I had the pleasure of foisting my viewpoint upon a captive audience at a recent meeting of the Providence Netopian Club. For the uninitiated, which is surely almost everyone, Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, the father of religious (or “soul”) liberty, was greeted upon his arrival here by members of the Narragansett Tribe, who declared, “What cheer, Netop?”
“Netop” means friend in the native tongue and “What cheer” was an old English phrase of greeting. So it appears that Roger Williams met bilingual Indians upon his arrival. But that is no surprise. He knew them already and had learned their language and no doubt taught them his own. (Williams actually paid for the land on which he founded Providence.)
Hence, the Netopians, who were meeting at the Wannamoisett Country Club in East Providence. Warren Lutzel, who had the idea of inviting me, greeted me warmly and showed me two etchings of the Providence Opera House, once located on Dorrance Street where today the East German Embassy (that is, the Johnson & Wales library) sits coldly on the site of the Narragansett Hotel, which was demolished in 1960 to make way, it turns out, for a couple of decades’ worth of parking. Broadcast House (now the library) was erected in 1979, which, along with its nickname, tells you all you need to know about its appearance. I call it the East German Embassy, though my former editor Robert Whitcomb, recently retired from the Journal, retains title to its coinership.
Anyhow, the etchings were just sitting there on a couch, looking pretty, so I snapped their picture. They are by Harold Guenther Breul (d. 1965), of North Providence, and they are entitled “The Opera House in Days of its Glory” and “Last Night of the Opera House.” The first shows men in top hats arriving at the Opera House in carriages drawn by horses; in the second motor cars of a certain age are trundling down Dorrance past the building. It’s rare to find etchings of this high quality anymore, so feel free to feast your eyes. Warren Lutzel says he has more of these, and if he is able to get them to me, I will get them to you.