Old feud over old sign rekindled in Tisbury

“Hoo Rah For Bill” gets the heave-ho from Tisbury building inspector — again.

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Kristen Henshaw putting up a smaller version of the original sign in 2014. — Courtesy Melanie Englert

For a second time, the “Hoo Rah For Bill” sign on State Road in Tisbury is gone, because, for a second time, Tisbury building inspector and zoning enforcement officer Ken Barwick ordered it removed. The sign is a relic of a summer when President Bill Clinton spent his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, while the Monica Lewinsky scandal reached a fever pitch.

“I haven’t heard back from [Mr. Barwick], so I don’t know why he did this again,” Kristen Kingsbury Henshaw told The Times. “Last time he took it down, selectmen called him out in one of their meetings. You’d think he learned his lesson.”

Ms. Henshaw is the daughter of Island farmer and former Tisbury selectman Craig Kingsbury, who put up the first “Hoo Rah For Bill” sign in 1998. The sign was mounted on a tree at the entrance to his farm on 1056 State Road, where he’d lived since 1937. The sign stayed up after Mr. Kingsbury died in 2002, until Mr. Barwick ordered it taken down in April 2011.

In May 2014, a smaller replica, white with black lettering, replaced the old plywood sign. “A little bit higher, with longer and more nails,” Ms. Henshaw said.

Then, in October 2014, Ms. Henshaw received a letter from Mr. Barwick, informing her she had 14 days to take it down.

“He said he was constantly getting calls and emails and people stopping him on the street, complaining about the sign. But he was unable to provide me with any names or any of the emails,” Ms. Henshaw said.

In 2014 Ms. Henshaw, in a letter to Tisbury selectmen, asked the board to “allow me to present a case for your official dispensation to keep the old man’s sign on that pine tree. It is a testament to his belief in our democracy’s guarantee of free speech, and his wish to champion ‘that poor [expletive deleted] beset by those [expletives deleted] down in Washington.’”

The second sign stayed, until Mr. Barwick ordered it taken down several weeks ago.

“I never heard back from the selectmen, so I figured he was just going to leave me alone now,” Ms. Henshaw said. “I don’t know why he’s got his nightie in a knot like this, I truly don’t. I think there may be some sort of a political angle. This whole Trump presidency — I can’t stand to say those two words together — seems to have empowered a lot of people who have been biting their tongues, probably pretty unhappily.”

In response to phone messages about the sign, Mr. Barwick dropped in at The Times offices, ostensibly to find out the reason for the calls.

“You called me for that?” he said. “I thought you might call about economic development proposals for Tisbury. That’s really all I have to talk to you about … It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately all I can tell you is I was hoping you were going to talk about something other than nonsense.”

‘Hoo Rah’ history

The original sign went up in August 1998, when scandal-weary President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary spent their summer vacation in the seclusion and warm embrace of Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. Kingsbury, hoping to “lend the lad some encouragement,” had his 16-year-old granddaughter Elizabeth paint “Hoo Rah For Bill —Craig” on a rectangular piece of raw plywood. The sign stayed on State Road for 14 years, until Mr. Barwick had it removed, without notifying Ms. Henshaw beforehand. The sign was destroyed.

In an April 21, 2011, letter to Ms. Henshaw, Mr. Barwick explained, “It was the general consensus that it provided no useful public information, is considered a blight on the landscape along that section of the Tisbury Island Road District, in violation of Local and State law and should immediately be removed.”

He cited a Tisbury zoning bylaw that clearly states, “No signs shall be painted on or affixed to any tree, fence, utility pole, rock or ledge.” Mr. Barwick concluded his letter, “I understand your disappointment, but attempts to locate the sign at your request were exhausted. I truly apologize to you and your family for not contacting you prior to the removal and disposal of the sign.”

According to a July 14, 2011, article in The Times, “Tisbury officials fuss over ‘hoo rah’ sign removal, to no effect,” Mr. Barwick maintained that he’d received many complaints from people who thought the sign was an eyesore. “I realized that it essentially served no purpose, it doesn’t give directions or anything like that, and it’s been up there for 13 to 14 years,” he said.

But not everyone thought it was an eyesore. Some saw it as a visual vestige of a man who was a font of Vineyard lore. A man who taught Robert Shaw how to be a salty Islander for “Jaws.” A man who harpooned swordfish, bootlegged liquor, was a farmer and jack-of-all-trades, shellfish warden, and two-term selectman. A man who, in 1941, drunkenly drove his oxen into Tisbury and was hauled into court, but not charged when the judge decided the oxen were the drivers.

According to the 2011 story in The Times, Mr. Barwick was called before the selectmen and upbraided for not notifying Ms. Henshaw before he ordered the original sign down. Selectman Tristan Israel said the sign could have been designated as a landmark.

Landmark status

This time, there was a happier ending for the sign. Ms. Henshaw said it has been returned to the State Road property by the highway department, in one piece.

“I’d like the town to designate it as a landmark,” she said. “It should be put back on the tree and afford the motoring public at least some relief from the otherwise hateful landscape that we’ve been looking at.”

“Leave it alone. Go and do your job and rein in some of the problems that actually have something to do with making the town a better place.”

“I think it’s part of history at this point,” Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel told The Times. “I was surprised the last time it was taken down. I was glad it was replaced. I don’t know what it would take, but I would support an effort to make it a landmark.”

“I’d like to see the sign go back up. It’s not about Clinton anymore,” Melanie Englert, a friend of Ms. Henshaw, said. “I’m going to get some tree-climbing boots and mount it 100 feet up.”