While You Were Out

Summer in the Ocean State

by Megan Hauptman & Rick Salamé

Illustration by Casey Friedman

published September 18, 2013

Like migratory birds that move with the seasons, many of our readers left Providence for the summer. We know you were busy preparing policy briefs, reading from slush piles, making documentaries and nostalgically communing with your childhood cat, but PVD waits for no one. Here’s what you missed while you were out.

Virgin. Mary. This Summer. Sort of. Providence, we have been blessed by the presence of her majesty. Maybe. The world’s oldest virgin appeared as a stain on the cross of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in North Providence this summer. Go check it out over on Mineral Spring Avenue and see for yourself.
     North Providence resident Brian Trambowitz was the first to discover the Marian apparition as he drove past the church one evening late this summer. Trambowitz claims that the weathering of the metal on the cross is in the shape of the Virgin Mary and that the image “jumped out” at him as he passed by, according to The Valley Breeze. Other parishioners quickly began confirming Brian’s sighting and, with the help of local talk radio host John DePetro, the good news spread far and wide—wide enough to cause major traffic jams in the area as the faithful flocked en masse to witness the miracle, necks craned and eyes squinting in the early August drizzle. But not everyone is convinced, even among the community of believers.
     An August 12 statement by the Catholic Diocese of Providence says that the Church finds it “highly unlikely” that the image is “the result of divine intervention.” God, they said, often works through “ordinary means.” But it’s not clear that “ordinary means” excludes the possibility of the divine.
     When you put bread in a pan it ends up being toasted. But maybe we can never really know if the heat caused the toasting or if something else unseen and unperceived made us our snack. Philosopher Nicolas Malebranche thought that God was the real cause of all things. Probably including toast. So maybe it was really the hand of God that put Mary’s face on Diane Duyser’s grilled cheese sandwich back in 1994. And maybe God weathered and stained a metal cross in North Providence. We just can’t tell you these things for certain because the Catholic Church didn’t approve Ms. Duyser’s apparition either.
     For now the Church recommends that you just attend mass regularly.—RS

On June 20, Providence’s City Council voted 11-1 to pull the city’s investments from oil and coal companies, making it the 16th municipality in the country—and the first state capital—to divest from fossil fuels.
     The passage of the bill is due in part to Fossil Free RI, a local group formed in April that seeks to make Rhode Island more environmentally friendly. The group, made up of a handful of students, climate activists and concerned citizens, introduced the idea of city divestment to council member Yurdin, who then wrote the Providence proposal, using language from a similar resolution promulgated by, a major national climate change organization. Besides urging local politicians to adopt divestment policies, Fossil Fuel RI is trying to start up student divestment campaigns at CCRI, RIC, and URI (Brown and RISD both have active fossil fuel divestment campaigns underway). Eventually, they hope to get the state of Rhode Island to cut its investments in fossil fuel companies.
     Divestment strategies took hold in climate change circles last fall when several universities organized campaigns to get fossil fuel investments dumped from their universities’ endowments. The student campaigns have by and large been hampered by bureaucratic roadblocks and administrative politics. Six small, politically liberal schools have passed resolutions to remove their money from fossil fuel investments in the past year, but despite the enormous numbers of students riled up about this issue, most universities, including Brown, have stalled on making this decision. Which makes it all the more impressive that in an even shorter period of time, 18 cities have voted yes on similar resolutions, including Madison, WI, San Francisco, CA, Boulder, CO, and Portland, OR. Most of the cities that have adopted divestment policies could also be lumped into the “crunchy-green-granola-eater” category but even so, the quickly growing roster of cities indicates that some politicians are more willing to take a stand on climate change than administrators of universities that pride and sell themselves as places for the politically engaged and socially responsible.
     Even President Obama, not generally on the cutting edge of environmental activism, encouraged young Americans in a June 25 speech at Georgetown University to “Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”
     Or, in the more vernacular phrasing of Brown Divest Coal’s 2013 Spring Weekend tanks, “It’s getting hot in here, so divest all your coals.”—MH

“I AM PROVIDENCE,” reads HP Lovecraft’s unassuming gravestone, tucked behind the Phillips family obelisk in Swan Point cemetery, right off of Blackstone Boulevard. The inscription, taken from one of the writer’s personal letters, is a fitting epitaph for a man who spent all but two years of his life residing in, roaming around, and writing about Providence. His short stories, mostly horror and science fiction, often take Providence as their setting; amorphous monsters and contagious madnesses lurk in the streets of his stories, just barely contained beneath the city’s quaint streets and civilized veneer.
    Lovecraft fans often bemoan Providence’s lack of interest in its horror writer-laureate, but this summer Lovecraft has been honored prolifically in his hometown.

    On July 17, the Providence City Council voted unanimously to name the intersection of Angell and Prospect St. “HP Lovecraft Square,” kicking off a summer of Lovecraft love.
     On August 22, a exhibit celebrating the life of HP Lovecraft opened at the Athenaeum, coinciding with the start of Necronomicon, a four-day-long Lovecraft convention that featured academic panels, walking tours, movie screenings, concerts, a costume ball, and something called the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast. Necronomicon, heralded as the largest convention of HP Lovecraft fans ever, came to life at various locations throughout the city, including the Biltmore, Lupo’s, the Ladd Observatory, and the First Baptist Church. WaterFire that weekend was also Lovecraft themed, featuring eerie music and a torch-lit procession of Lovecraftian creatures and their devotees, including a 16-foot bulbous, tentacled Cthulhu, built by Big Nazo puppeteers and Steel Yard artists.
    WaterFire also partnered up this summer with Brown’s Public Humanities department to develop a virtual Lovecraft walking tour, The Call of Lovecraft, which is accessible for free as a mobile phone application. The tour connects Lovecraftian history and elements of the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” to the physical buildings of Providence, using “augmented reality to bring the sites to life,” says Paul Margrave, the program manager for the application. If you want to experience Providence as both Lovecraft and his protagonists might have seen it, this may be the virtual mobile tour for you.
     Devotees came from all over the country to pay homage to Lovecraft, and to the city that played host to his fantastic and creepy creations. Wilum Pugmire, a horror writer who flew all the way from Seattle to attend Necronomicon, said in an interview with the Providence Phoenix that he hoped to get some Lovecraftian inspiration from his visit to Providence, planning midnight walks through “areas near to the Biltmore, stalking beside the river and contemplating the things that swim and crawl beneath the water.” Necronomicon, which celebrated Providence as well as HP Lovecraft, reminds us that even 76 years after the author’s death, Providence still remains a holy grail for lovers of the weird.—MH

Check out: The Shadow Over College Street exhibit at the Providence Athenaeum, open until September 22. Download: The Call of Lovecraft mobile virtual tour for free at