Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Winter of 1917-1918

The bitter cold of the last few days brings to mind stories of the severe winter of 1917-1918 when much of Pamlico Sound was frozen solid. 

Capt. Joe Burrus (he built the building that is now "Oscar's House B & B" on NC 12) was stationed on the screw-pile lighthouse at Bluff Shoal, about seven and one half miles from Ocracoke.  According to old timers the cold lasted so long that for several weeks no supply boats could reach the light station on Bluff Shoal. 

Eventually Captain Joe ventured out onto the ice and walked quite a distance.  Whether he was attempting to walk all the way to dry land, or just trying to relieve the boredom, is uncertain.  At any rate he turned back and remained at the lighthouse until the weather broke and food and supplies were finally delivered to him. 

Capt. Joe Burrus

 When the supply boat finally made contact with Captain Joe the seaman reported that the lighthouse keeper had run out of food.  Of much more concern to Captain Burrus, however, was the fact that he had used up his supply of chewing tobacco.  Maybe that's what he was after when he stepped out onto the ice that cold winter day. We’re told he had resorted to chewing boat caulking before the supply boat arrived.

For more stories of the Big Freeze of 1917-1918 follow this link to a superb story in Our State magazine by Bryan Mims:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a 1921 letter written by a former slave, Harrison Williams, to Ocracoke native, Martha Ann Howard Wahab. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:56 AM

    What strikes me when reading your account of Captain Burrus is how easy life has now become and one wonders if folks would be as hardy if the same circumstances happen in 2014. NC Mainlander makes this observation after the short cold snap in NC this week.

  2. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Here in SW PA our temps bottomed-out around -10, which gives ALL NEW PERSPECTIVE on the comparative warmth of today's +32 (and the comparative comforts of life in 2014 vs. 1917, thanks to Philip's story).