By Tom D’Agostino
The Black Duck was originally a rum-running vessel that smuggled liquor into Newport Harbor in 1929 during Prohibition. The Coast Guard was furious over the incident, yet Rhode Islanders found it to be a comfort in the “dry time” of the twentieth century. In fact, many places in the Ocean State refused to recognize the era of prohibition to the extent that in some cases, alcohol flowed freely in various hotels and pubs.
The Coast Guard eventually caught up with the Black Duck on a foggy night and open fired upon its decks, killing three out of the four crewmen in the process. The unwarranted action created a mob in the streets and no Coast Guardsman was safe from being attacked. This incident brought national attention to the area, eventually leaving the White House to deal with the situation. The surviving rum smuggler went to trial but was acquitted by his peers.
The present Black Duck was a bed and breakfast that sat on Pelham Street above Newport Harbor. The house was built in 1898 as a duplex but was later converted into an inn. It stood vacant for two years before Mary Rolando purchased it in 1994. She renovated the decaying structure into a charming destination point that sat most welcoming among the other historic homes on Pelham Street. At first gaze you get the immediate impulse to enter the quaint seven guestroom inn. Once inside you will find it hard to leave. Don’t worry, it seems a few spirits felt the same way as well.
The phantoms of the manor mostly loved to play with lights and deadbolts. There was one unknown spirit who liked to turn radios on. One time all the alarm clocks in the guest rooms went off at the same time. Mary related that guests have told her they heard talking in the rooms next to them when the doors were open and the rooms were visibly empty. Mary even heard the ghostly voices just before one Christmas while tidying up a room. She was alone in the house when suddenly she heard a low mumbling voice near her. She said, “It was so low at first, I was wondering if I was actually hearing what I thought I was.” The voice got a little louder, then faded into space.
Another common occurrence was that of ghostly footsteps in the rooms when they were otherwise empty. The footsteps happened at all hours of the day and night. The distinctive clopping of the ghost was easily distinguishable between the unearthly sound of her ghost walking about the building and guests who have graced the halls of the old inn. Mary did not know who the ghosts were. She only knew that they are very friendly and have never harmed or frightened anybody. Arlene and I had the pleasure of staying at the inn one weekend and found it to be quaint and warm. Although we did not experience anything paranormal, it was quite obvious why the spirits would want to remain in the home. The building has changed hands and name since but has still maintained its presence as an inn. As for the ghosts, book a room and find out for yourself if the permanent residents still tenant the old inn.