RHODYLIFE

A caravan of colorful strangers

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Narragansett Park had operated as a horse racing track since the summer of 1867 when the venture was financed by Amasa Sprague II. In 1886, the mile-long speedway for light harness racing was purchased by the Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry to be used as the grounds for the State Fair. In the years that followed, many public lectures boomed over the site and crowds gathered to watch people, horses and bicycles induce racing excitement. And then … gypsies arrived.

It was the summer of 1923 when a caravan of colorful strangers motored into town and set up camp within the old race track. Before long, residents who lived in close proximity to the area were complaining to town officials. The noise coming from the site was irritating and unbearable.

They learned the gypsies were coppersmiths and had come to Cranston with the intention of founding a company in Rhode Island. They had already secured a project for a Providence textile plant and had trucks pulling up to the field daily, hauling large tanks and vats and necessary materials which they were housing in the structures contained within the park.

The hammering went on incessantly and neighbors became increasingly perturbed by their sudden lack of peace. However there was nothing they could do but shut their windows as they discovered the wanderers had gone through the proper legal channels and signed a lease on the property.

While the male members of the caravan worked with their tools throughout the day, the females saw great advantage in the curious who showed up to see what was going on. Many of the visitors consented to having their fortunes told which brought an additional income to the group.

Those who were not curious, merely aggravated by the entire situation, were happy when the gypsies’ contract with the Providence firm was completed and they decided not to remain in the area. Perhaps as a result of not feeling welcome, they decided to move their venture to some place in New York with more wide-open spaces.

The traveling gypsies had earned thousands of dollars from their summer of coppersmithing and when their lease on the old track expired on Oct. 1 of that year, they pulled up camp that very day. The neighbors had their peace and quiet back until 1928 when the Narragansett Speedway was constructed on the site. The din of hammers against copper had been replaced by the revving of motorcycles preparing to race.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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