Encyclopedia Vineyardia: B

The Barnacle Club, the Blue Rock of Chappaquiddick, and William Beetle.

Barnacle Club, the: A men’s social organization with two rules – no booze and no women – and, at last report, some difficulty rounding up members to meet. Founded in the late nineteenth century in Vineyard Haven, the club was open only to bona fide master-mariners with salt in their veins and an interest in regaling one another with tales of life at sea. “It started out as a bunch of deep-sea men and fishermen and ship men who set up a bunch of benches on the shore of Vineyard Haven harbor in the summer,” said current president Alan Wilder, who is eighty-two. “And in the winter they would go up and get underfoot at the blacksmith shops and other businesses in town.”

By the 1920s the club settled into the second floor of the Benjamin Franklin building on Main Street, which now houses the Green Room. Even more revolutionary was the admission in 1929 of Brewer Corcoran, the club’s first summer resident. But with the decline of the seafaring economy, true salts were in short supply.         

No sign adorned this roost, other than a barnacle the size of a man’s fist that was rumored to have come off a whale. There was a fine view of the harbor, though, and the space was decorated with nautical relics, along with the stuffed head of a moose shot by one of the members who kept it too long before serving it to his comrades. “He brought it here from New Bedford, and they put it in the meat locker at the A&P, but it stunk up the whole town,” the late Percy Burt told the Vineyard Gazette in 1979. “So we cooked it in Hallowells’ Restaurant. Served it up as nice brown steaks. Some of the members thought it was all right...a little gamey. But most of us were so sick.”

The occasion for the 1979 Gazette article was that, with membership low again, the club could no longer afford the rent on Main Street. The demise of the club seemed imminent. “It was television that killed this club,” said Burt. “We used to have five or six tables of cribbage going, a checker table, and a pool table. Now everyone just sits at home.” They even thought of making the club co-ed. “But it didn’t work,” said the late Stuart Bangs. “Maybe we weren’t sexy enough.”

Reports of the Barnacle’s demise were premature, however. Though the moose head and other artifacts remain in storage, current club president Wilder says there are still forty-two members on the books. “Last spring we had a very good oyster stew,” he said, but noted that the holiday “ladies’ night” never took place and there is nothing planned for the future. “The main thing is we need to get somebody else other than this eighty-two year old to take some initiative and take up the load.”

Blue Rock of Chappaquiddick: A large rock near Wasque Point that was the supposed location of a buried hoard of Spanish dollars and other pirate treasure. The lore is thick: a pirate came ashore and founded one of the “well-known Vineyard families”; a ghost ship full of skeletal pirates protects the site from would-be treasure seekers.

Before throwing a shovel in the back of the Wagoneer and heading for the Chappy Ferry, consider that in 1944 the Vineyard Gazette printed a letter reporting that when then-
deceased Ben Pease of Edgartown was a child, he knew a farmer who had been paid fourteen pieces of eight for the use of his boat by two strangers who otherwise left nothing behind but a hole in the ground in the vicinity of Blue Rock.

Beetle, William: Edgartown whaler murdered by Samuel Comstock of Nantucket with a hatchet to the head in the mid-Pacific during the Globe mutiny of 1824.