Nancy Luce was born at home in West Tisbury on August 23, 1814, the only child of Philip Luce and Anne Manter.

“She was a bit of a loner,” said John Alley, superintendent of the West Tisbury cemetery where Ms. Luce is buried.

But a visit to her gravestone won’t reveal that. Today, her marble gravestone is decorated with chickens of all sizes and colors, although Mr. Alley said he isn’t sure when or why the tradition started.

Even in death, Ms. Luce is surrounded by her favorite companions. — Mark Lovewell

“It started with one rubber chicken and then each year the grave seemed to grow a chicken,” he said. “Then they changed from rubber to plastic, and somewhere in the middle there, a big heavy one got put on the top.”

On Sunday, Oct. 26, from noon to 2 p.m. the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is hosting a 200th birthday party for Ms. Luce at the Old Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven. The museum is also featuring Ms. Luce in an upcoming exhibit opening on Nov. 7, entitled Nancy Luce: Madonna of the Hens.

Ms. Luce died on April 9, 1890, and each year around that time the chickens around her grave begin to increase, even two centuries later. They also congregate around Halloween, but Mr. Alley said there is no reasonable explanation why.

“I don’t understand the chickens, but I see them each year. Each year they come but nobody really knows who is bringing them,” he said. “Maybe so she’ll feel less alone.”

Nancy Luce lived her entire life at the farmhouse near the head of Tiah’s Cove in West Tisbury, and it was there that she cared for her parents and raised animals, mostly chickens. She was a folk artist, poet, businesswoman and writer, and some say the first female entrepreneur on the Island.

“We don’t know much about her early life,” said Anne DuCharme, education director at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The museum has curated many of Nancy Luce’s letters, pictures and postcards, all of which will be on display in November. Tombstones that Ms. Luce made in remembrance of chickens who died are on display at the museum’s permanent exhibit. The names of the chickens are etched into the tombstones — Teeddla Toona, Levendy Ludandy and Otte Opheto, to name a few. The Brown University library is also home to many of Nancy Luce’s papers, which Walter Magnes Teller consulted to write a biography of Nancy Luce in 1984.

Ms. Luce lived her entire life at her family farmhouse off Tiah's Cove in West Tisbury. — Mark Lovewell

Chief curator of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Bonnie Stacy will share stories about the Chicken Lady during the opening reception.

Ms. Luce was 27 when her mother died and 31 when her father died. It was then that she stopped riding horses and only tended to the animals on her farm, as these creatures, her writings reveal, were her only friends. One of her close friends, she wrote, was a three-legged cow named Red Cannon.

According to archives in the Vineyard Gazette and the Dukes County Intelligencer, Ms. Luce preferred to be alone. When she became the object of mockery and ridicule for young boys who would harass both her and her chickens, she wrote letters to the newspaper pleading with the town to keep the young boys away from her.

Ms. Luce ran a store on her property and her stock in trade came from bartering with a merchant in Edgartown. She traded hand-knit stockings, some she made herself from her own sheep’s wool, for tobacco, which she sold to neighbors. She also sold eggs from her chickens and little books she authored herself.

West Tisbury resident Eleanor Neubert has been told that she may be related to Ms. Luce, but even among possible relatives the story is still murky.

“I don’t know anything about her other than what I’ve read and heard from people through the years,” Ms. Neubert said. “Supposedly she was a good horseman and had a horse and supposedly her parents were very frail and sickly and she had to take care of them. But it’s all mostly hearsay. I really only know what I’ve read.”

Cynthia Riggs, another West Tisbury resident, seems closest to the source, having heard stories as a child from people who actually knew Ms. Luce.

“My great-grandfather knew her,” said Ms. Riggs. “My mother lived with her grandparents and so she shared all these stories with us about Nancy Luce. Apparently her home was a tourist stop. Tour buses would go past her house and she would sell her books there.

“She was different,” Ms. Riggs added. “People thought she was eccentric. There’s no doubt about that in my mind. I think at least my great-grandfather thought she was putting on a lot of it to sell her little books.”

And her little books did sell. So did her eggs and the photographs she had taken of herself posing with her chickens. “She did something right,” said Mr. Alley. “She must have had some kind of money, her gravestone would have cost about $50 back then, and that was a lot. Today the stone would cost around $1,000. It’s quite a nice stone.”

And with the chickens, it’s hard to miss.

“I think that it’s a common thing for Islanders to be different or eccentric, from the time of the whalers to the present,” said Ms. Riggs.

A Halloween and 200th birthday party for Nancy Luce will take place Sunday, Oct. 26, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s Vineyard Haven property. There will also be an opening reception for Nancy Luce: Madonna of the Hens on Nov. 7 at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Edgartown from 5 to 7 p.m.