Grand Illumination comes to Oak Bluffs

Every lantern has a story.


The Campground was bursting with color on Wednesday afternoon as its residents pulled out paper lanterns from their attics and strung lights and decorations along their porches for the 148th Grand Illumination Night. Some brushed a coat of paint on new additions to their collection, others hauled decorated beach umbrellas onto their roof, but most simply sat on their porch in a rocking chair, counting down the minutes until first light.

The Hetheringtons unpacked over 60 lanterns to decorate their house this year, many of which Virginia Hetherington hand painted herself. Ms. Hetherington was sitting on her bright pink porch, sipping an icy glass of water that was sweating in the midday heat.

The Hetheringtons had a busy day, making cake and punch, and preparing their Victorian costume they’d wear to the Tabernacle later that night. Ms. Hetherington and her husband Arthur have owned their house since 1992 and enjoyed many summers celebrating Illumination with their family. The kids and grandkids won’t make it this year, but that doesn’t mean they have been slacking off on decorations.

“We got George next door to help with the parasol,” Ms. Hetherington said, referring to the large beach umbrella she painted to look like a decorative parasol sitting on the roof. “Now I’m cooling off and going to hang more lanterns.”

Down the street, the Pforr porch was abuzz with activity as Annalise and her mother Nina strung lanterns for their first Illumination Night in their Campground home. Until recently, the Pforrs, part-time Brookline residents, owned a house on the opposite side of the Campground.

A box full of lanterns spilled over the steps, each with its own story. Annalise pulled out a green lantern decorated with mushrooms and rabbits. “I think I painted these,” she reflected. She and Nina poured over their stash of ornamental lanterns and recalled the many summers they have spent on Martha’s Vineyard.

One treasure that came with the new house was an ornament they believed to be over 125 years old. “That’s what it said on the bag when we opened it,” Annalise said.

Across the way at 42 Trinity Park, Peter Jones from Rochester, N.Y., soldiered in the heat. Each lantern reminded him of an even better one with an even better story. He scurried back and forth from his attic pulling out each delicate, ornately designed lantern.

Mr. Jones moved quietly and carefully as he decorated the porch of his parents’ house, which has been in the family for more than 72 years. “Most of these lanterns are more than 50 years old,” he said.

As the day wore on, lanterns popped up like mushrooms after a storm, slowly filling the bannisters and eaves until the houses looked ready to float away.

The setting sun was a cue for families to spread their blankets on the grass around the Tabernacle and enjoy a picnic dinner while waiting for the community sing-along to start. Voices filled the air around the Tabernacle, counting down the moment until first light with merry tunes. When the porch lights finally flickered on, it was like magic.