Eben Horton’s Glass Float Project has become a thing.
Everybody — almost everybody — wants one, few find one. A total of 550 floats are placed around the island during the year. Most of them are clear, but 19 are colored and one is gold. They are not just treasures to be found. Once in a while they are used to convey a message: a wedding proposal, perhaps.
Of the many walks offered during this year’s inaugural Walking Festival, which started on June 11, one was a walking tour that gave some guidelines on how to find a float. The tours were given by Tourism Director Jessica Willi, and on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon she hosted about 15 people at the Hodge Property on Corn Neck Road.
“This is one of my favorite trails to hide them,” said Willi, who is one of the volunteers on the island who hides the floats.
She was giving some pointers: “You don’t have to take apart a stone wall,” she said. She advised the guests to not walk into the unmowed part of the field at the Hodge Property because there might some poison ivy mixed in with the grass and flowers. Since sometimes the floats are placed just off the trail, it was best to lean over and take a look.
The floats are heavier and thicker than one might think, but they are still glass and they sometimes break. Some are hidden in the crooks of tree branches, and the wind on Block Island can turn them loose. Some people did not see Willi place a glass flat in a tree to demonstrate how they are sometimes hidden, and there was a flutter of excitement through the crowd when they thought they had come upon one.
“Like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said one walker.
Because the floats are so popular, visitors are asked to keep only one a year. “If you find one but are lucky enough to find a second one that happens to be colored, people will put the clear one back,” said Willi.
Glassmaker Horton said he had no idea the floats would become so popular.
“No way! I had no idea that it would become what it is today. When I started the Glass Float Project, I just thought it would be a temporary thing, much like how an artist has an art show… it’s up and on display for a month or two and then it goes away,” he said. “I love seeing what it has become and have to remind people all the time that finding a float (or an orb) is the reward, but that they should also remember that just being on Block Island is a gift in itself. I have hiked hundreds of miles on the island’s Greenway trails, and beaches, and am always discovering new things to see and learn. For those who are pulling their hair out trying to find one, just know that they could find one when they least expect it.”
As the walkers made their way down into the trail, they were greeted by a big box turtle, its head well out of its shell, looking more than a little annoyed.
“A welcoming committee,” someone said.
Willi advised the walkers to look in the same places when walking in and out of the paths, and to not always look down, but to also look up.
The highlight of the walk, however, had nothing to do with the glass floats. When Willi mentioned one specific place they are hidden, in the old foundation of the Ocean View Hotel, which burned down in 1966, she also said the hotel was said to have the longest bar in the world.
One woman then said, “I sat at that bar. I was waiting table there.”
This registered the appropriate amount of respect and amusement from the crowd.
“I’ve never met anyone who has sat at that bar,” said Willi.
“I’m a relic!” said the woman, and the others laughed.