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But nearly everyone knows the legends: Its eight pillars and fieldstone cylinder are the work of far-roaming Vikings, or Chinese explorers, or Portuguese noblemen, or Knights Templar from medieval Scotland. Or, more widely accepted, the tower is a 17th-century windmill put up by Colonial Governor Benedict Arnold, great-grandfather of the infamous Revolutionary War traitor.
According to a Danish researcher, the answer seems to be none of the above. Instead, Jorgen Siemonsen told the Newport Historical Society last week, the tower appears to have long-veiled Masonic roots that evoke a Dan Brown-style mystery more than rampaging Norsemen on a trans-Atlantic road trip. And not by Vikings, Siemonsen said, even though the pull of that possibility has lingered for generations in a city where the high school nickname is the Vikings, the Hotel Viking is a landmark, and Viking Cleaners will launder your shirts and blouses.
Circumstantial evidence, Siemonsen said, points toward the fledgling Freemason movement in Rhode Island and a well-connected, English-trained architect who found work among the rich and famous of Colonial Newport. That architect, Peter Harrison, laid out an octagon summer house in the mids for Abraham Redwood, a wealthy Newport merchant, Siemonsen Newport telling date.
That geometric form, closely associated with the Freemasons, is mimicked in the eight pillars of the tower, a little more than a block away, that Siemonsen speculated Harrison also deed. However, recent visitors to the tower were unsure what the soil was telling them. Bob Cahill, a tourist from Uxbridge, Mass. John Weintraub, a Newport resident who was sitting on a bench reading a book in the shadow of the tower, guessed that Native Americans were the builders.
In Newport, the Viking mystique gained adherents beginning in the late s, when a Danish archeologist advanced a theory that the Dighton Rock, which had long baffled scholars, bore the name of a Norse adventurer carved in runic letters.
Siemonsen, however, has moved past the Viking link. The carbon testing does not support the myth; the site has not yielded any Norse artifacts; and the notion seems far more romantic than realistic. But letting go of a legend, even an outlandish one, will be hard. Everybody likes to have something intriguing right downtown. But for Michael Remillard, an interested observer from Bellingham, Mass. To underscore his point, Remillard even offered a date: Nov.
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Ten days on has Newport's lockdown worked? And what effect has it had on the city?