The irony and incongruity of Oak Bluffs is simply delicious, not just today but over the years. It’s ironic to live in a town where the Polar Bears are black, for example. I’ve made a reasonable effort to discover the name of the person who coined the title of one of the Island’s most newsworthy beach groups via telephone, email and social media to no avail. The oldest members do not recall, and a few current participants believe it to have been adopted from the original group in Coney Island formed in 1903. They believe it healthy to swim in the Atlantic Ocean from November to April and on New Year’s Day. That is of itself incongruent with our Polar Bears who, while ending the season on Labor Day, may perhaps take a dip around Columbus Day — like Caroline Hunter — but after that, more is required than devotion to health.
History may define our new roundabout that replaced the Island traffic light as an icon of irony. Another inextricably bound with the roundabout would be the statue of the Union soldier across from our police station. In 1891 we accepted the statue as a gift from Charles Strahan. It was placed at Farland Square near today’s information booth that was used as a fountain and a “roundabout.” It had a sign that read “West bound cars go to the right, blow your horn” until 1930, when it was moved to its present location and replaced by what was to be our only traffic light. Arriving unpainted, the zinc statue was inexplicably painted gray in 1980 until 1999, when Dave Wilson’s sharp eye noted it was a Union soldier and it was restored and rededicated in 2001.
Charles Strahan — incongruently a former Confederate soldier — was the publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Herald, which began life as Oak Bluffs’ first newspaper, the Cottage City Star. The Cottage City Star was founded in 1879 — ironically with the express purpose of helping Oak Bluffs secede from Edgartown, which we did more successfully than the south was able to. Indeed, Mr. Strahan acquired the paper in 1885, five years after we became independent, changed the name a year later and sold it in 1900. Coming to the Vineyard for his health, Charles A. Strahan’s purpose in gifting us the statue was to salute the brave who served and died in the Civil War. At the rededication in 2001, according to the Vineyard Gazette, the Rev. John P. Streit from the Cathedral Church in Boston said, “This monument was proposed not as an attempt to justify or rationalize the cause many in the South fought for. We should be clear from the beginning that this monument is not about excusing or explaining the grotesque and inhuman system of slavery. This monument was conceived and built as an icon of healing — as a testament to our nation’s need to come together again in spite of all the killing, all the casualties, all the destruction that both sides endured.” Charles Strahan died at age 91 in 1931 and is buried with his family in Oak Grove Cemetery.
Congratulations to Oak Bluffs’ Harvard professor Charles Ogletree who will receive the Frederick Douglass Human Rights Award in Washington next Thursday evening. The Frederick Douglass Awards are presented to individuals and organizations identified as leaders in the fight for human and constitutional rights in the criminal justice system, those who believe that being faithful to our democratic values means extending the same rights to all people.
Anne Patrick says Stephanie Brown is the new Cottager chairperson for the publicity and public relations committee.
The roundabout is looking quite citified and civilized, what with the directional signage, plantings and iconic street painting. I am waiting for it to get a little worn and shabby with use — it’ll fit in better, ironically enough. I still think a fountain in the center would be cool though, unlike the Sand Theatre which defines incongruent.
Alas, the Corner Store has closed for the season and Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery closes tomorrow. It is easy to predict a long line for when Back Door Donuts closes tonight. Sigh — it’s going to be hard to ingest as many calories at one time as an apple fritter until April’s reopening.
Keep your foot on a rock.