War Prize

A war memorial that has a secret history

CIVIL WAR MEMORIAL Oak Bluffs cr MVY Chamber 10

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ost people pass right by war memorials, but Martha’s Vineyard’s Civil War memorial is worth another look, given that it has one of the oddest histories you’ve ever (and until now, likely never) heard. That’s because this tribute to the island’s Union soldiers was, ironically, the gift of a Confederate, Charles Strahan, a southern newspaper editor who hoped to foster reconciliation. It shows a Union fighter, with “U.S.” stamped on his kit and carries the inscription: “Erected in honor of the Grand Army of the Republic by Charles Strahan, Co B 21 Virginia Reg.” The statue, which is made of zinc, was at one point painted gray in deference to Strahan, who settled on the Vineyard after the war. But in 2001 it was restored in its original color.

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Time capsules with mementos of local Civil War veterans are buried in Owen Park on Crocker Avenue in Vineyard Haven, which memorializes Captain Leander Owen, one of the few survivors of the 1871 Great Arctic Whaling Disaster, in which 33 ships—including two from Martha’s Vineyard—were caught and crushed in heavy ice while hunting whales. A lithograph of the disaster hangs in the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society museum.

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