Martha’s Vineyard is known nationwide as a beautiful and affluent resort, an island where the well-to-do spend their summers on the water and breathe in crisp New England air.
Those of us who live on the Cape know there’s much more to our community than that, though. Like any island, Martha’s Vineyard has a rich history and personality all its own, created by the lives of those who have called it home for more than 300 years.
Many lives are memorialized in Martha’s Vineyard. Some are celebrities and household names. Others remain only as a name on a grave marker, their story lost to time. But all are a testament to the importance of honoring and memorializing the dead as a way to stay connected to our history.
The Most Famous Graves in Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard is home to many cemeteries, some very old and rich with history. There are 28 burial grounds on the island, from the ancient Gay Head Indian Burying Ground in Aquinnah to the modern tended grounds of West Tisbury Village Cemetery.
Visitors with an interest in art and history come to view the oldest grave markers, taking rubbings of the unique iconography on the hand-carved stones. Every winged skull and rhyming epigraph was carved with care for the life it honors, and today’s restoration projects keep those symbols alive.
Sometimes modern markers bear this old-fashioned iconography as well, to honor the art form and its history. Actor and musician John Belushi’s grave in Chilmark’s Abel Hill Cemetery is marked with a skull and crossbones, with the epigraph: “I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on.” His body has since been moved for greater privacy, but his gravestone remains as a tribute.
Another of Martha’s Vineyard’s most famous graves belongs to a woman whose impact was much smaller, but no less precious. Nancy Luce, born in 1811, struggled throughout her life with chronic illness, poverty, and the cruelty of neighbors who didn’t always understand or appreciate her eccentricities. Her dearest companions were her chickens, which she gifted with fanciful names, featured in handwritten poetry chapbooks, and buried with love and care in a private chicken cemetery on her property. Her grave still receives many visits from people touched by her gentle nature and commitment to her pets. Visitors leave behind flowers and chicken figures as tributes to a life that may otherwise have been lost to history.
There are other lives memorialized in Martha’s Vineyard that might otherwise have been forgotten by time. The Sailors Burying Ground, now managed by the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, is the final resting place for 78 seamen from around the world who perished off the coast of Massachusetts. Their graves are marked with simple, numbered markers, but a plaque bearing names, ages, and nationalities of those known and identified stands at the site as a memorial to these men lost at sea.
Our Martha’s Vineyard Funeral Home Location
Chapman Funerals & Cremations has been in Massachusetts for more than 150 years. We’ve helped families to honor and remember their loved ones in many ways over the decades, from funeral processions by horse-drawn carriage, to funerals held over Zoom for distant relatives. As different as things have become, the need to gather, remember, mourn, and memorialize has never changed.
Our first Martha’s Vineyard funeral home location opened in Vineyard Haven as Sylvia Funeral Home. We merged with them in 1983, then relocated five years later to our more central location in Oak Bluffs.
Throughout that transition and in the time since, we’ve been committed to helping families navigate the troubled waters of grief by handling every aspect of funeral planning—from arranging the burial or cremation to personalizing the funeral or memorial service and providing grief counseling resources. If you need help arranging a loved one’s final rest, we are here for you. Call 508-693-1495 for more information.