In Episode 277 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger head to South Kingstown, Rhode Island, to check out a rock and 40-foot observation tower named after Hannah Robinson, a broken-hearted woman who once sat here in 1773 to take in the view of her childhood home one last time. They say her ghost still haunts the rock, but her story still haunts us all.
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JEFF: Up here at the intersection of Bridgetown Road, and Tower Hill Road, there’s a parking lot.
RAY: Yup, I see it. Right across the street from Dunkin Donuts.
JEFF: So we’ll turn in here at Tower Hill Park in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.
[CAR STOPS, DOORS OPEN AND CLOSE]
RAY: This is a small parking lot. There’s room for maybe 25 cars or so. The most obvious feature is a tall wooden tower in the corner of the parking lot. It’s maybe 40 feet high, made of wood, and there are stairs that lead to the top. We should head up there and see the view!
JEFF: We will! So near this tower there’s a rock—a boulder really, where long ago a young woman sat forlorn looking out over the land toward the water. Estranged from her family over the man she loved, this rock and tower still bear the name of the broken-hearted girl who once sat here. That story is what brings us to Hannah Robinson Rock and Tower.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 277 of the New England Legends Podcast.
JEFF: Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We do that through this podcast, our Web site, our super-secret Facebook group, our free smart phone app, and the New England Legends television series that you can watch on Amazon Prime right now. We just added Episode 1 of Season 2, where we explore the Bloody Pit, better known as Hoosac Tunnel in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I’d love it if you’d give it a watch.
RAY: Before we check out Hannah Robinson Tower in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
JEFF: Ray, ‘tis the season for holiday parties, gift giving, and thinking about stocking stuffers.
RAY: Thankfully, Nuwati Herbals has us covered. Their Christmas Tea and Berry Christmas soaps are flying off the shelves. You can buy them separately or together as a gift set. I’m picking up a few of the gift sets for those emergency gifts you need to keep on-hand.
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. There’s a roadside landmark named after a broken-hearted woman?
JEFF: There is. It’s funny how a legend can be so powerful that we create a park, pave a parking lot, build a 40-foot tower, and name a place after this woman all because of a tragic story.
RAY: I’m guessing most people don’t even know the story. I don’t. I’ve never heard of Hannah Robinson. My first guess was that this tower must be named after some prominent local historical figure.
JEFF: Which is still true to a point. She was prominent in that she came from a wealthy family. Her beauty was legendary. But she didn’t build communities, orphanages, or any of the other things that cause us to name landmarks after people. Hannah’s tale is so tragic it was worth a park that forces us to learn more about her, and see that even though almost 250 years have gone by, her tale could have been written yesterday.
RAY: Then let’s head back to 1770 and meet Hannah Robinson.
RAY: It’s the fall of 1770, and 24-year-old Hannah Robinson is getting ready for her dance lessons.
JEFF: Hannah is beautiful, and comes from a wealthy family. She’s so pretty, that men get tongue-tied around her. They can’t help themselves. At balls and other social gatherings, potential suitors try to woo her with poetry and compliments, but Hannah’s heard it all before. She finds the wealthy men in her life dull and boring. She’d rather play with her spaniel dog, Marcus, then listen to men fall over themselves to talk to her.
RAY: But there IS someone Hannah doesn’t find dull or boring.
JEFF: Who is that?
RAY: Her dance instructor, Peter Simon.
[STRING QUARTETT DANCE MUSIC]
RAY: Peter was born in France, but came to America to start a new life and to find his fortune. He’s young, handsome, charming, and can dance like no other man Hannah has ever seen.
[Un, deux, trois, quatre, un deux, trois, quatre…]
RAY: Pretty soon, Hannah is smitten.
JEFF: And so is Peter. Who can blame him? She’s beautiful, she’s rich. What’s not to like?
RAY: Hannah is taking as many dance lessons as she can fit into her schedule. Hannah’s mother is also taken with Peter’s charm. She convinces her husband to hire Peter to come to their Boston Neck home on Narragansett Bay, and offer private instruction to Hannah and her sister.
JEFF: Pretty soon, love blossoms between Hannah and Peter. However, Hannah’s father would never approve of the match because Peter is poor.
RAY: Still, the dance lessons continue, as does their secret courtship. Hannah often drops loves notes out of her window down to the lilac bush below. Peter then sneaks up to the bush and retrieves his notes.
JEFF: More weeks, more dancing, more notes, more sneaking around, and then one day Hannah drops another note from her window….
[RUSTLING IN BUSHES]
JEFF: And just as Peter sneaks up to retrieve his note…
[What’s going on here!]
JEFF: Hannah’s father catches Peter by the lilac bushes. He’s furious! Hannah tries to explain that they’re in love, but her father won’t hear it. He forbids his daughter from ever seeing Peter the dance instructor again.
RAY: But this was NOT the end of Hannah and Peter’s love affair. A few weeks later, a ball was being thrown at nearby Smith’s Castle. Hannah and her sister plan to attend. Hannah’s uncle, William Gardiner also knows of the ball, and of Hannah’s predicament. William likes Peter Simon very much. And he can’t stand to see his niece so broken-hearted, so William tells Peter which night Hannah will be riding through the woods toward Smith Castle.
[HORSE CARRIAGE RIDING]
RAY: And Peter takes care of the rest.
RAY: Peter jumps out of the shadows, snatches Hannah from the wagon, and the two lovers ride off to Providence to get married in secret.
JEFF: Back at Boston Neck, Hannah’s father fumes when only one of his daughters returned from the ball! He disowns Hannah then and there. AND he knows she must have had help. He demands to know who betrayed his wishes. But everyone holds their silence.
RAY: Back in Providence, Hannah is happy to be with the man she loves. Though her father disowned her, Peter assures his new bride that this will all blow over and they will be welcomed into the family.
JEFF: But Mr. Robinson is stubborn. He won’t hear it. Weeks turn to months, and soon it becomes clear that Hannah and Peter are on their own.
RAY: But when you’re in love, nothing else matters, right?
JEFF: That’s true to a point. But poverty is not much fun. Plus… something is wrong with Hannah.
JEFF: She’s ill. Pretty soon it’s clear… she’s got consumption. Tuberculosis is brutal and ravaging parts of New England right now. Hannah is just its latest victim.
RAY: And Peter, it turns out, now believes that poverty isn’t for him. He thought he’d be in a wealthy family by now, instead he has an ailing wife and no fortune.
JEFF: Rumors circulate that Peter is seeing other women. And as Hannah’s health declines, Peter’s patience runs out. He runs off. Hannah is left alone and sick.
RAY: Word reaches back to Boston Neck where Hannah’s father softens. He sends a letter to his daughter saying if she simply tells him who helped her escape their family and elope with Peter, he’ll forgive her, and let her come back home. But Hannah refuses. She doesn’t want to betray her uncle, plus, she’s still angry with her father.
JEFF: More months pass. It’s now late October of 1773, and Hannah is near the end. Plus, her father no longer cares who betrayed him, he just wants to see his daughter again. So he rides up to Providence with Hannah’s old dog Marcus…
JEFF: …to keep her company on the ride back.
[HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGE]
JEFF: Mr. Robinson retrieves his daughter, and starts the journey back home. It’s October 29th and 27 year-old Hannah is riding south with her father toward Boston Neck. But Hannah is now gravely ill.
Ray: As the carriage approaches the hill that overlooks Boston Neck and Narragansett Bay, Hannah asks her father to stop the carriage so she can go sit on a nearby rock and admire the view of her childhood home.
RAY: Hannah sits for a while soaking in the view, but soon the autumn air is too cold for her to bare. Too weak to walk on her own, Hannah’s father helps her back to the carriage, and they finish the ride back to their home.
JEFF: Back at the Robinson family home, Hannah settles into her bed chamber. She’s weak, and her breathing is labored.
JEFF: It’s October 30th… when 27-year-old Hannah Robinson draws her last breath. The family tells their servants it was the consumption that killed her. But those close to Hannah say she died of a broken heart.
RAY: Hannah is soon buried in the family plot in South Kingston, Rhode Island. Her dog, Marcus, can’t stand to be without his master once again, so the dog sits by her graveside for days until he too passes away. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: This rock here by the tower has been called Crying Rock, Sad Rock, and Meditation Rock. And the tower was built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
RAY: I can see the rock over there.
JEFF: Some believe Hannah’s ghost still haunts the rock.
RAY: This story is haunting for sure. Should we take a walk up to the top of the tower?
JEFF: We should!
[WALKING ON WOODEN STEPS]
RAY: Wow! What a view! I can see Narragansett Bay. There’s the Newport bridge off to our east. There’s Jamestown. This is a great view.
JEFF: And if we look that way, to our northeast. About a mile and a half out is Boston Neck Road, and the Robinson’s former land. And the Robinson family grave can still be seen at Rowland Robinson Burial Lot which is Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Narragansett Number 13.
RAY: Lucky 13. I’m amazed that this tower and lot would be named after a pretty, rich girl who had her heart broken. No offense to Hannah Robinson, but wouldn’t there be some local civil servant or war hero who might be more deserving?
JEFF: We can always argue over who is most deserving of landmarks and monuments, but I like how this one is tied to a story that’s so relatable. We’ve all had our hearts broken at some point, but Peter Simon is a special kind of jerk. He marries her for her money, and when he doesn’t get that, and when she’s sick, he up and leaves her alone.
RAY: I feel like there’s some historical Hallmark movie in here somewhere.
JEFF: Yeah maybe… except some stories, like Hannah Robinson’s… don’t always have happy endings.
RAY: We always remember tragedies with or without rocks and towers.
JEFF: So true. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into the story and quite often veer off course.
RAY: After the Legend is brought to you by our Patreon Patrons! For just $3 bucks per month our patrons get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Plus, they directly support us, which means a lot. We’re grateful to everyone who helps us with our hosting, production, and marketing costs. If you can help us out, we’d appreciate it if you head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
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We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.