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Rhode Island
A Genial History

Jacket: Paperback
Pages: 304 pages
Publisher: New River Press (RI) (April 2005)
Genre: History

About the authors: PAUL F. ENO has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor in Rhode Island for over 25 years. He has worked on the staffs of the Providence Journal, The Observer, and the former Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times. Since 1985, he has written over 100 articles on Rhode Is­ land history for the Rhode Island Historical Society. This is his second book with a Rhode Island historical theme. He has won awards for journalism from the Rhode Island Press Association and for historical writing from the Rhode Island Historical Society. Under another "hat," he is an internationally known expert and speaker in the field of ghosts and the paranormal, which he has researched since 1970. He is the author of four books on that subject, and has appeared on the Discovery, Travel, and History Channels. He lives in Woonsocket with his wife, ]ackie, and their two sons, Jonathan and Benjamin. Visit the author's website.

GLENN V. LAXTON is community affairs director for Channel 12 Eyewitness News in Providence. He has been a television and radio news reporter for 40 years. An Emmy Award winner, he holds the Silver Circle Award from the Academy of Arts and Sciences for 25 years of television experience. He is the author of many articles on Rhode Island history, and is considered an authority on the early 20th century comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. He lives with his wife, Linda, in Pawtucket. They are the parents of six children and have two grandchildren. Visit the author's website.

Review:  Growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island, I was always fascinated by the historical mysteries that this state held. As an undergraduate student studying American History, I learned many of the details about Rhode Island that I craved as a boy. But in all of my forty-six years, I’ve never been able to sate my desire to know more. Quite by chance last month, author and well-known media personality Glen Laxton dropped me a line, and in chatting back and forth, I learned of his and Paul Eno’s excellent book, Rhode Island: A Genial History. With my curiosity piqued, I was thrilled to return home from work shortly after we spoke to find a copy of A Genial History tucked inside my mailbox.

Between the covers of this book were some of the best and least known stories of our past. For instance, many of us who know of Rhode Island’s history are familiar with Thomas Wilson Dorr; “one of the most praiseworthy yet tragic figures Rhode Island has ever produced (120). And of course, because I grew up in Cumberland, I learned a thing or two about William Blackstone, the first European settler in Rhode Island; who made his home on the banks of a river that now bears his name (28).

But while these tasty bits of local history are interesting in and of themselves, Eno and Laxton have made things so much more stimulating by digging up some of the more obscure bits of our small state’s history one could imagine. For instance, did you know that Benedict Arnold was a Rhode Islander? That’s right, he was - but he's not the Benedict Arnold you're thinking of. Rhode Island's first governor was named Benedict Arnold and it was his great grandson who would fight valiantly for the colonies only to become infamous for his treason.

Or, how about the fact that there was a time when Rhode Island “almost became the center of the world”? During World War II, the United States had 150 radio-monitoring stations operated by the FCC’s Radio Intelligence Division (263). Of these highly classified stations, the most important site was located in North Scituate near the summit of Chopmist Hill. Reception was so good here that virtually any radio signal, of any strength, could be intercepted. Activities at the site were so secret, that many reports are classified to this day.

So, how does this put Rhode Island at the center of the world? Well, shortly after the war ended and some of the exploits of the Chopmist Station became public, Scituate Councilman George Mattson persuaded the Town Council to invite the newly forming United Nations to set up operations there in order to take advantage of the site’s “phenomenal potential for ease of international communication.” A site visit was conducted and members of the search committee were amazed naming this one of the top sites in New England and probably in the United States. However, events transpired to steal our thunder. Land in New York with easy waterfront access was donated to the United Nations and like a puff of smoke; Rhode Island’s chance to be the center of the world disappeared.

As our authors point out so well, it is the most obscure parts of our history that often make for the best of tales. In Rhode Island - A Genial History Eno and Laxton have pulled together some of the best true-life stories I’ve read in years. Can I say that my appetite has been sated – of course not. Like any good writer or chef, Eno and Laxton have left me craving for so much more. I anxiously await the next course!

— Reviewed by: Tim McMahon


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