Today I did something completely out of my comfort zone. Maybe if I knew how far out of my comfort zone it really was, I wouldn’t have done it. AT ALL.
I read in our local newspaper that the Miantonomi Tower would be open to the public today to celebrate Veterans’ Day. Caroline had told me about it from when her husband had been stationed here to go to school, and she’d taken the kids to the playground at Miantonomi Park to kill time one day. Her older daughter looked up and saw a tower peeking through the trees, so Caroline and the girls went on an adventure to try to find this elusive tower. After several minutes of hiking through the woods, they finally reached the tower — only to find out it was closed.
Her older daughter still talks about the “princess tower,” because really, what’s a tower if there isn’t a princess inside?
I decided to check things out for myself today and take advantage of the tower’s opening to grab some shots that I wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. That’s one downside to living in Rhode Island — it’s flat. Its highest elevation is 800 feet! When we lived in Washington, you had to scale a hill at least a hundred feet high to get into my neighborhood. It was easy to find high points to take photos from.
This is Miantonomi Tower as we approached it from the car:
Not so bad, right? We had to scramble up through the trees to approach the tower. It didn’t look that steep — till we were halfway up. Come to find out, there’s an easier way to approach the tower, but we like to do things the hard way.
Finally we get to the tower and head inside. The old gent manning the door told us there are a hundred steps to the top, but that he was sure even Grace would make it just fine. He handed us a pamphlet and bid us on our way.
We raced up probably 75% of the way. The steps were large and concrete, and we paused just for a moment to peer through the windows cut into the stone walls.
Then the line stopped. I hadn’t realized how busy the tower would be, and there are only so many people that can be on the top at once.
It was then that my fear of heights started to kick in.
It didn’t bother me to look out the window, and I actually felt better when I was near enough a window to look out. But in between those times, as we waited for our turn for the next fifteen minutes or so, I panicked.
The iron railing along the concrete spiral staircase was rusted. Grace kept lunging towards the railing, and I could just see her falling several stories and landing on concrete. Kurt kept leaning nonchalantly against the railing as well because he’s fearless. Kids would lean out over the railing to see how cool it was to look down all the way to the bottom.
My heart was pounding and my chest was so tight, I could hardly breathe.
I distracted myself by reading the pamphlet the old gent at the bottom had given us:
The history of Miantonomi Hill goes back to the days when it was the seat of power of the Narragansett Indian chieftains. Other phonetic spellings of the name shows its Indian origins: Tonomy and Wanomitonomo.
Colonial settlers used the hill for a lookout, for public executions, and for beacons. By 1667, a beacon had been established on the hill. In 1776, another beacon was established on the hill to “give the country an alarm in case of invasion.” At this time, the fortification on Miantonomi Hill was constructed.
In 1881, the site was purchased by Anson Phelps Stokes and remained in the family until 1921 when Mrs Stokes sold it to the City so that the historic area could become a memorial to Newport men who died in “The Great War.” In deeding the property to the City, she stipulated that the premises should be for the free use of the the public forever.
An act of the General Assembly gave control of the park to the Mianotonomi Park Commission. This developed the site and dedicated as a war memorial on Armistice Day, 1923. In 1929, the Memorial Tower was erected and dedicated on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of RI.
I finished the pamphlet and realized I hadn’t seen the worst yet.
We got to the very top of the concrete staircase — only to find a very narrow iron spiral staircase that was the only way to get to the deck of the tower. It was so narrow that the volunteer at the bottom of the stairway had to coordinate with the volunteer at the top how many people could ascend and when. We waited for probably five minutes before it was our turn to go up — and in that five minutes my level of panic increased exponentially.
I really didn’t think I would be able to climb the iron staircase, but somehow I did!
Unfortunately the weather refused to cooperate. It was gloomy and overcast, and the colors just weren’t popping like I like them. However, it was neat to be able to walk all the way around the tower and see for miles and miles around. We were supposed to be able to see all the way to Block Island, but I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at, and I think I missed it.
Getting down the iron staircase was infinitely worse than going up. I had to keep looking down to see where I was putting my feet, and it freaked me out that much more. But finally I got my feet on solid ground, all the way back at sea level. It took probably twenty minutes for my legs to stop feeling like Jello. I was incredibly grateful for the park benches down at the playground.
This is the staircase we went up, looking from the bottom all the way to the top. You can just see the iron staircase in the very center of the spiral.
Now if that’s not freaky, I don’t know what is. But I DID IT!!!