R.I.’s weirdness highlighted in new podcast

R.I.’s weirdness highlighted in new podcast

Sara Corben, of Pawtucket, is the person behind Weird Island, a podcast on all things weird in Rhode Island.

PAWTUCKET – In February, Pawtucket resident Sara Corben launched Weird Island, a podcast on all of the strange things that occur in this tiny state.

Corben said she began the podcast as a creative project for herself after being an avid listener of podcasts throughout the pandemic as she worked from home. She said she wanted a creative project to work on herself.

“I started with a lot of crime and murder podcasts and I got to this point where I was like, I can’t listen to any more stories about people disappearing or being murdered. I have terrible anxiety. I need to listen to something else,” Corben said. “And so I started listening to a broader range of stuff and kind of got really inspired by what people were doing with the storytelling.”

“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing but I’ve spent so many hours listening to podcasts at this point, so that’s some sort of experience, right?” she added.

Corben said she wasn’t sure the exact topic she wanted to create a podcast about but got the eventual inspiration from her father who is very interested in topics that other people rarely are. When she asked her family what she should start a podcast about, he told her about how Providence has so much history, such as being home to the first sprinkler system.

Corben said she said to herself that while she may not make a podcast on sprinkler systems, she took the idea of Rhode Island being a state with weird historical stories and ran with it.

“I just started looking for weird history and weird stories in Rhode Island, things that you may not have learned in school or things that you didn’t know, and basically picking topics that I thought were interesting,” she said. “The scope is weird history, weird stories, a lot of Rhode Island.”

When she first started the podcast, Corben said she compiled an excel sheet of story ideas found through Google searches.

“As I’ve gotten more listeners, that list has doubled or tripled because people write in. I probably get an email a day of an idea,” she said. “It’s really expanded my knowledge of the state. People have so much knowledge about something that I’ve never known about and that’s really the best thing about it.”

While Corben said she didn’t think she would get many listeners, she’s been happy with the growth she’s seen.

“My ideal listener is myself,” she said. “This is something I wish existed so I was just making episodes that I was interested in and thought that if I was interested in it, someone else probably would be too.”

Out of all of the places Corben has gone to through the past months of starting the podcast, she said that one of her favorite places to visit and learn about was St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center, an old church that has been turned into an art center in Woonsocket.

“When you think of places to visit in Rhode Island, you don’t necessarily picture Woonsocket, to be honest,” she said. “I worked there for a few years and always thought it was full of all these hidden treasures that you could drive by every day and not know they were there.”

When Corben found the St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center, she discovered that the church was covered in frescoes, a technique of mural painting. She said the church was funded by its members and an artist used the members of the church as inspiration for the frescoes.

“So there are 425 people up on the walls and they are real people with real stories,” she said.

One story that stood out to Corben was about how when the artist was painting the frescoes, he had seen a beautiful young girl he wanted to paint as one of the angels in the church. When he asked for permission to paint her as one of the angels, she said no.

“So he became friends with her family and memorized her face and would go home and sketch her face and secretly paint it into the mural, which is really just a neat story,” Corben said.

Corben’s weirdest experience, she said, was when she visited an abandoned train station on the border of Pawtucket and Central Falls that she always drove past and thought was beautiful, but it was always fenced off.

She said she then went by it one day and it was not fenced off, so she decided to go in.

“There’s definitely a lot of people that are living there and so I didn’t want to be in their space,” she said. “But there was actually one girl who took me all around and showed all of the beautiful places in there and she was so incredibly kind.”

Corben has not made an episode about the abandoned train station yet but said it will be coming.

Weird Island is available through Apple and Spotify.