Martha's Vineyard

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Martha's Vineyard is roughly triangular in shape, and is approximately 30 kilometers in length.

Martha's Vineyard is a 100 square mile (259 km²) island off the southern coast of Cape Cod, and is often known simply as "the Vineyard". Located in the state of Massachusetts, the Vineyard makes up most of Dukes County, Massachusetts (the rest of the county consists of Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands). It was home to one of the earliest known deaf communities, and consequently a special dialect of sign language, Martha's Vineyard Sign Language, developed on the island. The island is now primarily known as a summer colony.



Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians, Martha's Vineyard was known in their language as Noepe, or "land amid the streams". Like the nearby island Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard was brought to prominence in the 19th century by the whaling industry, sending ships around the world to hunt whales for their oil and blubber. The discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, producing a cheaper source of oil for lamps, led to an almost complete collapse of the industry by 1870. The island struggled financially through the Great Depression, but since then its reputation as a resort for tourists and the wealthy has continued to grow. There is still a substantial Wampanoag population on the Vineyard, mainly located in the town of Aquinnah. Aquinnah (which means "land under the hill" in the Wampanoag language) was formerly known as Gay Head, but was recently renamed its original Indian name.

The island received international notoriety on July 18, 1969, when Mary Jo Kopechne was killed when a car driven by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge (also spelled Dyke Bridge). The bridge connects Chappaquiddick Island (which is next to the Vineyard and generally thought of as part of it) with an isolated barrier beach. Martha's Vineyard received further notoriety on July 16, 1999, due to a plane crash off the island's coast, claiming the lives of pilot John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette and her sister, Lauren Bessette. Kennedy's mother, the former U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, maintained a home in Aquinnah until her death in 1994. Onassis frequently stated that she preferred to keep her children away from the often troubled Hyannisport Kennedy family compound.

In 1975, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws on Martha's Vineyard. Spielberg selected island native Jay Mello for the part of Sheriff Brody's son Sean Brody, and used scores of island natives as extras. Later, scenes from Jaws 2 and Jaws the Revenge were filmed on island as well. In June, 2005 the island celebrated the 30th anniversary of Jaws with a weekend long "JawsFest."

In 1977, Martha's Vineyard tried to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (it also tried to secede from the United States and become an independent nation) along with the island of Nantucket.

In the summer of 2000, an outbreak of tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, resulted in one fatality, and brought the interest of the CDC as a potential investigative ground for aerosolized Francisella tularensis. Over the following summers, Martha's Vineyard was identified as the only place in the world where documented cases of tularemia resulted from lawn mowing. The research may prove valuable in preventing bioterrorism.

Martha's Vineyard received world-wide attention because of the many summers U.S. President William J. Clinton and U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton spent on the island during his presidency.

Political geography

Martha's Vineyard is made up of six towns:


The Vineyard grew as a tourist destination primarily because of its very pleasant summer weather - during many summers the temperature never breaks 90F - and many beautiful beaches.

Wealthy Boston sea captains and merchant traders formerly created estates on Martha's Vineyard with their trading profits, and today, the Vineyard has become one of the Northeast's most prominent summering havens, attracting celebrities like the Clintons, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ted Danson and Mary Steenbergen, the late Katherine Graham & Princess Diana, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Dan Aykroyd & Donna Dixon, Spike Lee, Michael J. Fox, William F. Buckley, Alan Dershowitz, former US Senator Bill Bradley, Diana Ross, Roger Styron, Beverly Sills, Art Buchwald, Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace and David Letterman.

This often makes people think of the island as quite glitzy, which is not the case. It is better thought of as intentionally rustic, a place where people who normally spend their time around glitz can wear T-shirts and flip flops. The charms of the island are not obvious to someone who visits for a day or less. It has very little in the way of obvious tourist attractions. This is mostly a conscious strategy, as the island is meant to be an escape from the city, not a recreation of it.

Martha's Vineyard is one of the traditional resorts of U.S.'s African American upper class. This stems from a long history of racial harmony on the island - many black families started vacationing there a century ago. The epicenter of black culture on Martha's Vineyard is the town of Oak Bluffs - with many African American celebrities owning houses there. Its main beach has been dubbed "The Inkwell" by African American residents.

It now has a year-round population of about 15,000 people in six towns, but in summer the population swells to 100,000 residents, with more than 25,000 additional visitors coming and going on ferries every day. The most crowded weekend is July 4. In general, the summer season runs from June to the end of August, correlating with the months most American children are not in school. May and September are often as nice or nicer, without crowds and with much cheaper prices.

See also

nl:Martha's Vineyard


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