A fresh look at Martha’s Vineyard history in new museum book


“Martha’s Vineyard: by Bonnie Stacy. Glossy softcover from Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, S.C. Copyright 2014 by Bonnie Stacy, Martha’s Vineyard Museum. 144 pages, $26.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, Edgartown Books, the M.V. Museum, area libraries, online bookstores, and at arcadiapublishing.com.

Bonnie Stacy offers us additional evidence of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s importance to preserving the Island’s culture and sense of place. Ms. Stacy, the museum’s chief curator, has created “Martha’s Vineyard,” an engaging history that depicts more than 170 years of Island history through 220 photographs from museum archives. The bonus is that Ms. Stacy has enhanced the photos deftly with text blocks that complement and illuminate the visuals.

She has achieved balance in this work of history, not always the case in this genre. Ms. Stacy is an experienced curator and the author of two other historical perspectives. Her latest book was available on May 5 and will be premiered on Tuesday, May 13,at 5:30 pm at a book launch gathering in the museum’s library (The Pease House), located at 59 School Street in Edgartown.

“Martha’s Vineyard” is informative and it’s an entertaining read in a multitude of period set pieces that bring life to history. The book leads a reader to yearn to experience the periods and the subjects Ms. Stacy describes. This is a delightful read that belongs on summer rental coffee tables as an entertaining way to experience the often-raucous Island history.

Martha’s Vineyard is presented in four separate themes: The Sea Supports Us, Land and Community, Enchanted Isle, and Nature and Climate. Each theme is chock-a-block with often-endearing moments in the history of the Island and its residents.

My personal favorite is an 1860s photo of Laura Jernegan, daughter of an Edgartown whaling captain. Captain Jernegan took his family aboard the bark Roman on a four-year whale hunt, with a way stop in Hawaii, where the family waited while the Roman went to Arctic waters in search of whales.

It turns out that Ms. Jernegan kept a journal of the family odyssey, beginning when she was six years old. The journal has been maintained in the M.V. Museum archives. Ms. Stacy read it and offers readers an amazingly literate entry from 1870 that describes a day in the life of a very young girl from Edgartown who finds herself on a Hawaiian beach. Great stuff.

There’s more. I didn’t know, for example, that the Island boasted two harness-racing tracks. And who knew that 60 years before “Jaws” ratcheted up the Island’s popularity in 1973, Hollywood, (or more likely New York in those days) memorialized Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” in a silent movie filmed in Menemsha in 1913.

You will see the Island’s seafaring livelihoods and other industries chronicled here. The lives and contributions of the Wampanoag community are detailed, and the socially and culturally important African-American community is featured, though the ever-historically thirsty Ms. Stacy appeals for more photos and information about the African-American community in the publisher’s notes accompanying the book.

“I also hope that Vineyarders will notice where the collection is not as complete, such as images of the African-American community, and donate original photographs that will help us portray this very important part of the Island’s past and present,” she writes.

Ms. Stacy has combined period photos with impeccable research to create a volume that may be judged in the category of Island histories that rank with “Time’s Island: Portraits of the Vineyard” (MIT Press, 1973) by Nancy Safford, acknowledged as a seminal work to succeeding generations of important work, such as Linsey Lee’s well-regarded oral histories of Island residents.

In all, despite a relatively brief (four years) on the Island, it seems Ms. Stacy has developed a deep understanding of this community.

Book Launch for “Martha’s Vineyard” by Bonnie Stacy, Tuesday, May 13, 5:30 pm, M.V. Museum, Edgartown. Free. For more information, call 508-627-4441, ext. 123, or visit mvmuseum.org.