Thursday, July 23, 2015

Capt. Joe & His False Teeth

Capt. Joseph Merritt Burrus was the last Ocracoke lighthouse keeper to serve as an employee of the United States Lighthouse Service (Clyde Farrow served next, after care of the lighthouse passed to the US Coast Guard). Capt. Joe retired in 1946, after 45 years of service. He died in 1951.

Capt. Joe Burrus

Capt. Joe had a playful spirit, and islanders loved to tell the following story about him.

It seems that Joe's wife, Miss El, chanced to look out her back doorway, when she noticed her husband walking through the yard dragging something behind him attached to a string. She wondered what he was up to when she realized that he was turning the corner into the side yard. She walked into the parlor and opened the front door. Here came Joe dragging that object behind him. Next thing Miss El knew her husband was again in the back yard. When he rounded the corner into the front yard once more Miss El called out to him. "What in the devil are you up to, Joe, traipsing around the yard hauling that old piece of string behind you? The neighbors will think you've gone off your rocker."

 "El," Captain Joe, replied, "I've lost my chewin' tobaccy. So I've decided to tie my false teeth to this here string and drag them through the yard. If that tobaccy is anywhere in the vicinity, these teeth will latch onto it, sure as my name is Joe Burrus."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter tells the delightful story of the 19th century "Stovepipe Hat" wreck. It has been told for years in books & magazines, but it probably never happened. You can read the story (and my research) here:


  1. Anonymous9:29 AM

    This is a model employee. Most companies expect an employee to hang around for say 45 years, ask for no raises, report to work everyday, accept the paltry amount they pay you , accept the pitiful benefit package of health and life insurance ,expect no dental or vision coverage. No accrued vacation time plan and then when you retire, draw the small monthly pension for Five years at most. If this incident occurred when the man was employed , the obvious lack of a wellness plan to educate employees of the risks of chewing tobacco and the mouth cancer it can cause would have otherwise led him to cheerfully respond to his wife that he was merely entertaining the monkey on his back that he was going to go cold turkey in the chewn' tobaccy department. However, perhaps the reverse psychology of good health programs and the inclination of people to resist change is the insurance companies way to reduce the rolls of living retirees. Live life, drink and be merry-- hobble to work, call in sick but please don't quit ---hate your job, do less more often, because turnover and trying to hoodwink new employees to replace you with the same low standards their current employee have, ain't gonna happen.

  2. Great story as always! Thank you kindly for this mornings chuckle!

  3. Julie S.7:50 AM

    Not sure what that tirade from anonymous is about but I loved the story! Got any more about Captain Burrus? Hope so!

    1. Anonymous9:31 AM

      Allow me to explain to Julie S. The guy only "enjoyed" five years of retirement.( retired in 1946 died in 1951) If he actually thought dragging his false teeth behind him would help find his chewin' tobaccy well..... Also, does this story characterize the man as to his actual-- perceived by others--- state of reality. Was this guy declining in his state of mind? To me it speaks to the possibility that once JB retired he lost the will to live, lost his sense of purpose, to me it is a sad story. It also speaks to the level of job opportunities on OI. Today on OI the likelihood of going "stir crazy" is no doubt very low on the going stir crazy scale --there is no doubt an app one can download to monitor such vital signs which would indicate as much. In closing, OI through the stories shared here on OIJ reveal mainland society as a microcozism in my opinion. Anon 9:29 hope this helps.