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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 3, 2003, 20:02
Martha's Vineyard is an 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 for being a summer resort.
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 way to fuel lights, 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 a former campaign aide named Mary Jo Kopechne was killed when a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy drove off the Dyke Bridge, which connects the small island of Chappaquiddick (which is next to the Vineyard and generally thought of as part of it) with an isolated barrier beach. The island received further notoriety when Kennedy's nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., crashed his light plane and died while flying to his summer house on the island.
Martha's Vineyard once tried to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (they also tried to secede from the United States and become a 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.
The Vineyard grew as a tourist destination primarily because of its very pleasant summer weather - during many summers the temperature never breaks 90 F - 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 families like the Clintons and David Letterman and numerous other well known actors, authors, and other celebrities. This often makes people think of it 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. This often comes as a surprise to visitors who expect to see an island version of Rodeo Drive. The charms of the island are numerous, but not obvious to someone who visits for a day or less, as such visitors are literally unable to see and do what most people enjoy about the island. It has very little in the way of obvious tourist attractions. This is mostly a conscious strategy, as it is meant to be an escape from the city, not a recreation of it.
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 4th. 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.
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