Friday, June 23, 2017

Isle of the Wasps • Martha’s Vineyard

Written by  David Placher
Gingerbread houses, Martha's Vineyard Gingerbread houses, Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is located south of Cape Cod off the coast of Massachussetts. It is known for its la-di-da residents, elegant cocktail parties, snazzy dressers who often sport the famous Nantucket red pants with navy blue shirts, and historic mansions. It is the 58th largest island in the U.S. and it is 100 square miles. Traveling to Martha’s Vineyard can be complicated and expensive – it’s only accessible by boat or air. Flying from Baltimore to Martha’s Vineyard can cost a shocking $600 round trip, but for the savvy traveler a cheaper way is to fly from Baltimore to Boston on Southwest, Spirit, or JetBlue, with the final leg by Cape Air or a seasonal ferry. It’s a great destination for a weekend trip because it’s gay-friendly, full of history, and it has many charming small towns and beautiful landscapes.

Although there are no gay bars, the island and its businesses are welcoming to gay couples and families. There are several businesses that display the rainbow flag and the Human Rights Campaign logo. There are plenty of boutique stores that sell local artists’ paintings, jewelry designs, and clothes. Martha’s Vineyard is home to more than 50 art galleries featuring everything from hand-blown glass to metal work. There are several cozy coffee shops to rest or just people-watch.

Memorable moments can include a long walk on the beach in Oak Bluffs, a walk through the historic town of Edgartown, or a very short ferry ride to (and a tour of) Chappaquiddick, which is a small peninsula and occasionally an island on the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard. The two were fully separated for eight years from 2007 to 2015.

Martha’s Vineyard has captured the nation’s attention on several different occasions. On July 18th, 1969, the “Chappaquiddick incident” occurred where Mary Jo Kopechne died in a car driven off the Dike Bridge by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (died August 25th, 2009). The bridge crossed Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick. As a rickety bridge, it was intended for people on foot and bicycles, and an occasional emergency vehicle. Kennedy accidentally drove his car off the bridge with Mary Jo Kopechne in it, but Kennedy escaped the doomed car by swimming free, left the scene, and did not contact authorities for ten hours. Mary Jo Kopechne died, drowning in the submerged vehicle. Thirty years later, the Kennedy family would find itself in another awful Martha’s Vineyard tragedy. On July 16th, 1999, a small plane crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, claiming the lives of John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and her sister Lauren Bessette.

In 1974, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws in Martha’s Vineyard, and later returned for the two sequels. In June 2005 the island celebrated the 30th anniversary with a weekend-long Jawsfest. On March 5th, 1982, John Belushi died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California, and was buried four days later in Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark in Martha’s Vineyard. Finally, Martha’s Vineyard was the setting for Robert Harris’s 2007 novel, the political thriller The Ghost.

Not only is there history, but there are plenty of sights, including some very recognizable landmarks. The Aquinnah Cliffs and lighthouse are memorable, featuring red clay that makes the site very popular for visitors and photographers. In Oak Bluffs, Ocean Park is home to Flying Horses Carousel and the famed gingerbread cottages. The island has 18 gorgeous beaches, and during the summer, there’s no better place to tan and swim and during the fall and spring, there’s no better place to take long walks. If you like fish, Larsen’s Fish Market is known on the island to have the freshest. If you like to learn about Martha’s Vineyard’s history, it has a museum filled with artifacts from the island.

The island’s population is small in the cold months. The 2010 census reported a year-round population of only 16,535 residents, but the summer population can balloon to more than 100,000 people. About 56 percent of the Vineyard’s 14,621 homes are seasonally occupied.

If you complain about the cost of living in Baltimore, you’ll really hate Martha’s Vineyard. The cost of living on the island is 60 percent higher than the national average. Martha’s Vineyard is definitely a place to try this summer or fall for a weekend short break, but probably not a place to live unless you have money to burn.

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