Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day!

According to religious leader, Harold Camping, and his followers, today is Judgment Day. A number of believers have sold or given away all of their worldly possessions in anticipation of this impending cosmic event. In case this day passes normally (as I expect it will), and we are still around tomorrow, I thought our readers would enjoy the following Ocracoke story:

Late in the night of New Year's Eve, 1929, Capt. Bill Gaskill's daughter, Nellie, and a friend walked out on the dock of Capt. Bill's Pamlico Inn to pump gasoline for a yacht tied up there. Someone was smoking a cigarette, and accidentally started a fire. The fire quickly escalated, spread down the dock and engulfed the tanks.

Before long a large gasoline tank exploded, sending tongues of fire and plumes of smoke billowing high into the early morning sky. Everyone nearby ran for cover as pieces of metal, hammers, wrenches, and other tools rained down around them. Even folks on the other side of the village were awakened by the explosion and conflagration.

Capt. Bill's sister-in-law, Sarah Ellen Gaskill, woke up and saw the sky aglow from the raging fire. She shook her husband awake. "Ben," she implored, "wake up. I think it's Judgment Day!"

"Sarah Ellen, go back to sleep," Ben reassured her. "It can't be Judgment Day. It's the middle of the night."

So...if today is not Judgment Day, and tomorrow dawns like any other day, at least all of the hype prompted me to share one more humorous story from Ocracoke Island. I hope you enjoyed it.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the autobiography of island native, Frank Treat Fulcher. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous2:33 AM

    Is this event documented in a published newspaper account?

  2. bill kostar7:41 AM

    If it were Judgment Day, Ocracoke would be particularly affected, as many of us consider the island to be as close to heaven as we're likely to get.
    Of course you'd also get quite a few folks who would be boring and judgmental, and if they had given away all their worldly possissions, they couldn't but anything, which would test even the considerable generosity of island residents.
    In any case, we're getting our reservations for August, as usual, and intend to be on island for a week come hell or high water.

  3. Ocracoke did not have a local newspaper in 1929-1930, and, because of the island's isolation, this fire probably did not draw the attention of anyone on the mainland. Ocracoke did not even get telephones until 1956, so no one would have called a mainland newspaper. No one was killed or injured...and there was little property damage. I've heard that Capt. Bill and friends cut the dock away to prevent the fire from spreading to the inn.

    Blanche had just turned 10 a few weeks before the fire, so she did not go "down point" to investigate, but her 18 year old sister did.

    There are only a few islanders alive who remember the Pamlico Inn fire. There is a brief mention of it in Alton Ballance's book "Ocracokers"...on page 229: "An explosion and fire destroyed the fuel tanks and docks at the Pamlico Inn during the early 1930s."

  4. debbie s.8:23 AM

    Enjoy this beautiful spring day and I look forward to the next post :P

  5. Anonymous8:39 AM

    I heard about your judgement day party last night. News spreads fast here. Someone said you had it early since you won't be having it tonight.

  6. Anonymous10:11 AM

    Is there an on going Oral History project ala Foxfire conducted by the high school journalism students? or a grant funded project by the Smithsonian documenting these events of the fabric of the island

  7. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Also, there is an interesting history of the Pamplico Inn (w/ vintage photos) on pages #56 & #57 of Jack Dudley's wonderful "Ocracoke Album", a handsome book this NC mainlander purchased on my visit last October @ The Village Craftsmen. (If my fellow bloggers don't have this book, it's quite informative & includes many vintage photos.)

    Tales of The Ponzer Hotel's demise are also quite amazing and Jack Dudley includes a large photo and history of this famous inn on page #26. As Philip knows, this old landmark was destroyed in 1900 when George Credle and a companion were cooking a goose on top of a heater. As the story goes, the fire became out of control, burnt the goose and destroyed the entire hotel.

    I don't know if someone thought it was "judgement day" when The Ponzer Hotel burned; however, it, like the burning of the Pamlico Inn, must have been quite a terrible sight to see and a tremendous loss. The good news was there was no loss of life, as far as I know.

  8. Anonymous4:35 PM

    The OI has a long history of explosions. The July 4th explosions were the most recent.

  9. Anonymous9:12 PM

    Yes, that event was absolutely horrible. I have heard, however, that there may be fireworks on the island this July 4th for the first time since that deadly explosion. I'm a little surprised.

  10. Please look for my reply to the question about oral history on Monday's post (May 23, 2011).

    Re. fireworks: I'm not sure about that. We'll see.