Harvard Notes By Jeff Benitz

Overlooking the Atlantic coast, protecting Narragansett Bay is an abandoned
fortress called Fort Adams.  It is in Newport, Rhode Island not far from the
Naval Warfare College.  The first time I was there was for a Newport folk
music festival.  It is the same place they have the Newport Jazz Festival.  A
friend and I were there for the music, but more interesting, as one sat on the
parade field listening, was the overgrown, gloomy, granite fort.  It was like a
castle forgotten by history.  After discussion we decided we would come back
to explore it on a different day.

It was risky business since it was government property and there were signs
threatening immediate arrest to trespassers.  Armed with flashlights we
climbed carefully over the barbed wire fence.  Fort Adams is one of the
largest fortifications of the old system of defense.  It covers 6 acres and has
an extensive tunnel system and many casements.  It was built in 1824 and
slowly wound down after WWII.  A development of military housing ensued
with the decommissioning of the fort.  Then nature took over and began to
reclaim its land.  For spelunkers or archaeologists this place was a
grown-ups jungle gym.  Over time, and with it an hour and a half from Boston
and I would return again and again, with girlfriends and friends over the years.

The first time Steve and I went there we realized just how extensive the
fortification was.  There were deep tunnels to explore.  Layer after layer of
corridors with rifle slots.  The first wall that faced outdoors was 6 feet of
granite 40 feet high with slots to shoot out of.  In that black corridor there
were rifle slots from a second corridor behind it, in case the passageway was
invaded  by enemies.  All sorts of secret passages.  There were large rooms
with arched brick ceilings that had been officers quarters or meeting rooms.  
You could see the plaster on the floor and the turquoise color painted on the
plaster before it collapsed from the ceiling.  The parapets had a few cannon
still left overlooking the bay.

The deeper we went underground the more tunnels we found.  There would
be stone staircases that would disappear into flooded tunnels and we
considered returning with SCUBA gear.  The water looked awful filthy though.
 We encountered  brick doorways sealed off with cinder block and considered
coming back with sledge hammers to break through.  There were broken
beer bottles and trash everywhere in these dark hallways.

With a number of explorations the curiosity only grew.  Working at Harvard at
the time I decided to see what I could find out about Fort Adams.  It led to a
visit to the archive of the Army Corps of Engineers where I was able to find
the original government architectural blueprints for the fort.  I was able to
comb through documents written by hand with a quill pen, that were nearly
200 years old and looked like they were written yesterday.  They were from
engineers and government employees citing how much stone had been
procured, the cost, how many employees were constructing the sight, etc.  
Most important, there was the layout of the fort.

I discovered there was a "redoubt" a 1/4 mile away from the fort with a secret
underground tunnel connecting it to the main fort.  A redoubt is a fall back
miniature fort designed to defend the position in case it is overrun.  I also
found out about tunnels that went 100 yards deep under ground used to
store ammunition.  Armed with this information Steve and I returned to Fort
Adams.

The redoubt was difficult to find, even with blueprints in our hands.  A grass
overgrown bluff, once climbed revealed the structure.  There was a dried up
moat surrounding it and dropping the 10 feet down into the moat full of
pucker brush and vines we were able to cross it and climb up into the
fortification proper.  The draw bridge had long ago rotted away.  It was some
work to climb back up into the fort and I think we found some rotted wood to
lean against the entrance and shimmy up it to get in.  The stone building was
pretty intact and like a gazebo but larger.  I don't think the partiers had found
this place.

The most important find was the ammunition tunnels.  We were getting more
bold with each visit.  Now instead of arrest for trespassing we thought we had
a good argument for our exploits since we had historical paperwork in our
pockets.  We didn't drink or do drugs so there would be no alarms for
authority there. We figured at worst they would take down our names and
kick us out.

The ammunition tunnels went way underground.  They were red brick
corridors about five feet high with a curved top.  One had to bend way over to
walk in these passageways and they were only shoulder wide.  There was
white niter hanging as stalactite from the the arches.  Going deeper and
deeper underground the air got stale.  We brought extra batteries for this
expedition.

The most exciting find was when we reached the end of the tunnels there was
writing on the brick, some in pencil, some in white chalk.  Bored soldiers who
had been stationed there since 1824 had written short poems or others had
written their home town and the time of their station in Newport.  One could
look at the history of American servicemen written in their own hand.  They
were from Kansas, Tennessee, Vermont, everywhere as the country
developed.  From pre- Civil War through Korea.  Most I would imagine long
dead.

As a fan of dark literature I returned again and again.  In subsequent visits I
would bring a kerosene lantern and Edgar Allen Poe, no easy thing to
negotiate over the fences.  Crawling down into the subterranean tunnels I
would unfold some newspaper to sit on and read E.A.Poe out loud for hours
at a time.  My friend Steve would take off to explore more of the fort.  He
thought it was creepy to sit in the tunnel and read Poe.  There was a scary
echo to reading out loud in those tunnels.  It was so dark and damp it
seemed to suck away the light from the lantern.  The sound as it went up the
small cave seemed to drain away life.  And the writing from Civil War soldiers
was staring down at me listening.  Their script on the wall clear as day.

Continuing our adventures we were up on the parapet forging our way
through chest high grass.  We found some cannon aimed toward the sea.  
We could see where others had been, ones updated on concrete pads with
railroad track circles so they could spin.  There were a couple of sink holes in
the soil that indicated a cavity underneath.  Dropping our way back down to
ground level we were trying to find out how to get to them.  As we walked in
an outside corridor about 30' wide and 40' high, defined by granite blocked
walls with rifle slots, it was hard to find our way to where the sink hole led.  It
was part of the coiled entrance to the center of the fort.   Steve suddenly
yelled, "Ticks".  Shaped like the Pentagon we were pretty far into this
designed entrance and I asked him, "What he meant?"  He said, "I'm covered
with ticks!"  I looked down at my trousers and saw I too was covered with
ticks.  Ticks are bad news, it's where you get Lyme's Disease from.  In fact,
Lyme's Disease is named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut where it was
first discovered.  In New England it is a serious matter and quite difficult to
deal with even if you discover you have it.

We immediately began to pick the ticks off our pants and socks.  My count
was 23.  I said to him, "I've never found more than three on me when I've
been out in the woods or brush this is crazy."  After deliberating a moment I
told him I was stripping down to do a full search.  He said, "What if someone
comes?"  I told him, "I don't give a tinker's damn".  In the number of years we
had explored Fort Adams we had only encountered one person. I pulled off
my clothes; t-shirt, sneakers, socks and pants. We stood in the July sun in
our white underwear.  I checked my skin first and then proceeded to turn my
clothes inside out.  There was the occasional tick to be found.  In the process
of this some people appeared.  Steve and I were facing each other a number
of feet apart looking in both directions down the 200' granite corridor.  I said,
"Oh S... there are people coming!".  He turned around to look and by then
they had seen us and ran back around the corner of the wall.  He looked
back and saw no one and said, "Very funny".  We continued to clear our
inside-out clothes and then I saw four heads peep around the corner and
said, "They're back, they're looking at us".  When he turned again they had
ducked back behind the wall.  He told me to, "Stop horsing around ".  I said I
wasn't joking but he didn't believe me.

When you are in such isolated areas like abandoned railroad stations or
weird empty factories where you can see somebody is living, you must be
careful.  If you explore an old subway line don't be surprised if you run into a
dead body or worse, someone that may be deranged.  You must be on your
guard.

Well, after these first two strikes the four people decided to walk out and
toward us in the corridor of the fort.  There was no where to go and the
situation looked bad.  Pulling my Buck knife from my pant pocket, dropping
them, disregarding the "tick check", I held it folded in my hand. I stood in my
starched white underwear, waiting their approach.  It would probably take 60
seconds before they could reach our position and in that time I tried to
convince Steve that we had company.  He refused to be fooled again and
didn't look back, picking away at his ticks.

Finally he heard their voices, looked back, and realized I had been serious.  
He unnoticeable went for his knife.  They more or less brushed passed us
without trouble but I couldn't resist an explanation.  I said, " Hey, avoid the
upper parapet because it is full of ticks"  " That's what we're doing here is
getting the ticks off of us."  I will never forget one of them said, "Yeah sure!".  
To this day I still laugh my ass off when I think about it.  There was no
reasonable way to explain the situation, it was simply ridiculous.

The good news is Steve and I did not get Lyme's disease.  The bad news is
Fort Adams has turned into a State Park (which is good news in terms of
preservation) so there is no more free reign to explore it.  You can take tours
but I doubt you can get as far into the caverns as I used to with friends and
books.