Oak Bluffs is enriched by our beloved characters, one of the first of whom was John Harry Monus John Peter Tobirus Peter Toskirus Peter Tubal Cain — Old Harry for short. He deserted a ship in Vineyard Sound in 1790, escaped slavery and became a servant of Ichabod Norton (also an Island character) who was one of the wealthiest folks on the Island. Well-spoken and apparently a man of substance, Old Harry received a single silver dollar for his 50 years of service, which he wore around his neck until his death in 1845 when a neighbor stole it.
During the Federal Period of 1775 to 1830 there were no separate population figures for Oak Bluffs. The Island’s Eastville neighborhood, which included Farm Neck, had about 15 homes that were estimated to have housed 91 people year round, so folks like Old Harry stood out. Once the Methodists settled in and Cottage City was developed, the seasonal population flourished. In 1886 there was an octagonal stand located at the base of Ocean Park where peanuts were sold by one Shipwrecked Tallman, probably the best washashore name ever.
Stuart MacMackin, a character himself, reported the Pawnee House Hotel had a porter named Jerry who announced himself at the dock when steamships arrived as “Porter for the Pawnee” at the top of his lungs in the early 1920s. Circuit avenue had a “monkey man” for a time who would appear with a street organ. The monkey riding on his shoulder would hop down and offer his hat for change when crowds would gather to hear the music. Two other gentlemen performing street-side music were the hurdy-gurdy men who pulled a five-foot long piano on wheels to the front of hotels where one would play music that you might hear at the Flying Horses, and the other would work the crowd for coins with his hat extended. Called “perhaps the most famous character on the Vineyard” by the Gazette on his 61st birthday in 1935, “Popcorn Harry,” an Edgartown resident, bought popcorn from Darling’s on Circuit avenue and sold it for years on Cottage City’s Martha’s Vineyard Railroad and on the streets and beaches in Edgartown. Along the way he published the news and biblical quotations he memorized.
By the late 1940s the colorful Loretta Balla acquired the Seaview House Hotel across from the Inkwell, which had a small canteen that served what we thought were the best hot dogs in the world served on toasted buttered rolls. She also owned the Corbin-Norton house, but she is probably best known for hiring the beloved Johnny Seaview. A former horse jockey, Oliver Perry died at the end of last year leaving everyone who knew him touched by his life.
You may not be as familiar with the name Anthony J. Mendes Jr. (Junior for short), but I bet you would remember Daddy’s Caddy, his exotically decorated car that was said to have been autographed by over 10,000 folks and one U.S. president. Everyone knows Hamburger, Oak Bluffs’s unofficial mayor, but not many know Ron Faust got that name when he owned the famed Maxine’s Hamburgers in New York city. Burgers must be in the family’s DNA because his son Reynaldo’s brand new Fat Ronnie’s Burger Shop has the best burgers on Circuit avenue — taste one and see.
Harbor Fest kicks off tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Church’s Pier, along with the Third Annual Faerie Festival with its eclectic performers. The combined events start off the 2013 season; dress rehearsal is over. The rain date is Sunday.
Next Tuesday Richard Greener is at Renaissance House at 31 Pennacook avenue reading from his new book at 7:30 p.m. Noting that Mr. Richard spent 30 years in black radio with James Brown, I might stop by and compare notes, having hired an announcer from James Brown’s Baltimore station some years back.
Tuesday is also election day, and there’s still a choice for the next senator of Massachusetts, who I hope will be Ed Markey.
At last Friday’s Martha’s Vineyard Museum summer opening I heard the song Tivoli Girl performed for the first time and it was amazing. In perspective, written by Will Hardy, it sounds like one of the Vince Giordano songs in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which also takes place in the prohibition era. Hearing it will certainly remind you of waltzes played at the Flying Horses, something that a lot of us still love. The new shows at the museum are fabulous; you should go visit. Sunday’s full moon — the Strawberry Moon — rises at 1:30 a.m. Stay up and enjoy it with someone sweet if the weather permits.
Keep your foot on a rock.