If You're New at Camp Ground, Illumination Jitters Have Arrived

By CHRIS BURRELL

Amy Bannon is determined to get it right this Illumination Night. Wednesday night marks the 134th year for lighting up the Camp Ground, but for the Bannons, this is just their second try.

And the pressure is on.

"We made some mistakes last year," said Mrs. Bannon. "We were the dimmest cottage in the entire circle."

This time they plan on using real candles.

For newcomers like the Bannons, the tradition of the Grand Illumination can bring on a case of performance night jitters. "There is that risk if it's windy, but you're on the porch the whole time," Mrs. Bannon said.

Around the bend, just off Trinity Circle, the Surprenant family is starting to wonder how the whole thing will work. They just bought the place three weeks ago.

Their big worry is when to light up. "We'll have to have someone stationed at the corner to get the go-ahead," said Dan Cilley, one of the family members sitting on a porch rocker.

They bought lights at the Christmas Tree Shops, including a string of scallop shells. Now, Dennis Surprenant may have to put back all those eye-hooks he took off the porch.

Camp Ground cottages usually come with a stack of old paper lanterns stored in some closet or cabinet, but they wear out over time and need replacement. The Bannons have at least 40 they plan to hang from their porch. Today, their children will be hand-painting their own lanterns to add to the collection.

The Illumination Night celebration begins tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. with a concert by the Vineyard Haven Band followed by a community sing. The playlist of 16 songs is already mapped out with old favorites such as Home on the Range, My Wild Irish Rose, Amazing Grace and John Brown's Body.

When the music and singing conclude, it's time for the first lantern to be lit. The name of the person given that honor is kept secret until the actual moment arrives and the once darkened cottages all come to light.

"I don't know of any evening anywhere in any country that compares to the Illumination," said Robert C. Cleasby, program director at the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. "I've been to the Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen, and it's lit up, but it's not Illumination Night."

By 11 p.m., the entire Camp Ground will return to the way it always is.

"This is a celebration of a wonderful summer," said Mr. Cleasby. "It's the culmination of summer along with the fireworks and the Agricultural Fair. It's all things Vineyard."

Mr. Cleasby said Illumination Night had its beginnings in Ocean Park as a way for land owners and developers to lure buyers. "It very quickly moved over to the Camp Ground as a festival of lights," he added.

He's hoping that the weather cooperates, but a decision will be made by 4 p.m. "It's been cancelled only once," he said.