Labor Day Weekend Sends Island Toward Final Phase of Summer

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Celebrated each year on the first Monday in September, Labor Day is dedicated to the achievements of American workers. In truth, the holiday is probably better known as the impetus for one final long weekend before the kids head off to school, and marks the occasion after which workers start to bear down until summer rolls around again.

On Martha's Vineyard, of course, Labor Day is traditionally the last time that visitors flock to the Island en masse - to the beaches, shops and restaurants. For local business owners, it's the end of the peak tourist season and greater profits that accompany it.

This year's weekend weather - a cloudy Saturday and Sunday followed by a rainy Monday - wasn't exactly summery. But despite less than ideal conditions, there was little lull in Island activity, as people sought to make the most of their visits with the season unofficially drawing to a close:

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Monday morning at 10 at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal, only a few cars were lined up in the rain for the 11 a.m. boat. It was still a bit early, and the Steamship Authority had instituted a "no standby" policy for the weekend. Ten prospective passengers, luggage piled around them, stood under the awning between the two boat ramps to keep dry.

Brandon VanOver, 27, and his fiancé, Deana Henn, 30, both of Brooklyn, N.Y., had braved the downpour as they raced to the terminal on their bicycles. The couple arrived on the Island Friday after driving from New York and parking in one of the Woods Hole satellite lots; they brought their bikes over and made the Martha's Vineyard Camp Ground home for the weekend.

They had never been to the Island before, he said, but are moving to Australia in January, and wanted to visit the Vineyard and other "key spots" before journeying abroad.

Mr. VanOver said he didn't mind the weather conditions. Over the weekend, he said, they most enjoyed biking from Vineyard Haven to Gay Head and taking in the marvelous rolling hills along the way.

Yesterday's weather didn't dampen the couple's spirits. "I'm enjoying the atmosphere the rain brings," he said. "It's great with all the old boats in the harbor."

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Twenty-four hours earlier, on Sunday morning, the oldest working carousel in America had just opened its doors. Only a half-hour later, a long line formed as parents and children waited to take one last ride on Oak Bluffs's famous Flying Horses before heading home.

Andrew Schultz, 33, and his daughter Sarah, two, of Sharon, stayed for the holiday weekend at their family's house in West Tisbury.

He picked his daughter up and set her on a brown horse, patting the side as if it were real. Then the carousel music started, the horses went around and around, and riders snatched rings looking for that single brass ring; a free ride is the reward.

Another father watched his wife ride around with their son. He snapped a number of photos.

"I enjoy the carousel because of the heritage," said Mr. Schultz. He said his daughter likes the brown horse especially, and could ride on it all day long.

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John Baxter, 48, of Centerville, sailed into Oak Bluffs harbor Saturday with his wife, Lisa, 39, and three children, Carolyn, eight, Davis, six, and Bornwen, four.

Coming in with the strong winds on his home-built, 32-foot cutler boat was "a blast," Mr. Baxter said.

On Sunday afternoon, the family returned to Oak Bluffs after renting three bicycles, one with a bicycle trailer. The highlight of the weekend to that point, Mr. Baxter said, was the family bike ride along Beach Road into Edgartown and back again, even though "our butts are sore now." The two youngest children apparently loved the bike trailer.

After returning the bicycles, the family walked into a store to do some Sunday shopping.

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Chris Parks, 25, is a web-page developer from New York city who visited the Island for his first time this weekend. He stood alone on an Oak Bluffs street reading about the Island attractions. His first reaction to seeing the Island: "It is beautiful."

Although Mr. Parks was hoping to hit the beach, he was not disappointed by the clouds - he would find other things to keep him busy.

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Many visitors spent this weekend making last-minute purchases.

In a crowded Edgartown, a member of a family walking along North Water street Sunday evening, called out, "Let's buy some Murdick's fudge and peanut brittle."

There was a steady exchange of money across the counter at the Black Dog General Store in Vineyard Haven Sunday afternoon. A steady stream of shoppers walked out the store with the distinct brown paper bags displaying a black dog on the side.

"We saw the Black Dog T-shirts when we were visiting Europe," said one customer. "They're all over."

"I got the biggest shirt they have, an extra-extra-large," said one man to his wife. "You can darn well make a tent out of it."

Shelia Flaherty, of Moscow, Pa., sailed into Vineyard Haven harbor for the weekend on a 37-foot sail boat named J'Erin, a combination of her two children's names.

An annual visitor to the Island, she came away with this year's version of the Black Dog shirt. Her family, she said, took a few extra days off from work to tack on to the holiday weekend so they could spend more time together on the Island.

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A hostess at Nancy's in Oak Bluffs, Ashleigh Barreto, 23, of Los Altos, Calif., has dealt with big crowds every night for much of the summer. The restaurant overlooking the harbor is a prime spot to lure visitors who come off both ferries and cruise ships.

Sunday night before Labor Day was the last busy day of the summer, she said. Miss Barreto said management told her to expect a dramatic drop-off in clientele this week - that the busy summer days are behind them until next season.

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Underneath cloudy skies on Sunday, up-Island was a hub of activity. Visitors in Menemsha sat outside Larsen's Fish Market eating their last Island lobsters as their children tried to catch their last crabs of the season waterside. Along the jetty, visitors cast rods into the channel, some for the final time this year.

The porch outside the Chilmark General Store was crowded as usual. Pizza slices were savored even more since they would be the last until next season.

Families gathered on Moshup Beach in Aquinnah taking the final family vacation photographs before the Monday rains.

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Eric Walston, 12, of Lisbon, Conn., was also at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal on Monday morning, along with his parents, Mark and Valerie.

He had actually started school last week but was nonetheless glad to spend one more long weekend on the Vineyard at his family's summer home in Oak Bluffs. He'll lug his books to school again today.

Mr. Walston said he was returning home on the boat Monday to get home in time for the Tuesday workday. The weekend's highlight, he said, was hiking for the day on land bank property in Chappaquiddick.

Eric's dad said his son enjoys going to South Beach and swimming in the big waves. "We brought our swimsuits," he said, "but we knew the weather was going to be crummy."

Still, the family made it to the beach for a short visit, albeit without their swim gear.

While the weekend was for some the last chance to be on the Island until next year, the Walston family will make return weekend visits well into the fall season. Having summered on the Island for 13 years, they know what to expect.

"Next weekend it will probably be 90 degrees and this place will be vacant," Mr. Walston said.