent the creatures a special beauty. We see that this poor chap seems to be feeling the cold intensely. Perhaps he’s existing multi-dimensionally: here and on Dante’s ninth level of hell. Looks as if he has the satanic wings with which to create the freezing air. He’s clearly not enjoying himself.
Or maybe he’s just guarding the front entrance to the church against the incursion of demons with his pal here.
These are the only churches with gargoyles that I know of in Worcester. If you know of more, please let me know; I’d love to find them. I find it interesting that though the Protestant Reformation slammed the Catholic Church for superstitious, distracting, and gaudy decorations, none of these gargoyle-inhabited churches are Catholic. They’re all Protestant. Go figure – just don’t blink.