Thursday, March 31, 2011

Question 1

A few days ago a reader posed several questions, each of which is worthy of a blog entry. I will answer them one question at a time.

Here is question #1: "What are your earliest memories of the island?"

As many of our readers know, my father, Lawton Howard (1911-2002), left Ocracoke when he was 16 years old, and, like most young island men of that era, moved to Philadelphia to work. There he met and married my mother. Every summer we came back "home" to Ocracoke.

My earliest memories include taking the 4 hour trip across Pamlico Sound on the mailboat Aleta. This was, of course, before there was any ferry service to the island. You can only imagine the excitement and anticipation of this genuine adventure.

In those early days Ocracoke had only one single-lane paved, concrete, road. It ran from the old Navy base (where the NPS Visitors Center is located today), turned where the Anchorage Inn is now, turned again before the road to the British Cemetery, turned again at the present-day Coffee Co., then "T"ed at the end, and terminated in short aprons where the Navy dumped spent ammunition (hence the local name for the final, long section of the road, "Ammunition Dump Road"). The rest of the village lanes and paths were mostly deep, soft sand. I loved to run barefoot all over the village.

When I was a teenager my friends and I wandered around the village until late at night. When I came back home my feet were filfthy. Too tired to wash my feet before climbing into bed, I'd simply pull on my socks...then wash in the morning.

Every Saturday night we had square dances. In my days they were held in the school recreation hall (one of the abandoned WWII buildings that was moved to the school property -- where the gymnasium is today; the building was moved again in the 1970s, and is now Jimmy's Buffet restaurant). Oh what fun we had at those dances! Everyone was there...spirits were high...Ocracoke girls were cute...and there was always homemade meal wine somewhere.

In those days there were still numerous skeletons of wrecked schooners and other sailing vessels that had been tossed upon the beach. When I was a child I loved to climb on them and imagine the sailors and pirates who played such a prominent role in Ocracoke's history.

Of course, in the evenings visiting my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins was an important part of island life. The older folks told so many stories, and laughed so easily. During the day I'd wander down to the docks and watch the boats bring in fish, turtles, and other seafood. The old men sat on benches with white sailor's caps, barefooted with their pants rolled up, smoking cigarettes, drinking Pepsi Colas, and carving small birds.

Sometimes at night my buddies and I would wade out into the sound with our Coleman lanterns and flounder gigs. What a wonderful feeling it was to return home late at night, exhausted, carrying a mess of fresh flounder for our next day's dinner.

Horses, of course, made a visit to Ocracoke even more exciting. Before the mid 1950s the semi-wild ponies often found their way into the village. We'd see them around the harbor, or walking down Howard Street. My mother always filled a large galvanized tub so they'd have something to quench their thirst in the hot summer months. My Uncle Marvin was the leader of the mounted Boy Scout troop, so he always had a horse nearby. Another scout leader once sent him an Indian headdress. I can still see him riding through the village with that headdress, having a grand old time.

Well, there you have a few of my early memories of Ocracoke. I can't think of a better way to to have spent a childhood summer!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a list of traditional island remedied. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:44 AM

    Didn't I once see a photo of you wearing an Indian headdress? -- sitting cross-legged in a teepee?

    Some years ago?

    Or did I dream the whole thing?

  2. Indeed, I do have a photo of me wearing an Indian headdress, sitting cross-legged in a teepee! In the winter of 1968-1969 I lived on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, in north-central Montana. That's where the picture was made. My questions are...who are you...and how did you come to see that picture? I haven't thought of it for years. If you will solve this mystery for me I'll try to find the photo and publish it!

  3. Anonymous8:58 AM

    I think your daughter, Amy, has a copy of that infamous photo. She has shown it to a few people on the island, but don't tell her I squealed on her.

    Your secret is safe with me.

  4. Philip... The joy of your recollections just oozes off the screen. Wonderful.

  5. Anonymous11:52 AM

    The way you write about growing up on OI makes me wonder what my own childhood would have been like had I grown up there.You should write a book-I mean you really SHOULD. I think I've just about memorized "Digging up Uncle Evans".

  6. Anonymous2:03 PM

    The one single-lane paved, concrete road...when you describe the route from the Anchorage Inn to the Coffee Company, would that follow the path of the modern Back Road, and then to Sunset Drive? Where would the "T" at the end be now? Is "Ammunition Dump Road" still marked or in existence?

    Great write-up...looking forward to more answers!

  7. Yes, the Back Road follows the original concrete road. "Sunset Drive" is known by virtually all old-time islanders as "Ammunition Dump Road." The road today "T"s exactly where it did originally, in front of Edith O'Neal's house. If you look carefully along the top part of the "T" you can still see some of the concrete aprons (or remnants of them) where they have been turned into lanes and driveways. If you look carefully at the road in front of "Over the Moon" I believe you can still detect a trace of where the original concrete road was laid.

  8. You do need to write a book. I would buy it. I have most of the books about Ocracoke

  9. You can purchase my book of History, Ghost Tales, and Stories of Ocracoke Island ("Digging up Uncle Evans") at

    (In the Comment Box ask Jude to let you know the true charge for shipping. The software may not return an accurate figure for just one book.)

  10. debbie s.6:25 PM

    Philip, you really are a talented writer! Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories! And now, I have a new book on my to buy list ;) Will have to wait till later this month though (my son turns 5 this week! LOL) Is it possible to call the store and pay over the phone? I'd rather not use paypal...