January Journal

From Gazette editions of January, 1934:

The reeking of the sea all about the Island is something new in the way of natural phenomena to many of the younger Vineyarders. The word comes to us from the Scotch and the Icelanders, and it seems to describe as no other word the exhalation of vapor which takes place when the salt water is still relatively warm, and the temperature of the air drops far below zero.

Last week the icy wind blew sixty miles strong and it caught the smoking vapor which rose from the sea as smoke from a fire. When the chillest of air meets warm water, the water reeks, and all along the surface rolls the white vapor. So thick was this vapor during the past zero below spell that navigation was dangerous.

The Nantucket coming from her namesake Island to the Vineyard was running blind a great deal of the time. Her crew could not see the staff on the bow. The schedule went into a recess, for buoys were weighted down with ice and rising so low in the water that they could not be seen. Some of the bell buoys lay collapsed and flat in the water or upon ice floes, silenced by their heavy burden of ice. As the steamers forced their way through the heavy ice, the grinding of the floes removed paint from the steel hulls. In the wake of the boats the ice was turned crimson, showing where it had scoured the bottom paint.

Portuguese-Americans of all Island towns will meet to organize a branch of the national civic club of that name. One aim of the club is to interest those members of alien birth to obtain their citizenship papers. Many Portuguese came to the Vineyard on whaleships. There is a record as early as 1765 of Joseph and Anthony Swasey living in Edgartown: Swasey is believed to be an Anglicized form of Sousa. Joseph married Susanna Pease, and Anthony married Jerushha Dunhaam. These men gained prominence in a strange land. Now arrives a Portuguese organization to start its membership along the trail blazed by pioneers so many generations ago.

“Gay Head is, without a doubt, the most prosperous town in the county, and probably the most prosperous in New England today.” Such is the observation of Capt. Walter Manning, chairman of the board of public welfare. “The income of the townspeople,” Captain Manning adds, “through the scallop fishery has been between $700 and $800 a day for the past two months. And of the sum of $2,700 approved for civil works and for starfish control in Gay Head, not a penny has been touched as yet, because there has been neither need nor leisure to attend to the matter. Allowances of various commodities issued to towns through the federal government have been apportioned to Gay Head, as to other towns, but they have not been claimed nor called for because there has been no need for them. Gay Head has practically no welfare problem. Only a few elderly persons are unable to work, and most of them are eligible for old age assistance.”

This appraisal of affairs is in striking contrast with an editorial published by the Boston American under the heading “Our Indians in Distress.” Gay Head owns many college graduates, has supplied a representative in the state General Court, and has been an incorporated town for several generations, administering its own affairs with success. Most Gay Head citizens take pride in their competence and their record for being self-sustaining from their own natural resources.

Cap’n Harty Bodfish, who has spent several years of his life playing tag with polar bears back and forth across the Arctic Circle, to say nothing of chasing bowhead whales, musk oxen and walrus from Baffin’s Bay to Victoria Land, walked into a Main street store the other day and carelessly slid a box of eggs across the counter. “My pullets are laying,” he observed, “so here’s a dozen eggs I want to swap for bacon.”

“But cap’n,” protested the clerk, “there’s only nine eggs here.”

“Nine be blowed. I started with twelve. I must have dropped three by the overpowering force of habit. Always used to drop a few when we went birds’-egging up North. To keep the bears from chasing us! We’d climb up on the shelves of cliffs and pick up the fresh-laid eggs by the wheelbarrow load. Bears are fond of eggs, but they couldn’t get to such places, and so when a man came down with a basketful, they’d follow him and scare him half to death. So we’d drop a few now and then, the bears would stop and eat ’em, and that gave us a little leeway. Sometimes as many as twenty-five bears would be following along on our trails, growling over the eggs we dropped and shuffling along after more. I never saw anybody stand up and argue long with a polar bear unless he was pretty well prepared to win the argument at long range.”

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner