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Tangier Island – SPOOKY

Have you ever heard of that island out in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay where the natives speak their own language? You know, that place where the people are cut off from modern-day civilization? It’s called Tangier Island and technically, it sits between  Virginia and Maryland. It is way out in the deep Chesapeake Bay, all alone… secluded from most of the world.

There is a special lore of mystery about this island. Many tales are circulated and passed down from generation to generation about these strange people and their chosen way of life. There is no road that will take you to Tangier Island. If you wish to visit, you must take a boat, ferry or fly.

Tangier Island Cruise Boat

Tangier Island is only 3 feet above sea level and has a land mass of just over 1 square mile. In the last census of 2010, this island had a reported population of  727.  In 2008, the population was reported to have dropped to around 600.  By 2013, population decline was reported again in RT Documentary stating it was around 530.  When we were there in 2015, we were told there were around 480 registered residents, but only about 398 that lived there year around.   While on Tangier Island, a local explained to us that as a child is old enough to go to College (and sometimes High School) they leave Tangier. They are ferried over to a nearby main land such as Crisfield Maryland, Onancock Virginia, and such. Once the young get off the island, they usually don’t return.  Another reason for the declining population is the significant land mass loss that occurs each year due to erosion. The Island has lost 70% of its mass since it was first populated in 1770s by farmers. Tide levels determine how much of the island goes underwater at different times of the day. The high points of Tangier Island that are called ridges are a mere 3 feet above sea level.

This quaint island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its people are a bit different that others that you will encounter in life. They are a bit more thankful for the small things that many of us take for granite. A medical doctor flies in to see them once a week and the cost to go to the mainland is substantial. A one way ferry ride can cost as much as $160 and once reaching the mainland, they would need to pay a cab to take them to their selected destination.

Tangier Cruise – ChrissyAdventures

The dialect on Tangier Island is unique. It is a mixture of old European English, Colonial English with many of their own revisions and slurs added. Listening to them speak is entertaining and the will hold long conversations with you about their home.

Tangier Islanders take great pride in their island. This shows in the way they reference the island when they speak of it and in the way they keep their town very tidy and clean.

Taking Pride in Tangier

On an island so small it is everyone’s responsibility to maintain the area.  It is also everyone’s responsibility to stay honest and detain those who are out-of-order. If they have an issue (which rarely happens we were told) they call in law enforcement from Maryland or Virginia to handle the unruly person.

They live as sustainably as possible and mostly make their revenue from tourist. It wasn’t always that way though. At one time crabbing for the famous Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab was their main source of funding. This is still an active revenue source for the islanders also.  Tangier Island may seem cut off from the world, but it is not completely.  The islanders have a cell tower and most have cell phones.  They also have access to the internet and do a great deal of shopping from places online.

There is a general store where islanders can get supplies and groceries. There are a few restaurants on the island as well.  One stays open year round, the others open up with tourist season. We saw several churches of various denominations on Tangier Island. I thought it a bit odd that there would be some many different denominations for so few people, but they sure do have many varieties of Christian Faith there. There was gas & oil station. But there were only 2 cars on the entire island.

The roads were more like wide walk ways and the islanders main modes of transportation were bicycles, golf carts, or walking.

We elected to walk for the first bit of our exploration, but after nearly being run over by several golf carts zooming by and knocked out the way by a few cyclist, we paid a local to drive us around the island and give us tour. It was much safer that way!

At first our tour guide explained that she had lived on the island her entire life and her husband as well. She explained that he was a seaman making their living on the water crabbing. After he passed away, she began to participate in the seasonal tourist activities to make enough money to sustain herself.  She drove us all over Tangier Island in her comfortable little golf cart, stopping occasionally for us to take a photo or to allow another golf cart to pass us safely. She explained what life was like on the tiny island and how the population kept dwindling. She was sad for their way of life to end one day. Her accent and dialect was intriguing, but nothing at all like the pamphlets indicated. I could completely understand everything she said.

At the top of our tour, she took us the lowest point of land on the island (which were many places). We could see many houses were literally falling into the sea.  There were abandoned boats large and small sinking.  Tops of boat docks could be seen in the distance and the beaches were only visible during low tide. It was sad to see how much erosion had occurred and amazing to me that so many people simply packed up and moved away as their homes were sinking.

As we left that area, we toured around through the town. We saw the homes that were currently occupied. They were pleasant-looking, well decorated, and maintained. The streets remained the same throughout the whole island, just barely wide enough for the Golf carts to safely pass each other. After passing by a few houses, we noticed something a bit strange. We had been admiring these homes, the landscaping, the architecture and such so that we were not seeing details. Spooky little details. Each home that we would slowly drive by had a person briefly look out the window. Some homes had a face that would appear and stare back  until we were out of sight. These faces, both men and women, were solemn. There were no smiles. No one waved “Hello”.  There was no emotion except just an eerie look on their faces. It was as if these people were afraid of something. Could it have been they feared tourist? Could it have been that they feared outsiders? I don’t know. To my husband and I both, it felt like they were hiding something.  Like, they knew something that we as outsiders did not know.  This sparked my curiosity. As we went about the tour, our guide took us to the highest point on the entire island, which looked just like the rest of the island. Before we knew it we were back where we started. The entire tour took only about 8 minutes. It felt much longer though. We paid her, gave a huge tip, and took off on foot once again. This time wiser about the maniac Golf Cart drivers.

As we walked up and down the residential streets, I asked my husband if he noticed the creepy looks as the people saw us from their windows. He turned to me and said, “You noticed that too?!!” Ah ha! I wasn’t just imaging it. He saw it too, so I wanted to talk to more locals. As we walked on the streets, we noticed more people coming to their windows and peeking out. I checked my fly…Zipper was up, so that wasn’t it.  We went inside a store that looked like a house and saw an elderly gentleman there who was talkative. My husband asked what there was to do in the town. The old islander’s response was that one day, long ago, there use to be a billiards place. Kids would hang out there and the young folks, but it was determined to be too sinful, so it was closed down. He said there also use to be a bar, but that produces some sinful town drunks. My husband and I left and whispered to each other how this place held some mysteries.  We noticed an absence of any small children. Maybe they were told to stay in? The youngest person we had met at that point was the 60 something year old tour guide we had.

We entered another store. This was a gift store specifically. I struck up a conversation with the lady there behind the counter. She spoke of loving life on the island and how the men were hard workers away from home for months at a time. She continued for about 20 minutes and ended her conversation with “It’ll be getting dark soon. Don’t miss yer boat to leave! Yea don’t want to be here at night.”  I thought to myself, Should I thank her or add this to the list of creepy?

Some people choose to stay over night on Tangier Island on purpose. In the corner of the island there is a Bed and Breakfast. I think this may be the only “hotel” on the island. It doesn’t  have a large number of rooms though, so if  you want to vacation on Tangier Island, make plans well in advance.

Hungry, we walked around and decided to eat at Four Brothers. It was the best decision we made all  day. There are many other places to eat, but this place was amazing! This was the only place on the island were we saw kids too.

I got an amazing veggie sub and my husband had a hamburger.  We were pleasantly full and satisfied with what we had. After being on Tangier Island for about 3 hours, we were told it was time to board our boat back to the main land. After being creeped out a bit, we were very happy to do so!

Overall Tangier Island is an experience that I would recommend to everyone. It is handicap accessible, family friendly, mysterious and intriguing. It has been said that this island may be completely underwater in the next 25-50 years (or sooner dependent upon weather).

Visit today and you could say you once visited an island inhabited by generations of islanders, until erosion ate away this quaint little civilization.

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