As a boy, I was in love with... a house. Is it possible to be in love with real estate? I think so. Like so many romantic interests, a home -- whether lived in, or worshiped from afar -- also has the ability to convey complex and contradictory floods of emotions. Think "attractive liability doctrine" of the law of torts.


Each summer, our family spent quite a bit of time in Newport, Rhode Island. At a distant cousin's place, the eighteenth century Pagoda House (so-called, because of the quirky shape of its roof). But that's another story. Anyways, as we crossed the Newport Bridge each time, to and fro, to and fro, from my vantage point seated in the back of the car I'd look out across the water to catch just a tantalizing glimpse of a small island, right in the middle of the Narragansett Bay, with a massive house built over it. (Much later, I learned that the house is called Clingstone, built in 1904 by a Philadelphian, Mr. J. S. Lovering Wharton.) Year by year, I grew a little older and Clingstone stayed the same: a three story shingle-style beach cottage with 26 rooms, clinging like a stubborn old tortoise to a small outcropping of rock, the miniscule and delightfully named Dumpling Island. Clingstone looks fragile, and formidable. 

One summer, a friend of my parent's who also lived in Newport and shall remain nameless, committed suicide. He was handsome. Successful. Involved in the Arts. We would see him at the beach. I liked him a lot. And then one morning, at Pagoda House, I stood atop the back stairs and listened as the adults whispered to each-other in the kitchen down below. They said something to the effect of: "Last night So-and-so pulled over and parked his car right in the middle of the Newport Bridge, and then..." Afterwards, he wasn't at the beach anymore. Since that particular summer, twenty-five-or-so years ago, there remain 'No Parking' signs, installed the span of the bridge every hundred yards. He deserved a better epitaph.

An August 1904 society item in The Philadelphia Press reads, “Everyone is of the opinion here that Mr. Wharton will not stay in the house more than one season, and they say one nor’easter will settle it.” Mr. Wharton spent every summer there, on Dumpling Island, until his death just before the devastating hurricane of 1938. Clingstone suffered little damage.