WaterFire, the bonfires in braziers anchored in canals running through downtown, kicks off the summer season by honoring the Statehouse centennial. Torchbearers, representing each of the state's 39 cities and towns and the Narragansett, ran from the Capitol to the water, to light the fires May 13. The display borrows from an ancient Athenian tradition celebrating the mythical moment when Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus. The installation, created by sculptor Barnaby Evans, debuted New Year's Eve 1994, and has grown to become a symbol of the redevelopment of downtown. Thousands of visitors, attired in everything from black tie to punk rock and L.L. Bean, turn out for each display of 40 or more fires. Restaurants along the canals join the festivities by setting up outdoor tables and hiring live entertainment. About 500,000 people saw the fires last year. The event, along Riverwalk and Waterplace Park, is augmented by a recorded score of haunting melodies from various cultures and periods of music history.
Tribal leaders say researchers scanning the floor of Block Island Sound for relics of the Ice Age, encroach on tribal grounds. They are angry because they were not notified about the Connecticut-based expedition and that the Mashantucket Pequots are working closely on the project. "If anybody starts digging out there, the Narragansetts will be out there in force," said Chief Matthew Thomas. Researchers used sonar at mid-month to search for lost rivers, coastal camps and mastodons in waters between Block Island and Long Island. The first detailed study of the area raises new questions about federal laws and Indian artifacts. Lands beneath the water are public and there is concern of who would ultimately decide if artifacts are retrieved. While the Narragansett and the Pequots are separated by state lines, they are fewer than 50 miles apart. Artifacts from distant pasts could easily intermingle, said John Brown, Narragansett historic preservation officer. Researchers hope to find outlines of a larger Block Island, which existed before the glaciers melted during a time when one could actually walk to Block Island, said Dwight Coleman, an oceanographer with the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium. High-frequency sonar waves could also reveal the remains of early mammals such as caribou and bison.