Things to do in Newport

Get Out!: Free, fun and socially distanced things to do

The weather is changing, and we’re sick of being quarantined, of being inside, and we want something to do. Right? Well, here are a few socially distanced and unique activities to add to your spring bucket list.

Are you even a Rhode Islander if you haven’t paid a visit to Mercy Brown’s grave? A famous “vampire” who has been featured on notable podcasts such as “Lore,” Mercy died young of tuberculosis after her mother’s and sister’s death of the same disease. When Mercy’s brother turned ill, townspeople and the town physician exhumed the family members’ bodies to test the theory that the dead were feeding on the living boy. Skeletons were in the graves of Mercy’s mother and sister, but Mercy’s 9-week-old corpse was undecayed. So, the logical conclusion was that she was a vampire. They burned her heart and liver, mixed the ashes with water and had her brother drink it to cure him of his own tuberculosis, but yep — he still died. This is a weird local piece of lore, and I highly suggest paying her grave a visit. She’s located in a quaint cemetery in Exeter at 467 Ten Rod Road that belongs to the small church on its grounds. Be respectful during your visit – there are many family plots here. (Also, I’m looking to start a band called ‘Rhode Island Vampire Panic,’ – I play no instruments, can’t sing, and cannot read music. Hit me up.)

And, speaking of famous Rhode Island residents, if you haven’t been to Lovecraft’s grave, it’s in Swan Point Cemetery off of Blackstone Boulevard in Providence. Fun fact? The headstone that currently marks his grave was not there when he died — fans raised funds in the 1970s to purchase it. And whether your pilgrimage is for history or fandom, please remember that Lovecraft was increasingly problematic and though we tend to claim his as our own, he’s got a deep-seated history of racism and misogyny. 

Let’s step away from cemeteries and into the movies. Moonrise Kingdom, one of Wes Anderson’s best films, was shot throughout the state. Although many of the film locations are private (eg, Suzy’s house, the church where she and Sam are married) a few are public. First are two beaches that were used for the film, both located at Fort Wetherill State Park (3 Fort Wetherill Road) in Jamestown. One of the beaches appears in the scene where they run away from their parents and pitch their tent for the night, the other is where “Moonrise Kingdom” is written into the sand in the film. The other public space you can visit is the Point Judith Lighthouse, which is used for multiple shots throughout the film. I recommend getting takeout from one of the clam shacks nearby and eating it in your car in the lighthouse’s parking lot. Maybe ponder some of the themes of the film? I mean, what is love, really? Seems the perfect convo for clam cakes and lighthouses. 

One of my favorite random Rhode Island facts is that in the year 2000, Hasbro decided to celebrate Mr. Potato Head being from Rhode Island by installing 37 life-sized (maybe a bit bigger) and themed Potato Heads around the state. No one knows what happened to all of them, but 21 years later, you can still find a few around the state. The easiest one to get to is in the parking lot of Hasbro’s headquarters (he’s currently wearing a mask, so no risk of Mr. Potato head COVID-infections). I’ve seen the Fourth of July potato appear in Bristol.  I’ve also seen one in Warren at the Dunkin Donuts located at 670 Metacom Avenue. There are a few others rumored to be out there, such as a Betty the Elephant (who I just learned about!), Ms. Potato Head in Chepachet and a glamorous mosaic-esque potato at the Westerly airport. There are said to be fewer than 10 hanging around after 21 years, and they’re not always out – so take this one as a big challenge. How many can you find? What condition are they in? And remember: Don’t trespass just to high-five the spud.

One of my absolute favorite stops is The Newport Tower, which is in a grass field near the art museum in downtown Newport. No one knows with certainty the history of the tower. In fact, I’d argue this is one of the most controversial buildings in all of Rhode Island. Carbon dating shows the structure was built between 1635 and 1698, and there is speculation throughout Rhode Island about what this tower is about (it was built by pirates, it was built by the templars, it was built by aliens … okay, I haven’t heard that last one but let’s start a rumor). It’s fascinating and a truly beautiful structure to behold. Think of it as Rhode Island’s Stonehenge. Next to the tower is the Newport Tower Museum, where you can find a gentlemen who has a theory on what the tower is, and it’s fascinating. 

And last, but not least, head to Providence to find public art that you may not have noticed or known about. I recently was walking through downtown and stopped to really look at the Gun Totem in front of the Federal Courthouse. This 3,500-pound statue was made from more than 1,000 reclaimed guns by artist Boris Bally, and I’ll bet you’ve seen it, but never really looked at it. 

Please note that a few of the things on this list welcome the public, but are still on private property, so be smart here, and don’t be a jerk and trespass.