Valley Talks, a series of biweekly historical lectures, starts January 13. All events are free and take place at 1:30pm at the Museum of Work & Culture.
The series will kick off with Richard Ring, who will present one of the major acquisitions the Rhode Island Historical Society has made to celebrate its Rah-Rah Rhody programming theme for 2019: the complete, extant archive of thousands of negatives of photographs taken at the Narragansett Race Track, which opened in 1934 and officially closed in 1978.
“Gansett,” as it was more popularly known, attracted crowds of 40,000 or more, including many celebrities. By 1937, Gansett was the most profitable racetrack in the country, and it became a gathering place for the glitterati of the late 1930s and ’40s: Milton Berle, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, and Alfred Vanderbilt were regulars, as were star athletes like Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. Its creation also sparked the so-called “race track war,” a long Rhode Island story of money, politics, and conflict.
Seating for Images of Gansett: A Brief History of Narragansett Race Track Through Its Photo Archive is limited to 75 and is first come, first served.
Ring is Deputy Executive Director for Collections and Interpretation at the RIHS. He has held positions at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, the Providence Public Library, and the Watkinson Library at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
Other Valley Talks will include:
January 27: Former National Park Ranger Chuck Arning will explore the pull factors that led to the immigration of the Irish to the Blackstone River Valley.
February 10: Baseball enthusiast and vintage ballist Jon Henson will survey the rise of the beloved game in the 19th century.
February 24: Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society President Buster Clegg will screen “When the Reds Ruled the Roost” and take part in a Q&A on the legacy of Rhode Island’s first professional hockey team.
March 10: Writer and historical reenactor Paul Bourget will explain why the battles fought in 1864 were pivotal to the outcome of the American Civil War.