Encyclopedia Vineyardia: P

Mark Lovewell

Pagoda Tree: Death-defying shade tree on South Water Street in Edgartown that has survived a sailing voyage from China in a flowerpot in 1837, various hurricanes including the great ones of 1938 and 1954, an effort to cut it down in 2003, and a plan to build a garage over its roots in 2014. Originally brought to the Vineyard as a seedling by Captain Thomas Milton, a former privateer turned whaleship investor. He planted it on a lot he’d purchased for his future home, which he built three years later, and which is now part of the Harborside Inn. For more than a century and a half the tree grew unmolested, rising to more than seventy-five feet and spreading significantly wider than that; it’s thought to be the largest example of a Sophora japonica in the state. Unimpressed, in 2003 the owners of an abutting property requested permission to remove the tree in order to make room for a bigger house. The town refused to allow the cutting, and the tree quietly carried on the business of spreading shade until a new homeowner, then–CarMax CEO Thomas Folliard, requested permission to build a garage over the roots of the tree. After a public hue and cry the plan was scrapped: “We’re proposing to donothing,” said the Folliards’ architect Patrick Ahearn. “The tree will continue on its life as it has been over these last hundred-plus years.”

Pétanque: (pay-TONK) a French game akin to bocce that was popularized on the Vineyard in the 1960s by Yvette and Max Eastman, who learned it in the South of France. The game can be played “in the rough” so to speak, and for a time there was a regular Friday evening match between the Chilmark Chumps and the Gay Head Flickers at the Squibnocket Beach parking lot in Chilmark. There are also an indeterminable number of backyard courts scattered around the Island.

Martha’s Vineyard Museum

Pierce, Daniel: AKA “Blind Daniel” and “the Edgartown Town Crier,” 1853 (approx.)–1918. A well-known figure in Edgartown during his lifetime, Pierce lost his eyesight at the age of eleven but managed to keep himself employed throughout his life at a variety of jobs that most would not attempt blindfolded. He loaded and delivered cartloads of seaweed; he dug clams for the Katama Lodge; he took tourists huckleberrying. “Well, I can’t ’splain,” he said when asked how he could pick berries himself. “I suppose somethin’ was give to me in room of my eyesight.” He was the “crier” for the railroad that ran between Edgartown and Cottage City (Oak Bluffs), advertising “clam-bakes and all other notices.” He delivered mail. In 1891 he raised his fee for running errands from two cents to five cents, which the Vineyard Gazette applauded, noting “we understand there are some people...who have hearts so stony that after sending a blind man to an errand at the extreme end of town, and that perhaps in a hard storm, will thrust a cent into his hand and think that is full payment for the work done.” He sold fruit, and when asked what was in his cart was known to reply “oranges and lemons: the Congregational are on one side, the Methodist in the middle, and the Baptist on the other side.”

Brian Jolley

Place on the Wayside: The spot where tradition has it that in 1657 Thomas Mayhew Jr. gave his final prayer, blessing, and goodbye to his flock of converts, the so-called “praying Indians.” Located on a semi-circular pullout on the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road near the entrance to the airport is a commemorative plaque that represents the cairn that arose near the spot over the years, as converts passing the location cast stones into a heap in remembrance of Mayhew, who shortly after the event disappeared at sea.

Poketapace, John: Wampanoag Islander during the 1660s, for whom Poketapaces Neck on Edgartown Great Pond is named. He was better known during his lifetime for selling Holmes Hole Neck, or West Chop, to a pair of English speculators from Rhode Island around 1663. He didn’t actually have the authority in the tribe to sell the tract, nor did the English buyers have the required permission from their chief, Thomas Mayhew, to purchase it. That didn’t stop them from “authorizing” Francis Usselton to move to Holmes Hole and become the first European resident of West Chop. He was evicted by men sent by Mayhew, who were then deeded the land themselves as a reward. Returning it to the Indians was apparently not an option.

Pratt, Samuel Freeman: 1824–1920. Architect and inventor best known for designing Union Chapel and other iconic buildings in Oak Bluffs. The son of a carpenter, Pratt was born in Cohasset and moved to Boston in his thirties to be a carver. There, though he apparently lacked formal architectural training, he began working with Robert Morris Copeland, the landscape architect and planner in charge of mapping out the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company’s development. While Copeland laid out the town, Pratt designed Union Chapel, which was built in 1870 for $16,000 – roughly $304,000 today. It was followed in 1872 by the Arcade (now home to Sharky’s Cantina) and the original Sea View Hotel, which burned down in 1892. The most extravagant of several private homes he designed in Oak Bluffs was the 5,372-square-foot “cottage” for the governor of Massachusetts, William Claflin, that is now The Oak House bed and breakfast.

Jocelyn Filley

Priscilla Pearls: Popular synthetic pearls created in the 1920s and ’30s from the scales of herring caught by the Mattakesett Creek Company. The mastermind was Ralph Bodman, a Hyannis entrepreneur who perfected a process to remove the “guanine crystal,” or glittery silver substance, from herring scales and create an emulsion to coat glass or mother-of-pearl beads. The result was authentic-looking pearls at an affordable price. It took ten pounds of scales to produce an ounce of the pearl essence to ship back to Hyannis. At peak production he processed one-half to two-thirds of a ton of scales a day; the rest of the fish was discarded or given to farmers for fertilizer. In 1938 Bodman left the ersatz pearl business. “The foreign finished products were inferior to ours,” he said of the cheap knockoffs that undercut his sales. “I don’t think that had anything to do with the process they used…but the herring in other waters don’t seem to lend themselves so well to that sort of thing.”

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