Sunday, November 24, 2013

MARTHA'S VINEYARD AND HER PAINTED LADIES



Map of our "Islands of New England" tour courtesy of Collette Vacations

Martha’s Vineyard. Even the name conjures up a certain amount of awe and wonder. Isn’t this THE vacation spot for super stars and Presidents? This iconic place has been on my wish list since I had a wish list! Finally, I would find out for myself why it has had such a mesmerizing attraction on the rich and famous.

I’d always thought the island had such an interesting name. But, who is Martha and what is so special about her vineyard? I knew it couldn’t be Martha Stewart even though her name is synonymous with the place!  My questions led me to the internet where I learned that the island was first discovered by Norsemen 1,000 years ago. Obviously inspired by the thick tangle of berry and grape vines that covered the island, they named it “Vineland”. The man who gave it its permanent name in 1602, Bartholomew Gosnold, equally impressed by the naturally growing vines, personalized  “vineyard” with his mother’s name, Martha. So there it is—mystery solved! However, the name isn’t the only thing that makes Martha’s Vineyard very unique.

Only seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, it’s a short ferry ride to the island. Even though the weather had turned blustery and overcast, I ignored the toasty cabins choosing to hang over the railings and watch the Cape Cod coastline fade from view. With my pink windbreaker whipping around my face and a hot cup of black coffee warming my hands, I enjoyed every bumpy wave like a kid on Christmas. I paid for it with a bad hair day, but it was so worth it!


Oak Bluffs

As we approached the island, the first thing I saw was a row of elegant Victorian mansions facing out toward the ocean like flowers to the sun. I love old Vics and looked forward to getting a closer view, but I would soon be surprised to know that they represented just a taste of things to come!
Martha's Painted Ladies

Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association

Our bus had accompanied us below decks on the ferry, and as soon as we docked at the town of Oak Bluffs, Josef carefully maneuvered it down the ramp and we set out for a much anticipated day on the island. We soon stopped at what I can only describe as a Victorian fairyland: rows and rows of little cottages each looking as if it had been made of gingerbread, icing and candy. It was candy to me. Eye Candy! I could hardly suppress the impulse to rudely elbow my way off the bus so that I could start taking pictures! But before I even had the chance to take the lens cap off my camera, our no-nonsense local guide herded us toward a nearby park and into a very large metal tent. After instructing us to sit on chairs she explained had originally been purchased for 29 cents from the Sears Catalog, she began her presentation:


“Welcome to the Oak Bluff’s Tabernacle! Since its beginnings, Martha’s Vineyard has been dedicated to religious freedom and racial tolerance and what you see around you is a community based on those principles. This site has hosted religious camp meetings since 1835. It started out with a gathering of 300 people who brought their tents and settled in for a few days of preaching. It became a yearly event and as attendance grew over the years, they built this metal structure in 1878 which has now been in continuous use for 135 years!

  The Tabernacle is located in the central park area surrounded by quaint gingerbread cottages.

Many of the faithful eventually framed in their tents making permanent summer cottages. Then, thanks to the invention of the band saw in the Victorian age, the families personalized them with gingerbread molding transforming each one into a unique expression of its owner."

 View of some of the cottages across from the Tabernacle.

A Victorian Fairyland!

She finished by saying, “At the end of the summer, everyone celebrates ‘Illumination Night’ to say goodbye for the season. All 350 cottages are lit with candles and lanterns at the same time. As you can imagine, the effect is enchanting! People come from all over the island to see it.”

Freed at last, I set out to exhaust my camera battery on these little jewels!

 Lanterns for sale for Illumination Night.

We drove on to Edgartown for lunch then browsed the upscale shops and roamed the centuries old streets.  Again, as in Newport, I felt the presence of the Kennedy family spirit everywhere I looked: from the church where JFK worshiped and the store where he bought his cigars, to the courthouse where Ted Kennedy was tried for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne after the tragic accident in nearby Chappaquiddick.

 Beautiful downtown Edgartown!

Then back on the bus, we headed out for a tour of the island. As we drove by miles of sparkling lakes and quiet landscapes lush with grasses, vines and tall stately trees, I came to understand why this beautiful island is so appealing, especially to the rich. First, since it can only be accessed by plane or boat there are never any large crowds around. And secondly, once away from the small villages there is little that obstructs the natural beauty since the large estates are carefully tucked out of sight behind thick foliage. Wealthy residents must relish the privacy and isolation and the utter peace of the place surrounded only by a community of their peers. 

 Hey Martha! Is this your yacht with the mini helicopter or Oprah's?

Next time: Nantucket, Queen of the Islands

Suggested reading: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. This is an excellent historical novel about the founding of Martha’s Vineyard and the unique relationship between Thomas Mayhew, who purchased the island, and the resident Wampanoag Indians. He respected the native people and their land rights and his son dedicated his life to them as a Christian missionary. The novel centers on Caleb, one of the first Native Americans to attend and graduate from Harvard.

Watch the Video of the trip!


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