3 Weeks, 4 Islands, 6 Harbors – Grand Illumination Night, Oak Bluffs

I am really excited about this blog post.  I had heard about Oak Bluffs’ Grand Illumination Night, but in all of our summer trips to the Vineyard we were never here during that week in August. Imagine my excitement when we found ourselves on the island at the right time!

A sneak preview of the paper lanterns………………

Oak Bluffs is closer to Vineyard Haven than to Edgartown, but with the Vineyard Transit Authority bus system, it was a short ride away from us while we were moored in a Edgartown

Another map of MV. The red arrow shows Edgartown to Oak Bluffs.

Whenever we have stayed in the Oak Bluffs harbor, we take the time to wander around Trinity Park,  a 34-acre neighborhood of charming tiny gingerbread cottages and a designated historic landmark, nestled in the heart of Oak Bluffs. My first impression, about ten years ago, was that I had traveled in a time machine and dropped into another era.

Without a map or good directions, it can be tricky to find Trinity Park. This grove of gingerbread houses is hidden behind the main streets and under the boughs of trees. But the top of the Tabernacle is visible in the center.

It all began with the Methodist Church when the first religious “campmeeting” (yes, that is actually one word) was held in the summer of 1835. Families camped out in tents in the oak grove near the ocean breezes and immersed themselves in prayers and religious services lasting from a week to ten days. As time passed, these summer retreats became social as well as religious as people enjoyed the seaside setting of the island, a heart, soul, mind and body interaction. By 1859, small wooden cottages replaced the tents and folks stayed for longer periods. These tiny houses were Gothic Revivial style with Victorian gingerbread accents, painted in rainbow colors. By 1880 there were 500 cottages and today 318 remain.

In 1879 the Tabernacle was constructed and is one of the few remaining examples of wrought iron structures created in the late 19th Century. It stands as the centerpiece of Trinity Park with the cottages assembled in a circle around it. Although the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA) was first established by Methodists, it has become increasingly interdenominational and serves as a religious and cultural center.

A more detailed history of this special campground can be found on the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA) site.

The evening’s program

Grand Illumination Night is a very special annual event. The first Illumination Night in 1869 was called Governor’s Day in honor of the Governor of Massachusetts who was visiting from the mainland.

How lucky we were to be able to participate in the 148th Illumination Night festivities.

Hundreds (maybe thousands) of people surrounded the Tabernacle on chairs and blankets and filled the seats inside.  The evening began with a community sing and ended with music from the Vineyard Haven Band. The music was good old fashioned tunes and many patriotic ones.

The Tabernacle in Trinity Park, Oak Bluffs

Dozens of colored glass windows decorate the base of the cupola above the seating.

Mr. Cleasby, the music director, asked the audience to sing ‘We Shall Overcome” and reflect on the terrible tragedy of Charlottesville which had occurred the week before. Voices rose together in unison and sang out loud and clear. The final song, “God Bless America” brought a sense of poignancy as I wonder what will happen to our great country in these trying days. I think I do not need to say any more than that. There were tears in my eyes as I sang.

Singing God Bless America. (Click on the photo for video and audio)

The Vineyard Haven Band

And now for the best part – the photos. Words can’t describe these cottages. It has to be seen and experienced. The first photos are in the daylight before the musical program.

The illumination of Grand Illumination Night comes from the painted paper lanterns and strings of lights decorating the cottages throughout Trinity Park. As dusk falls, the lanterns are lit and the entire grove glows with lights and colors.

At 9:00 pm the the street lights went out and the cottages sparkled with their lanterns and strings of lights. Residents sat on their porches and people strolled past, oohing and ahhhing in delight. I tried to photograph the cottages after the illumination, but alas, that is not so easy. Hopefully, these pictures will give some indication of the evening’s beauty.

Oh my. Simply one of the best evenings ever. It was magical, and I don’t use that word often.

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