Excitement filled the soft summer evening long before the first lantern was lit in the Camp Ground on Wednesday night. Runabout children with glow sticks and the constant flash of cameras created a parade of lights as early as 7:15 p.m. at the Tabernacle, where a large audience had already gathered. The growing crowd seemed almost to be in competition with the stunning summer weather as to who could deliver the best performance.
“This crowd wanted to sing, and they came prepared to do so,” declared Community Sing director Bob Cleasby. “They really seemed to want to take in the whole event from start to finish. It was really a great crowd.”
The really great crowd had assembled in the Camp Ground to celebrate the Grand Illumination, by long tradition an evening of music and thousands of twinkling lights.
The Vineyard Haven Band and Mr. Cleasby led a robust, patriotic Community Sing that preceded the traditional ceremonial lighting of the first lantern.
The high honor of torchbearers this year went to Russell and Sally Dagnall. Mr. and Mrs. Dagnall have owned family cottages in the Camp Ground for 53 years, but their family histories in this place extend back to the early 1900s on both sides.
Mrs. Dagnall is the author of multiple books pertaining to the history of the Camp Ground, including Circle of Faith and The Story of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting. Mr. Dagnall is a past president of the board of directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. Both have led the cause for preservation in the richly historic Camp Ground, including in recent years the restoration of the Tabernacle.
Mr. and Mrs. Dagnall said in their short speech that they give back to the Camp Ground because it has given each of them so much joy in the past. The two summered in family cottages as children, which provided the opportunity for them to meet. The couple only days ago celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. Not surprisingly, the wedding took place in the Tabernacle.
Mr. and Mrs. Dagnall’s story encapsulates the love and magic that are so easily felt in the Camp Ground and no time more than on Illumination Night with its beautiful lanterns, folding fans, and parasols — and most importantly the amazing family histories that dwell in the cottages.
Almost directly behind the Tabernacle a light blue and yellow cottage has a swinging sign that says Bannon’s Haven. The cottage stood out among the countless glowing dwellings due to a massive hand-painted lantern that hung at the head of the front walkway.
The wrap-around porch at Bannon’s Haven was adorned with a collection of delightful hand-painted lanterns, each one with a story.
Since 2002, Amy and Peter Bannon have collected and displayed lanterns created by their five children: Kelsey, Sophie, Leo, Rory and Keegan. Amy Bannon, mother of the five fantastic artists, pointed to one of the few store-bought lanterns and explained: “We used to have a bunch of these, but we’ve managed to steadily replace them with the kids’ creations.”
Many of the lights were striped and spotted with colors of the rainbow. Others bore contoured images symbolic of this communal event unlike any other.
A lantern that read UMASS in red and black swung lightly on the side of the house. The oldest Bannon child, Kelsey, attended the University of Massachusetts.
Perhaps the most famed of the Bannon lanterns swayed on its hook in front of the display. Rory was the one to bring home the Jaws lantern last year, but he actually brought home much more than that.
“Rory came home earlier in the day and said, Dad, guess what? Bill Murray is going to come by later to see my lantern,” explained Mr. Peter Bannon. “We said, sure, Rory, but sure enough, that night at Illumination, Bill Murray strode up to the house and asked, so where’s this lantern?”
Rory recounted his celebrity story with enthusiasm and took time to give the artist’s perspective tour of his 2011 lantern — an orb inspired by the Beatles.
The finishing touch on the Bannon porch bore the name Keegan on it. Keegan died last year, and the family made the lantern in his memory. Mr. Bannon gestured to the display of lights with a sweep of his hand. “This is all a tribute to him,” he said.
And Bannon’s Haven was not the only cottage with a special glow.
Nearby the Moore Cottage, an 1872 addition to the Camp Ground currently owned by Mike and Joann Maitland, attracted a crowd of gawkers with its enormous parasol that occupied the face of the cottage. The intricate, deep red parasol was brought to the Moore Cottage from China in 1980, and has made an annual appearance every year since.
Under the larger-than-life parasol hung the latest addition to the Maitlands’s lantern collection. Ornately designed and meticulously painted, the homemade lantern blazed with warm light and pictures of a beloved family dog. The red and gold lantern required sawing, painting, assembling, string work, bead work, printing, and polishing, and was a surprise gift from Mr. Maitland to his wife.
“It took a lot of time and pleas to not read my e-mails,” he said. Mrs. Maitland beamed as if she was hearing the story for the first time.
And as darkness fell and children danced around Trinity Circle twirling their glow sticks, another Grand Illumination came to a close.