In 1976, the Tall Ships came to Rhode Island for the U.S. bicentennial. My husband had an opportunity to purchase and sell books that had been printed for this event.
The book was called “Tall Ships 1976.” It had beautiful four-color front and back covers. There were sepia pictures and a history of each ship that would be in Newport Harbor. Over 100,000 books were printed. All that was needed was a plan to distribute the books.
Bob enlisted the help of his friend David Doyle, and the two of them put together a point-of-sale plan. Crews of young people were hired to sell the books at all the locations where they felt people would be entering Rhode Island to view the ships. They believed that most people would be coming over the Mount Hope Bridge and were prepared for an onslaught of traffic.
My friend Angela and I had our own book-selling crew, which consisted of her oldest daughter, my oldest son, David Doyle’s two daughters and other neighborhood children. We were stationed at the corner of Boston Neck Road and Route 138, which brought traffic into Jamestown. (That corner does not exist today.)
Who knew! Most of the visitors came through Route 138, and most had to stop at the light. It was the week before the Fourth of July, the 200th anniversary of our country. The teenagers walked miles in the heat selling Tall Ship books to people stuck in traffic.
It was all very exciting, but we were ill-prepared for the amount of people coming to view the ships. There were no cellphones or car phones so we were unable to let Bob and David know we needed help.
After the first day, we regrouped. The crew was larger and stronger the second day. We also realized that we had to leave our homes by 5 a.m. to avoid the traffic.
I truly do not remember how many days we did this. It felt like a month.
On the day the ships departed Newport, we packed ourselves up and secured a ride into Jamestown to see the ships leave.
As the ships began moving, we realized that we didn’t have a copy of the book, and had to ask people around us, “What ship is that?” Sounds a little like the old proverb about the shoemaker’s children.
Half the departing ships went to New York for the Fourth of July and the other half went to the Navy pier in Boston. Angela and I spent the next week in Boston selling books.
Maybe someday I will tell you about being escorted off the Navy pier, or about trying to sell books in Virginia in 104-degree heat. I will tell you this … being used to Rhode Island weather, which usually cools down in the summer after the sun sets, I was not prepared for the answer I received when I asked a person in Virginia, “When does it cool down?” She answered, “Around November.”
May-Ronny Zeidman is the executive director of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center. Your memories of this Rhode Island happening are most welcome; email to Mayronnyzeidman3@gmail.com.