An 18.5-acre island in Narragansett Bay off Newport, Rhode Island, Rose Island allegedly received its name due to appearing like the shape of a rose at low tide. Fortifications were constructed during the American Revolution on island due to its strategic location at the entrance to Newport Harbor. British and colonial soldiers alike used the island to defend Newport. From 1798 to 1800, the U.S. government began constructing Fort Hamilton but never finished it.
The U.S. Navy stored explosives during World Wars I and II as part of the Navy Torpedo Station on Rose Island. The government stopped using the land after World War II (except for the lighthouse) and declared it government surplus. Today, the only inhabitants of the Torpedo Station are three species of snakes, plus thousands of nesting birds that are protected by the State. The stone barracks from the fort still remain. Many of these buildings are in danger of collapsing and is considered unsafe for visitors to explore in or around them.
Designed and built in 1879 by Vermont architect, the Rose Island Lighthouse served as an aid to navigation for a century. It stands atop Fort Hamilton’s former South Battery on the southwestern point of the island, replacing a private light maintained by the Bristol Steam Boat Company. A brick oil house was added to the station in 1912 along with a brick fog signal building that was placed on a rock just west of and below the lighthouse. Lighthouse keepers were not paid well. They sometimes had to develop creative ways to feed their families, growing crops and caring for farm animals who sometimes wandered from the lighthouse grounds into the military compound, much to the officers’ annoyance. Keepers also battled rough weather conditions.
The Rose Island Lighthouse narrowly avoided destruction on August 7, 1958 when two tankers collided in heavy fog near Fort Adams and burst into flames. The Graham floated dangerously close the lighthouse, forcing the keepers to flee from the intense heat. However, the tide and wind turned and took the ship away from the lighthouse. Eighteen men from the two ships were killed in the incident.
It was abandoned as a functioning lighthouse in 1970 and vandalized after the Newport Bridge was built nearby. In 1984, the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation was founded to restore the dilapidated light on behalf of the City of Newport who received it for free from the United States government. Today, visitors can spend a night as a guest or a week as the "lighthouse keeper," completing many of the chores required to keep the lighthouse in good condition for a fee.
It is believed the island does not only hold the ruins of its military influence. Newport was known for its epidemics of diseases such as influenza, smallpox, and cholera. The Fort Hamilton barracks were used as a quarantine station during a 1823 outbreak of cholera. Victims of these epidemics along with military men who died in Newport are believed to inhabit a number of unmarked mass graves. In the late 1800s, witnesses reported "ghouls" stealing bodies from the island in the name of medical research. However, today, no one knows where these bodies are located. But one old military cemetery was uncovered in 1938 during construction of a water tower. Several human skeletons were found wearing Civil War-era clothing along with various artifacts. The remains and artifacts were placed in a large metal box and reburied in an unknown location on the island. Could such stories aid to Rose Island's haunted status?
Guests have reported hearing disembodied voices, witnessing doors slam before their eyes, and having unexplainable feelings of depression. One ghost rumored to dwell in the lighthouse is Keeper Charles S. Curtis who served thirty-one years (1887 - 1918) at Rose Island. Overnight guests claim to have heard him walk down the stairs at midnight, as was his custom in life, and make a thorough inspection of the facility. He often makes a brief stop in the kitchen before returning upstairs. Curtis' grandson, Wanton Chase, was sent to live with his grandparents on the island in hopes the salty air would improve his health. Years later, Chase was instrumental in restoring the lighthouse to its former 1912 self. This included assembling an antique kitchen wood stove from memory. Unfortunately, the keeper at the time managed to put the stove together before his arrival. When Chase stood before the stove, he saw something he wasn't expecting, the ghostly image of his dead grandmother Christina Curtis. This was followed by the smell of sugar cookies.