Friday, April 15, 2016

The Albatross

Lately I have been reading Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I was reminded of this photograph of Mrs. Abner Dixon who began teaching at the school on Portsmouth Island in 1917.

This is what Aycock Brown wrote in the Ocracoke Island Beacon on December 15, 1941:

"Elsewhere in this edition today is a picture of Mrs. Abner Dixon, teacher of North Carolina's smallest school, half of her student body, and a stuffed Albatross.... [T]he moth-eaten stuffed first appeared to be a gigantic sea gull. Interested we asked Mrs. Dixon about the bird, learned it was an albatross, and then wanted to know the story of how this gigantic seabird, native of Antarctic, happened to be at Portsmouth, so she told us this story.

"'Years ago a group of sportsmen arriving at Tom Bragg's for the duck and geese shooting, received as a joke from some friends who could not come along, the stuffed Albatross. They knew that...a live Albatross is an omen of good luck and that a dead one was an omen of bad luck. Whether the stuffed bird brought bad hunting luck to the party is not remembered.

"'After the party left, the big bird was passed from one family to another, each getting rid of it because of the superstition that it was bad luck to have it in the house. Finally, I told them that I was not superstitious, and to let me have the Albatross for the school. I cannot see that it has brought the school bad luck.'

"Then we asked Mrs. Dixon how many students she had enrolled when she first came to Portsmouth. 'About 35' was her reply. 'And how many did you have 10 years ago,' we asked. 'Fifteen or 20,' she added. 'And today you have only four pupils?' we asked. Her reply was in the affirmative."


"God save thee Ancient Mariner,
From the fiends that plague thee thus.
Why looks thou so? With my crossbow
I shot the Albatross" 


This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about the 1977 recording of traditional Outer Banks folk music. You can read the article here:  


  1. Anonymous5:48 PM

    your on an island tell us about the current fishing reports, the upcoming events, what there is to do besides walk around, in other words give us a good a reason to visit ocracoke other than the local genealogy. we know about the lighthouse, springers point, the beach, what else..we have kids and they need action. someone told us to wait until we are old and retired then visit Ocracoke..they didn't like it. I am sure we would have a good time there but other than what I have mentioned what is there to do with a 8 and 10 year old?? Thanks

  2. Anonymous7:32 PM

    As a mainlander who has been visiting Ocracoke for many years with children in tow (now 17, 23, and 25), I'll take a stab at sharing the Ocracoke "action" we've enjoyed over the years, though if its go-karts, putt-putt golf, and fast food you're looking for you'd probably be better off staying on Ocracoke for the week and taking the ferry northward on a daily basis and driving to reach those sorts of attractions. ;-)

    The pony pens warrant a regular visit, of course. We've enjoyed various National Park Service programming over the years as well (though I'm not sure whether such things are still offered), like learning how to catch blue crabs, beach campfires and storytelling, identifying aquatic life in the sound.

    Visits to favorite shops were always highlights, including candy shops, ice cream shops, book stores, etc.

    There's a pirate-themed shop/museum that occupied a fair amount of time during visits when our oldest two were younger, but our kids have always enjoyed museums (like the Ocracoke Preservation Society, of course), so such places were natural destinations for us.

    I recall Howard's Pub used to have a kid-friendly menu and serve kids' meals on Frisbee-like toy discs, so that was always a favorite destination. As was the library, which (back then) had a small room dedicated to children's books, stuffed animals, and puzzles. I recall spending more than one visit reading and having fun there with our youngest when she was about five.

    She always enjoyed catching glimpses of the many Ocra-cats that we'd see while walking or biking the streets of the village. We've variously brought along our own bikes and rented bikes on the island, and we've rented kayaks as well, to explore the gentle waters of the sound, even with young kids. I recall my wife taking one of our boys on a guided kayak tour of the marshes along the soundside of the island. And an afternoon visit to Portsmouth Island--including boat rides to/from, a walking tour of the village, and then a hike to the beach where we swam and shelled while awaiting our return ride--was high adventure.

    As for cats (and the lighthouse), though we've visited the lighthouse many times, our daughter spent a good bit of our last visit petting the big, friendly yellow cat that patrols the walkway up to the lighthouse, so that was a highlight of her visit.

    The screened front porch of the library used to have an inviting collection of kid-sized rocking chairs that I thought was always particularly appealing. And the basketball court right outside, situated between the library and the Ocracoke School, always seemed to have a basketball parked somewhere along the fringe of the court practically inviting passersby to take a few shots.

    There's unparalleled stargazing on the shore at night, watching for shooting stars or lightning flashes from far-distant storms, not to mention ghost crabs. And of course we've had fun back at our rental homes as well, enjoying the rare downtime as a family together playing board games or assembling puzzles.

    I've noted here before that cousins of mine returned from a long-ago visit to Ocracoke saying "But there's nothing to DO there!" (Their tastes run more toward outlet malls.) Recalling that comment always reminds me of a favorite poem, "The Snow Man," by Wallace Stevens, in which he comments on "...the nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is."

    Putt-putt golf courses and movie theaters and go-kart tracks all have their place, and we've visited them with our kids when we vacationed in other communities farther north along the OBX. For my taste, though, I'm glad such places are a long day trip from Ocracoke.

    Just one person's opinion.

    I'll be curious to see what others may have to say.

  3. Ocracoke has much to offer adults and families with children, most of it focused on nature. We have 16 miles of undeveloped ocean beach, and easy access to the waters of Pamlico Sound. As Anon 7:32 points out, however, Ocracoke is not for everyone. We do not have much in the way of "canned entertainment" and most of us think that is s a good thing. The simple joys of building a sand castle, searching for seashells, exploring the shallow waters of the Sound, swimming, fishing, biking, kayaking, and a host of other natural activities more than compensate for the lack of miniature golf, roller coasters, and fast food restaurants. To see more of what Ocracoke has to offer, please visit If what you read appeals to you we hope you will pay us a visit. Thanks for the inquiry.

  4. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Hi this is Anon 5:48. I asked the original question. You sold me, both of you with your passionate answers. The stars, we forgot about the stars. YOU REALLY DO HAVE STARS. We don't. Oh they are out there somewhere on the other side of all the lights. The kayaking, the bike riding, the crabbing, the NPS events...Thank you. When the kids read your two replies they were jumpin' (maybe with all the bike riding and kayaking they will tire out and calm down some!).....Thanks the way we will make a point to visit the Village Craftsman's store. The Lawson's - Tampa,FL.

  5. Anonymous5:29 PM

    And this is Anon 7:32. So glad to hear of your kids' excitement. My oldest and youngest both happened to be here for breakfast this morning, and when I shared details of your original question with them, both of them commenced rattling off almost word for word the various details I shared here. One thing I forgot to mention was a village dog that fell in and walked along with our kids one day as they were out exploring--from the basketball court, to the candy store (that REALLY was--and remains a favorite destination of theirs). So they had a pet dog for the afternoon as well.

    It's a 600-mile trip for us to reach Ocracoke, but it remains a can't-resist destination for us, which is why I coined my own personal motto: Ocracoke--It's ALWAYS worth the trip.

    Happy trails to you, and best wishes for many years of happy memories to you and your kids, exploring the pleasures of Ocracoke.