Once upon a time on Martha’s Vineyard

MVRHS students tell tales using Island folklore.

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A musket, a Fresnel lens, and an old hospital turned into a museum were some of the many artifacts that inspired students from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) to craft spooky tales for the third annual Island Lore open mic at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum Wednesday night.

Just in time for Halloween, Island Lore is a collaboration between the museum and Project Vine, an alternative education experience at MVRHS. Under the guidance of Project Vine department chair and English teacher Dani Charbonneau, students visited the museum for their local history unit, and studied museum artifacts with little to no backstory. Project Vine seniors then wrote historical fictions of their own, based on the artifacts or museum exhibits. Juniors were tasked with crafting retellings of popular American folklore. 

Seniors took turns reading their stories, which ranged from the historical to the speculative. The museum laid out several of the artifacts that inspired students. 

Will Herman kicked things off with his story, “My Trusted Musket,” a historical piece about a man who is robbed of his livestock by British soldiers, but hides away his musket. An actual antique musket, which was disabled by the museum and the police department, was on display.

Jesse Caseau was inspired by the extensive lighthouse display in the museum, and wrote a ghost story about an old lighthouse keeper.

The museum’s new facility at the old Marine Hospital sparked Henry Warner to write a story about two ill-fated sailors and how they both end up in a hospital — one alive, one dead.

Josh Sampiao told the story of Moshup, a benevolent giant in Wampanoag culture. According to legend, Moshup threw massive rocks into the water to step on them, making it easier to catch whales, which he then smashed against the Aquinnah Cliffs, giving them their shape and color. Moshup was also a prolific smoker. He smoked so much, in fact, that when he dumped his ashes into the ocean, they slowly piled up and eventually formed Nantucket. Josh likes to talk about Moshup because of his place in Wampanoag and Island lore. “It’s something someone should remember,” he said.

Carly Uva couldn’t attend the open mic, but recorded herself reciting her story about the heath hen, a species native to North America that went extinct in the early 1900s.

The last senior to share a story was Carina Cataloni, who shared the story of the City of Columbus, a passenger ship that crashed on Devil’s Bridge in 1884. A lighthouse keeper and several Wampanoag tribal members assisted in the rescue of some men from lifeboats. A giant wave crashed into the ship as well, killing several men and all the women and children aboard.

After applause for each story and words of praise from family and friends, Charbonneau awarded Josh a gift card to Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Carina a gift card to Mocha Mott’s. 

Charbonneau also opened the floor to anyone with an interesting bit of Island history or lore. People had stories of artist, poet, and farmer Nancy Luce and her beloved chickens, the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad, and brick chimneys still standing, all reminders of the many tales and legends on the Island.