Few traditions on Martha’s Vineyard encompass the magic of the Island better than Grand Illumination, the annual celebration of community that lights up the gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, and sends spirits soaring, each year on the third Wednesday in August.
As they have for longer than anyone can remember, a band concert and community sing-along preceded the much anticipated countdown, when all the intricate paper lanterns strung in windows and along front porches, suspended from trees, and staked into tiny lawns, were illuminated at the same moment.
Under a clear sky full of twinkling stars and adorned by a perfect half moon, a grand cheer rose, as it always does.
It hasn’t changed so much, all the years since it began. According to the Seaside Gazette, an early Island newspaper, the first Illumination Night was August 14, 1869, and it was initially called Governor’s Day in honor of Massachusetts Governor William Claflin who attended.
“Chinese and Japanese lanterns were displayed in abundance, suspended from cottages and trees,” the Seaside Gazette reported. “The Foxboro Brass Band, brought here by the liberality of E. P. Carpenter, Esq., of Foxboro, discoursed fine music for the occasion. Several thousands of people of both sexes were out to see and hear.”
Several other governors have attended Grand Illumination since then. In 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant was the guest of honor.
No presidents were sighted Wednesday evening, however.