The First Road Trip of the Season, Part 2

In the first half of this piece on my first road trip of the season, I took you to a rock, a potato, and a roof ornament. Now we finish up the trip with a visit to three different metal rectangles. Why do you come to this website again?

Poe Street (Providence, Rhode Island)

Edgar Allan Poe visited Providence a good bit while wooing the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. Enough that I was able to devote a whole chapter to the city in Poe-Land. But I never covered Poe Street, on the southern edge of Providence. And that’s because the street probably has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe. But famous Providence native and horror author H.P. Lovecraft didn’t know that. He wandered the street precisely because he thought its name might signal a connection to the literary Poe that whose pagan altar he worshipped at…and since I worship at the altars of both Lovecraft and Poe, I had to, as well. Especially since writing Poe-Land means that I’ve run out of all the major Poe sites to visit, and now I’ll reach for anything. Like a green rectangle with the word Poe on it.

As for the street itself, it’s…strip clubby. In fact, when I put Poe Street into my GPS it insisted on taking me to a place unambiguously called Platforms Dance Club. Ironically, it wasn’t the first time I had to go to a strip club for Edgar Allan Poe. You’ll have to read the Virginia section of Poe-Land to get that story, though.

Skeleton in Armor Plaque (Fall River, Massachusetts)

In May of 1831, a woman named Hannah Borden Cook was digging up sand to use as a cleaning agent, when she found a human skull. Eventually, an entire skeleton was dug up…dressed in brass armor. You’d expect to find something like that in Europe, maybe, but in America?

Some experts guessed that it might be an Old Worlder who came over before Columbus—a Phoenician or an Egyptian or a Carthaginian. Eventually other, more relevant experts were like, um, no, the native Wampanoags did this kind of thing. No need to rewrite world history over some bone and brass.

Still, a skeleton in armor is a fascinating artifact, and it went on exhibit at the Fall River Athenaeum for more than a decade, where it inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who visited the skeleton in 1840, to write a poem about it called, naturally, The Skeleton in Armor (he made it a Viking).


In 1843, the athenaeum burned down, cremating the armored remains inside. Today, the only trace of the skeleton is a plaque on the side of the Liberty Utilities building at Fifth and Hartwell Streets, marking the approximate spot where it was found.

And, honestly, I think the fact that they plaqued the spot is the weirdest part of the story. Well, that, and the fact that Hannah Borden Cook was the great aunt of Lizzie Borden, who did her hatchetwork a mere block away and six decades after the skeleton was discovered.

Sacco and Vanzetti Plaque (Braintree, Massachusetts)

This story is long and involved and I’m only going to superficially treat it here. Basically, on April 15, 1920, near the spot where this plaque is affixed to a rock at the intersection of Pearl Street and French Avenue, a pair of shoe factory employees transferring about $15,000 in payroll were robbed and murdered.

Two Italian anarchists named Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested and charged and, while probably not innocent in general, were possibly innocent in this case. Still, they were convicted and given the death sentence.

But the case got huge. About a dozen cities across the world held protests, celebrities from Albert Einstein to H.G. Wells lobbied for a retrial. All to no avail. On August 23, 1927, seven years after the crime, Sacco and Vanzetti were pumped full of lightning in an electric chair.

Still, many thought that justice had its blindfold on a little too tightly for this one (or maybe it peeked? I don’t know how that metaphor works), and in the ensuing decades many kept investigating and lobbying the case. To the point that in 1977, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis absolved the two men of the crime that unwound their mortal coil.

And that half-century of obsession…is completely forgotten today.

Interestingly, the people who placed the plaque on that rock would hate my summation of the story. That’s because the plaque is not dedicated to Sacco and Vanzetti. It’s dedicated to the victims of the crime, paymaster Frederick Parmenter and guard Alessandro Berardelli, whose names everybody forgot in the fervor around justice for the defendants. Sorry.

And that was the last stop on our first road trip of Fall. Six sites over the course of four hours plus a stop for lunch at a seafood joint—a journey full of stories and fried clams.