Saturday, August 6, 2016

From the Archives: President vacations on the Vineyard, 1874

The Obamas begin their well-deserved Vineyard vacation today.  We dug into our 240- year archives and found our comprehensive coverage of an earlier Presidential holiday on the island, as it appeared on August 27, 1874 – The Editors

But Civil War Hero found some aspects not to his liking
Difficulties in procuring spirituous refreshment cause concern

By Everett Poole
Special Correspondent
By Cable to The Massachusetts Spy

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. –  The Presidential vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard has been generally regarded as a great success, both by the inhabitants of this distant isle and by the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic himself, Ulysses S. Grant.

The President enjoying his holiday on Martha's Vineyard
The President arrived on the steamer Nobska, having departed New York by special train provided by his friends at the New Haven Railroad.  The President enjoyed the trip, telling his traveling companions that he could “imagine no finer or easier way to travel.”

Upon arriving at the quay at Oak Bluffs, the President was greeted by a substantial throng of well-wishers and the tootling of the M.V. Camp Ground Association Marching Band.  The President was accompanied by his family and his unofficial guide to the island, Massachusetts Congressman Oakes “Pockets” Ames.

After checking in at the finest accommodations offered by Oak Bluffs – the world-famous Wesley House – the President announced that he had worked up a powerful thirst in the course of his long walk from the steamer dock and said he was ready for his daily whiskey ration.

Informed by a servant that alcoholic beverages were not procurable in the Town of Oak Bluffs, the enraged President stubbed out his cigar on the unfortunate minion's face and sent off an urgent cable to the War Department in Washington.  Fortunately, Congressman Ames had brought a private stock in two steamer trunks which was thought sufficient to tide the President over until reinforcements arrived on the overnight steamer from New Bedford. 

To make up for disappointing the Commander-in-Chief on the beverage front, the management of the Wesley House had laid on a New England clambake, courtesy of the President's friends at Credit Mobilier.  The fine meal was generally well received, although when the Captor of Vicksburg saw a massive 2 pound locally-caught lobster adorning his dinner plate, he fulminated, “I did not travel all the way from New York to consume a g.d. bug!”
The Wampanoag Indians greeted the President at Gay Head

However, the President heartily enjoyed the accompaniments, including the steamed quahogs, which he said would be even more delicious deep-fried in batter.  “Like the rebels at Vicksburg, except they were using rats!” the Union hero japed.

The next day happened to be the Sabbath, so the President joined the reverent throngs at the Tabernacle, the open-air church in the middle of the Oak Bluffs Campground.  He gave a powerful sermon during which he praised the efforts of his Administration to reconstruct the rebellious South. 

“If you could see as I have the remarkable progress being made by the emancipated freemen throughout the South, you would be as sure as I am that we are never going back to the days of bondage.  In fact, the success of our efforts is so durable that I am confident that before the end of this century, you will see a black President standing on this very spot and addressing this very congregation,” he said, to hosannas and shouts of approval.

The President said he would not indulge in surf bathing
While parts of the Presidential holiday were closed to the public, including convivial private smokers with his friends in the rail road business out West, a selection of newspaper correspondents, including yours truly, were invited to accompany the Conqueror of Richmond on a journey “up-island,” the local locution for the small farming and Indian towns at the distant end of the Vineyard.

After passing through a long, and arguably wearisome, series of impoverished-looking farms and sheep folds, the President remarked: “Who on earth would want to live in this desolation?  Perhaps I should have exiled the Jews of Memphis here to get them out of the way!”

Upon reaching the lonely outcropping of the Gay Head Cliffs, the President was greeted by the Chief of the local Wampanoag Indian tribe, who eke out a living fishing in local waters and selling trinkets to tourists.  The President, looking out over the remarkable vista afforded by the Cliffs, noted the majestic and invigorating loneliness of the windswept heights in his own droll fashion, commenting, “you know what these Injuns could use out here?  A casino!”

The President is expected to spend the rest of his stay relaxing in private.  Despite the current popularity of surf bathing, the President said he had no intention of indulging, calling the practice “unsightly and unhealthy.”  Instead he said he would spend the remainder of his time with his stogies and bottles of rye. 

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