It was known as the "Cruise to Nowhere." The SS America with a passenger list 900 had left New York for an ocean voyage with no one knowing where they were going. But we on Martha's Vineyard had been informed that the America was going to stop here for eight hours so the passengers could buy souvenirs, take photographs of the natives and see a culture that hadn't changed since the Stone Age.
You can imagine our excitement. The SS America would be bringing hard-earned dollars to our island. Those of us who eked out a living clamming, fishing and playing gammon could expect a windfall of money. If the SS America's trip was a success, her cruise ships would decide to drop anchor off our shores, thus saving the economy of this God-forsaken spit of land which people in the package tour business had ignored for centuries.
There was some grumbling by a few natives that the SS America might change our way of life. Instead of sailing when the spirit moved us, or playing tennis, of bicycling in the woods, they warned, we might become corrupted by easy tourist dollar, and so our women would be demanding all sorts of material things such as electricity, running water and indoor plumbing.
But there was another group insisted we had no choice but to look toward the future and take advantage of tourism even if it meant the end of paradise as we men had known it.
Walter Cronkite, who has always dreamed of owning a television set, had his family start weaving colorful straw baskets which he planned to sell near the dock as the tourists stepped off their lighters.
Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" and his wife began to make whalebone necklaces which he would claim were Leon Spinks' teeth.
Katharine Graham and her house guests opted for glass blowing, which she would say were 300-year-old Martha's Vineyard wine bottles.
Ed Bennett Williams, the lawyer, decided to set up a stand and sell hot clam chowder to the hungry tourists.
Writer William Styron elected to turn his shack into an all-night bar called "Trader Bill's."
Robert Brustein, dean of the Yale Drama School, organized a grass-skirted dance troupe that would perform every half-hour in a tent.
I taught my wife and children to dive for coins which I was sure the tourists would throw to them while waiting to get off the ship.
Robert MacNamara of the World Bank said he planned to open a hut near the dock and cash traveler's checks at the rate of 12 Martha's Vineyard seashells to the dollar.
For the first summer none of us would go hungry.
But then at the last minute, because of overbooking and late sailing, the SS America decided to bypass Martha's Vineyard and our dream of being the only free port off the coast of Cape Cod went up in smoke.
Cronkite, stuck with 500 straw baskets, had a garage sale to try to recoup his investment, but nobody on the island came.