Summer’s Last Hurrah

This week marks a distinct turning point in the Vineyard calendar with three events that are indeed considered the cornerstones of an Island summer, all falling during this third week of August. A full moon is on the wane and beaches are dimpled with the footprints of visitors and Islanders alike who walk the shoreline to take in one last blood-orange summer sunset, one last swim in the clean, bracing ocean water. Labor Day is two weeks away and so the summer runs out like sand in an hourglass. But between now and then there is plenty left to enjoy.

Grand Illumination

Tomorrow night as darkness falls thousands of paper lanterns, some a century old, will light up the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs, a place that is rich with history and one of the Vineyard’s many treasures. At the turn of the century it was a gathering place for religious revivals which marked the Island’s beginnings as a summer resort. Tomorrow night an honored member of the Camp Ground family will light the first candle for the first lantern and the one hundred and thirty eighth Illumination Night will get under way.

And for all the people (including the old editor) who speak often of how much the Vineyard has changed and changed for the worse, there is something reassuringly the same about Illumination Night. A search back through the files, thick with yellowed newspaper clippings that faithfully record the event each year, turned up the following account written by the late Joseph Chase Allen in Nineteen Fifty Seven:

“There was no solemnity. There was no orator to stand on the platform and warn of either spiritual or political disaster that is staring the world in the face. There were no beards to conceal the smiles of men of all ages, no high necks to choke off the smiles of women, and no frightened children sitting stiffly and silently. In fact there was very little dignity, as dignity is generally understood and the bones of John Wesley may well have spun in their grave like a pinwheel on the Fourth of July.

“But there was rollicking good nature, and a reminder of most of the good that there was in the ‘good old days’ . . .

“The oldest inhabitants strolled slowly away from the Tabernacle, viewing with due reverence the twelve-foot illuminated cross and all that it stands for, but saying to himself that what this country needs and has needed for a century, is more Illumination Nights, just like this one.”

Ho for the Fair!

The one hundred and forty seventh Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Livestock Show and Fair begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Agricultural Hall on the Panhandle Road in West Tisbury. The theme of this year’s fair is Homegrown Favorites, which seems quite fitting considering the renaissance of small farms now under way all across the Vineyard. For four days the fairgrounds will be jammed with an array of events including livestock judging, the popular dog show, woodsmen competition, skillet throw and oyster shucking contests. On the Island side of the midway there will be gustatory delights and many booths of local interest; on the carnival side there will be cotton candy, vertigo-inducing rides and teddy bears to win for those who are either smart or lucky enough, or both, to outfox the carnie at his game.

And for a few short days the center of West Tisbury will be the hub of the Island, the fairgrounds outside the agricultural hall aglow after dark as a fiddle contest warms up and local bands take the stage and fairgoers dance on grass trampled earlier in the day by goats, sheep and oxen. All roads lead to the fair.


Friday night the annual Oak Bluffs fireworks display takes place over Ocean Park, and if ever there was a fitting end to summer, this is it. Free and open to all, the event is as simple as it sounds: bring a blanket and a cooler (no glass bottles, please) and the kids and spread out on the lush green grass of the park that is the jewel in the town’s emerald necklace for an old-fashioned August evening under the stars. Sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association, the fireworks also run entirely on donations, so when the firemen come around with the can, please give as generously as your pocketbook allows. In addition to paying for the fireworks, the money goes to scholarships each year for graduating seniors at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

So to all its readers near and far the Gazette sends out warmest felicitations. If you are leaving the Island, thanks for coming. Hope to see you again next year.