Written By: Bruce A. Percelay
It has been fifteen years since N Magazine burst on to the island scene with its audacious and controversial cover featuring a scantily clad Mia Matthews, strategically dotted with daffodils. In that time, much has changed here, but the implications of that change depend upon your perspective.
The dramatic increase in wealth of the island’s summer population has for some become disconcerting. Larger homes, fancier cars, and bigger boats suggest a further departure from what was once the understated ethos of Nantucket. For others, prosperity has meant positive changes to Nantucket, resulting in the construction of the Whaling Museum, the Dreamland Theater, the Music and Culinary schools, the White Heron Theatre and, soon, a cutting-edge, new hospital.
The island population has also changed, most notably through significant increases in immigrant communities. Now, over half of the first grade population speaks English as a second language. Some see a threat in the shift in the island’s demographics, while others see a new and vibrant group eager to work and providing diversity to an otherwise homogeneous island.
For me, personally, over the past fifteen years, I was married here to my beautiful wife and our two children were born at the Cottage Hospital. I also said farewell to my wonderful father, a craftsman, a seaman, and a gentleman whose love of the sea first brought me as a five year old to Nantucket along with my family. It is now our opportunity to expose our own children to Nantucket and educate them to its special meaning.
With respect to all that has occurred over the past decade and a half, I have come to a realization: the older one gets, the more unnerved we become by seeing our own personal vision of Nantucket change. I’m not alone in this observation.
Eighteen years ago, the late David Halberstam lamented about the changes occurring to his island in an article in Town and Country, which was reprinted in our June issue. Thirty-four years ago, Russell Baker’s famous New York Times column, “The Taint of Quaint,” derided the changes to Nantucket as a result of its desire to attract the urban chic. It was predicted sixty years ago, that Walter Beinecke’s vision of Nantucket as an exclusive resort destination, would destroy the island’s soul and turn it into an overly cute, materialistic haven for the rich. And further still, there are op-ed pieces from old editions of the Inquirer and Mirror in the early 1900s, which repeat the same chorus that the island is on a path of ruination.
The fact is change has been as prevalent a part of Nantucket as the shifting sands upon which we live. Yet, despite these changes, as uncomfortable as they may feel in the moment, the island has managed to survive. In the words of Nat Philbrick, “There’s no place on earth that doesn’t change.”
Yes, seeing occasional visitors to the island importing Type A behavior from their native metropolis is not the Nantucket we know and love. Wealth does bring with it certain privileges, but discourteousness on Nantucket is not one of them. Money doesn’t make you important here — decency does.
In its entirety, the spirit of Nantucket still lives. The island remains an incredibly polite and caring community with a collection of some of the most talented and fascinating people anywhere. Indeed, the biggest privilege we have had at N Magazine has been to interview an amazing array of people, including community leaders, local nonprofit directors, island artists and musicians, US senators, world-class inventors, Olympic athletes, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, television anchorpeople, Oscar winners, and most recently the greatest coach of all time, Bill Belichick.
While those new to the island may not “get” the true island mentality, Nantucket lives in the core values of those who were born here, work here, and by and large, visit here. As in the decades and centuries before us, Nantucket will always be evolving, but the island has proven its ability to weather change without losing what makes this such an extraordinary treasure. N Magazine is proud to be part of the fabric of this rare place thirty miles out to sea, and we look forward to being a part of Nantucket’s culture for many years to come.
Come celebrate 15 years of N Magazine at our Crystal Ball anniversary bash on Friday, July 21st at the Whaling Museum. Tickets are available for purchase here.