Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conrad's Cave

It wasn't so long ago, in a place not too far away, that a cave once existed. Conrad's (or Conrad, as one source admonished me) Cave was one of those attractions during the Victorian Age and located in the world famous cliffs of Newport, Rhode Island. The cave's name most likely was derived from a character in the ballet "The Corsaire" (Pirate), which was first produced in 1837, and in turn, was based on the 1814 poem by Lord Byron. In the romantic story, Conrad did indeed have his cave!

But just where did Conrad have his cave at Newport remained somewhat of a mystery. An old atlas had it one block south of the famed Forty Steps. GNIS data, slightly farther to the south in an area out in front of Salve Regina University that is sometimes known as "Cave Cliff". By the early part of this decade, I was already quite familiar with sifting through historical documents, and just getting into antique images, that I decided to make a go of it. It was also around this time, Boston Grotto had a parallel interest and visited a site out in front of, and just slightly south, of the University.

History provided a couple written references (most notably: 1892) to the Cave, but mostly just a passing mention as to one of the sites on your things to see while visiting Newport. There are countless postcard views of the Cliffs and certainly there are a few showing what appear to be a recess - or recesses - within those cliffs. But which one - if any - was Conrad's? Inquiries to more modern authorities only yielded a small, near illegible blurb, about past visits to the site and how, by approximately the 1940's, the trail to the cave had become too dangerous to traverse.

Slowly, over the last couple years, a few clues began to trickle forth. In what was the earliest recorded reference to date that I've found, was the mention of Conrad's in the immediate vicinity of Ellison's Rock. The source was a set of pen and ink drawings done of the Newport area and published in 1848. It was a much easier task to locate Ellison's as the famed Forty Steps makes it's descent to this rock. Another modern day source surface through an eBay dealer selling a postcard view looking out (south) from the Forty Steps and (in the dealer's own words) looking out, and over, the former site of Conrad's Cave. However, the clincher came in the form of an antique piece of photography - a stereoview - showing a rocky cave entrance by lesser know Newport photographer F. Kindler, probably done during the 1860's. And the title? "Forty Steps and Conrad's Cave, Newport, R. I."

So in going back and looking over several old postcards, an entrance - or part thereof - can be seen in that section of the Newport Cliffs. In present time, at low tide, the approximate area does hold a slight shadowy section in the cliffs. The area is heavily riprapped and contains large gravel deposits. A remembrance to Conrad and his Cave.

A circa 1870 view of the Newport Cliffs

This article originally appeared in the Northeastern Caver