The Super Secret Road To Block Island – The Light At The End of The Tunnel
Well, Spring has finally sprung here in Rhode Island with temperatures climbing into the 40s and 50s. Yee haw, break out the sunscreen, right? I have been more active this week exercise wise so I have been somewhat neglecting my emails and messages regarding this Block Island Super Secret Road or Tunnel or Project Escape or whatever we are calling it. However, last night before leaving work, I received a call from a blocked number and directed it to my voicemail. Pretty standard procedure but in this case, the caller left me a message that I just had to respond to. Paraphrasing a bit, it went something like this: “the lighthouses flashed the go ahead sign, that was part of the process. If you want to learn more, call me.” For privacy purposes, I won’t divulge the caller’s phone number. I will divulge that I called her back and got an earful of information about the role lighthouses played/are playing in the Super Secret Road to Block Island.
In keeping with the process so far, no names will be given so I will just refer to the caller as “Elizabeth.” My great grandmother, who loved a good story and a tough crossword puzzle, would have loved this story. So in her honor, I present the information from “Elizabeth.”
As many of you know from reading this blog and seeing my less than standard chicken scratch doodling, I do the best I can to draw out a situation with my limited artistic ability. Case in point with last night’s conversation with Elizabeth. Instead of writing down every thing she said to me, I grabbed a notebook in my office and just drew it out on paper. This way, I can relay the information to you and you can try to follow along with the cartoon/doodling/attempted artistic piece in the photo above this paragraph. Here is more from my conversation with Elizabeth:
Noel: So, let’s start with where did you get this information from?
Elizabeth: Sure, I was a student at the Block Island School in the 1990s. My parents were Block Island natives, they were born and raised there and then they raised two children – myself and my sister. 12 years, in the same school, can you imagine it? My senior year, I had to do a senior project so I chose the role of the lighthouse operator. Their roles in wars or naval conflicts, fishing vessels that came too close to the shores, the general duties of a lighthouse operator. Pretty fascinating stuff, right?
Noel: Well, they do perform a necessary service to the boating community, fisherman, the ferries, etc. So go on.
Elizabeth: Right, my Dad was a charter fishing boat Captain so I knew all about the roles of the lighthouse and the sea’s rules, and blah blah blah. Anyway, I chose to interview the Block Island Lighthouse operators at the North and South end of the Island. The South end is the famous one that is near the Mohegan Bluffs, the one that moved, there was a big media presence here when that happened. The North one is the one in your reporting, the one past Settlers Rock at the north end of the island. Where the seals hang out, yes I have visited that spot a zillion times in my lifetime.
Noel: Yeah, that’s a great spot. So you have this senior project and your assignment was to research and interview the roles of the lighthouse workers.
Elizabeth: Yes, so I found the South operator to be very helpful. He had a ton of information about the historical aspect of his role and he was a fountain of information about the historical roles of lighthouse workers my project. The North Lighthouse operator was a bit more withdrawn and mysterious and not a people person whatsoever. He was very short with me and often very cryptic in his answers.
Noel: Did he have long white flowing hair and a cape and a cane? I’m just picturing maybe an eyepatch or something.
Elizabeth (laughing): You are not too far off, except for the long hair. He was a short haired, grayish hair, beard, no eyepatch, no cane older man, honestly just eerie to be around. Like he had a secret or secrets that he didn’t want me or anyone else to know about. So I met with this guy twice and had a notebook page and a half of data to process and write up for my project. Prior to finalizing my project, my notebook was on the kitchen table next to a tall glass of milk and some cookies. I left the room, my dog jumped up on the counter and knocked my milk over to get at the cookies there. The milk spilled onto my notebook and ruined the ink and notes for my project.
Noel: Bad doggie, did he get the cookies?
Elizabeth: No, I screamed and he jumped and ran off under the table in the living room. So, my notes from the North end guy were gone. So, I hopped in my car and drove out to the parking lot where you and your wife parked with your dogs. It was a windy day so I put my notebook into my jacket and braced the wind and the sand whipping in my face. When I got to the lighthouse, the front door was open. I yelled up to the man, nothing, no response. I had been there before so I walked into the main room and yelled again. Again, nothing, no sounds, no response. Just stepping back for a bit, the two previous times I met with the North end guy, he met me at the door and escorted me directed into his office. So, the two previous times, I didn’t notice that the foyer had a decent library. A library filled with books about the sea, the ocean, 10,000 Leagues, those types of books. I started reading the titles of the books and found one that I had never heard of – Project Escape.
Noel: There was a book written about the secret tunnels in the lighthouse? Did you take the book?
Elizabeth: No way, my parents didn’t raise me to steal things. But since I was there, I pulled the book from the shelf and opened it. It wasn’t a novel, it was more like…a manual. A system of some process, a how-to booklet. It contained photos, architect’s drawings of a tunnel from the main land, I was guessing Newport or Narragansett or Westerly since they faced us. There were pages about what to do in an emergency, how to address questions about the tunnel, sort of public relations 101 type questions and answers. I know this now because I run a PR firm here in Norfolk, VA.
Noel: So, this manual. It laid out the tunnel project and everything? What was the connection to the lighthouse?
Elizabeth: So the manual explained that in order for a passenger to travel through the tunnel, both sides of the tunnel’s exits would need to be opened. There was a photo of a hut or shack with a lock on it. If a Block Island tunnel traveler was heading to Narragansett or Newport or wherever, the lighthouse operator was to flash a series of light codes to alert the lighthouse operator on the other end. Like Morse code or something you would see in a WWI movie. Once the signal was confirmed by a relay message, both lighthouse operators would then travel down to the tunnel exits/entrance shacks, unlock them, and open the tunnel doors. Then, go back to their respective lighthouse and flash the “go” series of light codes.
Noel: Wow, this must have been an eye dropping discovery for you and your project. Did you take notes or just read?
Elizabeth: Well, about 10 minutes after I started leafing through the pages, I got startled by a noise from the top floor of the lighthouse and hurriedly put the book back where I thought I pulled it off from and ran out of the lighthouse all the way back to my car, then all the way home. My heart was racing like never before and I felt kinda strange for a day or two after that. Plus, I dropped my notebook somewhere in the process, so was really batting 1000 at that point. I waited until that weekend to phone the North lighthouse guy because I still needed to redo my interview for my project. He picked up after a ring or two and agreed to meet me later that Saturday. When I arrived at the lighthouse, he greeted me at the door and escorted me directly to his office. I peeked in the foyer for the Project Escape book, but it was gone. And believe me, I scoured those shelves looking for it. It was gone. He knew someone had took it off the shelf, and I was freaking out that he thought it might be me.
Noel: So, why didn’t you get out of there and maybe go back with your dad or your sister?
Elizabeth: I love adventure and you are right, I could have been in a heap of danger. I was 17 and wasn’t really thinking about that. We didn’t have a lot of crime on the island, I didn’t grow up with that in my DNA. I trusted people, to a fault sometimes. The lighthouse guy answered my questions that day just as cryptic as before. When I was done he walked me out and asked me never to come back, then slammed the door in my face. He knew it was me, he just didn’t do anything about it. I never found my notebook by the way.
Noel: So did you ever tell anyone? Like your Dad, did you ever tell your Dad?
Elizabeth: After I finished my project, I did tell my parents what I saw. My parents both laughed and said it was probably a fictional book, like 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea. My Dad even joked “10 miles of Tunnel Under the Sea.” That they had lived there on Block Island all their lives and had never seen nor heard any such nonsense. I mentioned it to a few of my friends at keg parties over the years but many of them had no interest and pretty much told me that it was not a real story, it was a figment of my imagination.
Noel: So what made you reach out to me then?
Elizabeth: The man you and Rachel met and spoke to at The Oar? The man who rode the tunnel the first time, like the professor had mentioned. The man in your story about Anna, the one who went through the tunnel and save that girl’s life. The man named Brewer? He is real and I know him, I’ve known him all my life. He was my father’s business partner in the charter fishing boat.
Noel: Holy shit, wow.
Elizabeth: No names, I am sure you can trace me back to that boat if you can find it. I gotta go now. Nice chatting with you and good luck with the rest of your story. Project Escape is real.
With that, “Elizabeth” hung up. I walked out to the parking lot, started my car, took a few deep breaths, wrote down a few thoughts, and called Rachel to tell her about my conversation. Another piece to this very interesting puzzle has just be found.
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