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This Was Then

This Was Then: Turkey Land

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Former President Barack Obama summers in a quiet part of Edgartown known as Turkeyland (sometimes spelled “Turkey Land”). Edgartonians were long mocked as “Old Town Turkeys” by our neighboring Nantucketeers. Our modern Island is...

This Was Then: MacNeill’s Grocery

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At the edge of downtown Oak Bluffs, on the corner of Pennacook and Circuit Avenues, stands a building with a long and colorful history: 82 Pennacook Ave., owned by the town of Oak Bluffs...

This Was Then: Forgotten films

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Obie Tower liked his toys. Basil Welch reminisced about him in a 1982 conversation with my grandfather, Stan Lair, in a recording made about a year after Obie’s death: “Obie always had a sporty-looking...

This Was Then: The Sanitarium

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Martha’s Vineyard was widely promoted in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a place of healing. The ad-packed 1932 booklet titled “Martha’s Vineyard: The Isle of Dreams and Health” gushes over the Island’s...

This Was Then: Pernambuco, Brazil

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The Brazilian state of Pernambuco could be compared geographically to Massachusetts: a small, populous, Atlantic coastal state shaped like a rectangular(ish) slab, sporting 100 miles or so of Eastern coastline. Our Boston is their...

This Was Then: Captain Pound

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It was late in the day on August 27, 1689. Capt. John Kent of Newbury, Mass., was sailing his brig, Merrimack, from New York to Boston. With him were his mate, Robert Almeric, crewman...

This Was Then: Floods, eclipses, and volcanoes

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An alarming report began to circulate in newspapers across the country during the summer of 1796. “Extraordinary Occurrence” ran the headlines. Under a New Bedford dateline, the various articles were all slight variations on...

This Was Then: Heck Benefit

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The first of the two Benefit brothers to arrive on Martha’s Vineyard at the turn of the last century used many names and spellings — sometimes he went by Angelo, sometimes by Eugene. His...

This Was Then: Ben Luce

There were at least a dozen men named “Benjamin Luce” who resided on Martha’s Vineyard over the past four centuries — all cousins of one another. Once, you could drive a cart from near...

This Was Then: Classes of 1952

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Before the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School opened in 1959, there were three secondary schools on the Island: Edgartown High School, Oak Bluffs High School, and Tisbury High School. Every year, the three graduating...

This Was Then: Selim Mattar’s Dreamland

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Brothers Selim and Meek Mattar immigrated to the U.S. as teenagers, about 1890. They were natives of the city of Beirut, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and today the capital of Lebanon, but...

This Was Then: The deerly departed

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As the most recently departed generation of Islanders would have told us, there were no deer on Martha’s Vineyard. “There wasn’t any then,” declared Fanny Jenkinson (1893–1994) of Chilmark to Linsey Lee of the Martha’s...

This Was Then: Barnstorming

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Ever since the first hydroplanes landed in Oak Bluffs in 1919, Martha’s Vineyard has had a reputation for bold and sometimes renegade aviators. Teenage delinquent-turned-World War I ace Walter D. Rheno of Vineyard Haven...

This Was Then: Captain Cleveland and the wrong cache

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George Cleveland (1871–1925) grew up on Hatch Road in Vineyard Haven, in a neighborhood full of extended family. He attended the old North District school on the corner of Main and Hatch in the...

This Was Then: The 1950 census

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It’s April 1950. The boomers are just babies, and the Atomic Age has arrived. Harry Truman is president, World War II has ended, the troops have come home, and the Korean War is still...

This Was Then: The gamblers

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Joseph Thaxter, born in Hingham in 1744, grew up sickly and impoverished. He worked on his parents' meager farm until the age of 19, and planned to become a cooper. But then he bought...

This Was Then: Capt. Abner West and the Sapelo River Expedition

Capt. Abner West (1811–1902) of Vineyard Haven had just about retired from the sea. He had been aboard ship most of his life, having begun his whaling career as a mess boy at the...

This Was Then: The Old County Road

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The Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road dates back to the late 18th century and probably earlier, although not entirely in its modern location.  It was along this road that British troops drove thousands of plundered sheep and...

This Was Then: The remarkable life of Sarah Norton Wilbur

Sarah “Sally” (Norton) Wilbur (1792–1875) likely died within a mile of where she was born, in the lands just west of Major’s Cove, in what is today part of Oak Bluffs. Her lonely grave,...

This Was Then: From islands to Island

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that an island would attract islanders. Many of the families who settled on the Vineyard in the late 1800s and early 1900s were from three Portuguese-speaking archipelagos in the...