Have you ever seen something or someone extremely out of place? A homeless person walking in on a wedding? A horse in a playground? A man in a black suit at a pool party? It’s a strange feeling when it seems so “normal” that you’re not sure whether it’s you who is out of place or the person. Last night we were all in the dining room when a naval officer in full uniform walked in, took the microphone and stepped onto the stage.
On Friday, we had begun our long awaited “Rest and Relaxation Weekend,” with the theme “The Family that prays together, stays together.” We have one of these long, fun, and exciting weekends about once a semester. It was already Sunday night and I hadn’t been too surprised by any of the things we had done, nor did I expect to be surprised in the next and last 24 hours of the weekend. I had just been thinking of this during our normal Sunday night dinner when the navy officer confidently walked in. He was extremely serious, almost too serious for it to seem like a joke. He told us that there was some suspicious “naval activity” happening on the coast of Newport (an island off the coast of Rhode Island) and that certain families of the Newport Mansions were genuinely concerned about this. Then, he said that he needed our help and cooperation to solve the mystery. I’m sure that by then we all knew it was something orchestrated as an activity for the next day, but that didn’t make it any less exciting.
Commander Sires, the officer, asked each of us to come up and receive our “confidential” envelope. We excitedly walked up one by one as our names were called. Each of us read the contents of our envelope, but we were not allowed to share anything until the next morning. The enclosed letter listed a few instructions for the mystery game and then the characteristics of the person we were to portray. I was “James Graham Fair,” a historical member of the affluent Newport society who made it rich in silver mining out west. My family consisted of my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. We eyed each other’s confidential letters suspiciously, but resigned ourselves to waiting until the next day for everything to be revealed.
Monday came but, not everything was clear. All of us were in groups as Newport families: the Vanderbilts, Astors, Berwinds, Olerichs, and Wetmoores. Throughout the day we roamed around downtown Newport in full character searching for clues and trying to debug the mystery. When I say “full character” I really mean “full character.” At one point, my “son” Herman was loudly talking to another person, when ‘he” said “What, my wife!”. Naturally, everyone on the street turned to look at this teenage girl loudly proclaiming something about “her wife”. Sometimes we would have to go into a restaurant or up to a ticket booth and ask for our clues. As embarrassing as it was to do so, the person knew what we were talking about, asked what family we were, and surrendered the clues. Some of us were even instructed to go to certain places to meet other characters of the mystery. The rivalries amongst and within the families generated quite a bit of tension. The clues also caused a bit of confusion and a great deal of thinking. There was a whole ordeal of arranging bank accounts with a person called “MD.” Then, at lunch, we received a note from a person called “PT” warning us to be careful.
The last stop of our Newport excursion was the Newport Mansions. Each family visited “their” home (historically one of the Newport mansions) for the final clue. We all received an invitation to come to the “Wakefield Mansion” for a dinner party. On the way back we decided to work together to solve the mystery. The best that we came up with was that MD stood for “money divides” and that PT stood for “prayer ties.” This made sense to us because the theme of our R&R weekend. However, with the mystery still unsolved, we returned to ICA, looking forward to our dinner party at the “Wakefield Mansion.”
Considering that over half of us had to dress up as men, finding costumes to outfit us was quite the ordeal. Nevertheless, we managed to put up a striking resemblance to our characters with the help of drawn-on magic marker mustaches, pants from our drama costumes, oxford shirts from our winter wardrobes, and blazers. As for the ones who were women, there were plenty of dresses to go around.
The dinner was the highlight of the mystery. The lay consecrated served as our waitresses. Finally the long-awaited moment of unraveling the mystery had come. First, we had to deliver our own conjectures about the mystery. We got the part about money dividing and prayer uniting, but we missed the rest of it. Maria Knuth, our dean who organized it with Renee Pomarico, took the stage and unveiled the mystery behind it all. In the end, M.D. was Mr. Devil who tried to take all our money and to put them into accounts. The account numbers spelled the word DISTRUST. When we were all concerned about our money we began to distrust each other and speculate. PT is a term used by the navy for an unidentified ship in the ocean—a ship often symbolizes the Church.
We were all amazed and relieved to know the answer to it all after so much deliberating and heated discussion. In the end, it was all a lesson of not allowing material things to divide us and of how we need to work together to solve the problem. In short, you could say that the moral of the story was, “the family that prays together, stays together.” Maybe this little motto could have helped those bickering and dysfunctional affluent families of the Newport Mansions. Regardless, it can definitely help us here and now.