Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Oleander (Nerium oleander) is in full bloom all over the island. Although oleander is an attractive ornamental plant, it contains the deadly toxins oleandrin and nerioside. Ingestion of even small amounts can kill, and death may be sudden. The entire plant is toxic to all animals.

Enjoy the blosoms but keep children and pets at a distance. There are plenty of other island attractions to enjoy this time of year, including a dip in the surf, a stroll down Howard Street, an outing in the Sound for fishing, or an ice cream cone at one of our local businesses. Today is the perfect day for relaxing and appreciating a specatularly beautiful and uncommonly quiet morning.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Island Quiet

I'm told it's foggy this morning, though from my window it just appears overcast. Maybe the Cedar Island & Swan Quarter ferries were blowing their fog horns eary this morning, but I was still asleep and didn't hear them. As I write tree frogs are peeping from their hiding places, and birds are twittering in the branches, but otherwise the morning is still and quiet.

The Memorial Day weekend crowd has mostly returned home. We are anticipating a few days to catch our breath before the Ocrafolk Festival begins Friday evening with a community pot luck dinner and benefit auction. If you're planning to be on the island this weekend be sure to stroll down Howard Street and take in all the music, storytelling, and crafts. It is always a super festival.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Greetings

Unlike many small villages, Ocracoke has no formal community recognition of today's holiday. I suppose it's because all of our businesses are open, catering to the many folks who come here for the long weekend. Islanders simply remember our servicemen in more private ways.

Over the weekend our streets were crowded with walkers and bicyclers as well as vehicles. Many locals just chose to stay near home. I ventured to the beach in the morning with family and friends. Even yesterday there was only a small crowd and we had plenty of room to romp and play, as well as catch a few waves. The surf was gentle and rolling with waves every now and then that were perfect for body surfing.

A new summer season has arrived!

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I am no naturalist, so I don't know much about toads. I just know they are hopping all around my house and yard this time of year. According to Bill Ruehlmann at,

"Amphibians have always been scarce on Ocracoke. There are no documented accounts of salamanders and only four recorded species of frogs and toads. This is because of the scarcity of fresh water and the large amount of salt spray which, during storms, reaches almost all areas of the island."

Click on the link above to read the rest of Ruehlmann's glowing article about island naturalist Pat Garber and her book Ocracoke Wild: A Naturalist's Year on an Outer Banks Island. Although this book is out of print, Pat's other book, Ocracoke Odyssey, A Naturalist's Reflections on her Home by the Sea, is available here.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Flotsam & Jetsam

Yesterday I had this question from a reader:

"What sorts of interesting flotsam/jetsam have you heard of washing ashore, and what're the interesting things you and your acquaintances have personally encountrered along the beaches?"

As you can imagine, a great assortment of things have washed ashore on Ocracoke over the years. Lumber was probably the most practical treasure, though rum & whiskey were more popular! I've heard of bananas and top hats from years ago, and I have personally found assorted fruits & vegetables, as well as new shoes. You can read more here:

After I wrote that piece I learned that Mr. Tommy Howard was just a young boy when the Pioneer wrecked. His mama sent him out to scavenge whatever he could. Instead of returning home with cheese, canned goods, or other useful items, he came back with an armful of books. His mother was disappointed, but I'm told he taught himself to read, and as a result got the postmaster's job years later. Mr. Tommy was the island postmaster for 40 years.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Steamer Glasbolt & Dolphins

On May 25, 1884 the Scotish steamer "Glasbolt" with a crew of 16 and one passenger, on its way to Philadelphia with a load of fruit, wrecked on the South Point of Ocracoke because the captain misidentified the Ocracoke lighthouse. The weather was fair and the ship was in no immediate danger. The Life Saving crew "stade [sic] by them" until the wrecking steamer from Norfolk "come to her relief."


Yesterday a reader asked, "How often do local folks see dolphins? Do they swim in your waters more in the spring?"

Dolphins are plentiful in our waters. Particularly in the winter months when the surf is not too rough we see them almost any day when we walk along the beach. At times there are numerous pods cruising just beyond the breakers. Young ones, especially, seem to enjoy jumping and splashing and riding waves.

Actually, you may see dolphins at any time of the year. Just keep your eyes open and look for their dorsal fins as they gracefully break the surface.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mary J. Haynie

On this date in 1921 the schooner "Mary J. Haynie" wrecked on Ocracoke beach. Since the mid-1800s at least 27 vessels have been lost in the month of May on the NC coast. I would be surprised if another shipping disaster were to occur today, however. The weather forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with highs in the lower 70s. Winds should be light and variable. I think this would be the perfect day to sail along our coast -- or to bike through the village, or stroll along the surf looking for dolphins. Spring is in the air!

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Al stopped by yesterday evening to chat. Warner & I had just started fixing dinner (Warner was visiting from D.C. where he works with "Save the Children"). Cousin Ed had brought a satchel of clams by earlier in the afternoon, and we were preparing "clams casino."

After a gin & tonic Al asked if I'd seen the frigatebird. A big bird (38" - 40") with the largest wingspread in proportion to its weight, it was hovering over the harbor several days ago in the early evening. Extremely rare at Ocracoke, this bird has very long, pointed wings, a deeply forked tail, and a long hooked bill. Fowler O'Neal was down by the docks and he said O'cockers always called them Storm Gulls because they were typically spotted after they'd been blown to the island during hurricanes and such.

Unfortunately, I missed the show. But at least I'll know what I'm seeing if it shows up again. Keep your eyes open around here. You never know what you might see.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Monday, May 22, 2006

King Snakes

On Saturday as we were walking along the Springer's Point nature trail one of our group spotted a king snake slithering across our path. On closer inspection we realized that there were actually three snakes passing by. They stayed just off the path, half hiding under leaves and brush.

Other folks saw them as well. In fact, after we moved on another person noticed that one of the snakes had captured a frog and was struggling to dispatch it.

Just in case you're getting nervous, king snakes are nonvenomous, egg-laying, constricting snakes, and pose no threat to human beings.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Springer's Point

Yesterday was the official opening of the Springer's Point Nature Preserve in Ocracoke Village. Thanks to all of the great people at the NC Coastal Land Trust this area has been saved from development.

There were speeches, nature and history walks, as well as lunch on the grounds and a reception at the Back Porch Restaurant, with music provided by Molasses Creek.

We were delighted to have some of the Springer family in attendance. Judy & Richard (E.D. & Clara Springer's great-great niece & nephew) shared stories about how E.D. & Clara came to buy the property in the late 1800s. The Point has carried their name for over 100 years. They even brought a photo of E.D.:

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Friday, May 19, 2006


A reader asked this question on yesterday's post: "Did I hear something about a cannon being pulled out of the water down there that may have come from Blackbeard's pirate vessel?"

The answer is, yes, you certainly may have. In 1996 divers discovered, in nearby Beaufort Inlet, a ship they believed to be the sunken wreck of Blackbeard's flagship.

Excavations of the shipwreck are being conducted by the N.C. Division of Archives and History's Underwater Archaeology Branch in partnership with Maritime research Institute and the North Carolina Maritime Museum. You can read all about the project on their web site, The Queen Anne's Revenge.

The web site includes much information about the ship and the project. This is what they have to say about the vessel's armaments:

"Pirate ships were heavily armed and QAR was no exception. Historical accounts refer to as many as 44 cannon on the ship. So far, 18 have been found on the site, and three were recovered by archaeologists. Artifacts associated with the cannon include iron round and bar shot, lead aprons or touch-hole covers, bag shot with glass shrapnel, and possible carriage hardware. Small arms include a brass blunderbuss barrel, a side plate in the form of a sea serpent, a butt plate, chert gunflints and several thousand small caliber lead round shot. Although no edged weapons have been discovered, a whetstone and a quarter section of a millstone were recovered from the wreck. In addition, two powder-filled hand grenades with wooden fuses were recovered."

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Upcoming Events

Temperatures for the next several days should be near perfect, in the lower 70s, with a light breeze. There is a slight chance of rain in the forecast, but we're hoping it holds off until after Stephanie Monticone & Brian Potempa's wedding on the beach tomorrow afternoon, and after the NC Coastal Land Trust's official opening of the Springer's Point Nature Preserve on Saturday.

In the meanwhile we'll enjoy springtime on the island while it's still relatively quiet here. I think I'll do some yard work, wash my car, and take a stroll on the beach.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ocracoke & the War of 1812

Present day visitors to Ocracoke, as well as residents, seldom ponder the central role the island played throughout American history. An almost forgotten era of local history is the War of 1812 and the Invasion of Portsmouth and Ocracoke by the British. Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter recounts some of the frightening events of July, 1813. Click on this link to read about Ocracoke & the War of 1812.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Portsmouth Island, Again

A reader just commented, "In thinking about life on Ocracoke I've also wondered about Portsmouth Island; I imagine it must be (or once have been) an irresistible destination for adventuresome kids growing up there. Aside from the standard tales of the island's history, can you shed any light on the island from an insider's perspective."

Interestingly, there was little interaction between communities across inlets. Of course, members of the Life Saving Service (later the US Coast Guard) would sometimes be assigned to other Outer Banks stations, and now and then they would marry young ladies from another island. But the distribution of traditional island names attests to the relative isolation of Outer Banks communities. It is rare to find Midgettes or Hoopers or Burruses south of Hatteras. Salter and Dixon and Babb are Portsmouth Island names. The Howard and Garrish and Wahab surnames are typically from Ocracoke.

A few names are more widely distributed -- O'Neal, Scarborough, and Ballance come to mind, but these are more exceptions than the rule.

Portsmouth, of course, was not easy to get to from Ocracoke. Although you can see it's silhouette on the horizon, there have never been ferries across Ocracoke Inlet. Aside from an occasional jaunt to Portsmouth for a day's recreation (and many O'cockers never made that journey their entire lives), the only talk I ever heard of much interaction was old-time mutual church services and dinners. These were day trips organized by the preachers maybe once a year.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Trip to Portsmouth Island

Captain Rob & I took his small catboat across the waters to Portsmouth Island yesterday morning. The current was swift so we motored for a while. But when we raised the sail and stopped the outboard we entered a different world. There is nothing quite as peaceful and relaxing as being out on the sound in a sailboat. Near the inlet we spotted two dolphins. They approached us and swam under our boat as we made our way toward the island.

We docked the boat half way between the ocean beach and the village and searched for a few clams. But both of us needed to get back home because of a Mother's Day brunch at the Cafe Atlantic. So we headed back to Ocracoke without any clams and without a walk through the village. Storm clouds were making on the horizon, and thunder in the distance rumbled up to us. We arrived back at the dock with just a few raindrops on the deck.

'Twas a wonderful morning adventure!

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

64 Years Ago

Ocracoke's British Cemetery, next to the historic Howard family graveyard, is the final resting place of four sailors from Great Britain's HMT Bedfordshire, an armed trawler which was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 11, 1942. Island residents discovered their bodies on the beach shortly after the tragedy and arranged for a fitting burial under the shade of several ancient live oak trees. Today the graves are under the care of the British War Graves Commission along with the US Coast Guard. Every spring, a memorial service is held to honor these and other brave sailors who served in WWII.

Tomorrow is the 64th anniversary of the discovery of the bodies by island natives. And yesterday was the annual memorial service. I visited the neatly tended graves last night, under the calming light of the brilliant full moon. Wreaths are placed by the fence and the British flag flies watch over the cemetery, a silent reminder of cooperation, camaraderie, dedication, bravery, and tragedy.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Day Off

I took yesterday off (the reason for no post yesterday). Visitors sometimes wonder what we islanders do on our days off.

Although I take time away from Village Craftsmen on a regular basis, I'm normally nearby and I usually take time to at least publish a post. Yesterday I took a full day off. Well, in the morning I did take care of several domestic chores (cleaning, vacuuming, & laundry) that needed attention. By mid-morning I was scheduled to babysit for a couple of hours. When noontime came I was ready to pick up my latest book, American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips. I stretched out in my hammock on the back porch and hadn't read more than ten pages before I fell asleep.

Of course, I was more than ready for lunch when I awoke. Then it was off to the beach for a long stroll along the surf (I even found a small right-handed conch -- see our May 4 post). Back home again, it was time to read a bit more and then get some things ready for dinner.

David came by about 5:15 with Lachlan. I got on my bike and rode with them over to the Castle B & B swimming pool for Lachlan's first swim lesson. He loved it, and learned to blow bubbles. He even enjoyed it when David dunked his head under the water.

By the time I arrived back home, it was time to put all of the ingredients together and put dinner in the oven. It was nearly 8 o'clock by the time we were ready to sit down to dinner. Karen Lovejoy and her daughter, Molly, were there to share with me. Unfortunately her husband, Dave, and other daughter, Emma, were off-island and didn't make it home in time for dinner.

By 10:30 my company had gone home and I was ready for bed.

Not all that exciting a day, I suppose, but definitely a relaxing Thursday....and a glimpse into island life.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Another Pot Luck

A large crowd gathered at the Community Center last night for the Preservation Society's annual meeting. As usual, the food was plentiful and tasty (meetings are always better attended when they are accompanied by pot lucks). Following a brief business meeting Stan Riggs, geologist at East Carolina University, presented his findings about the dynamic nature of the Outer Banks, a truly unique geologic formation in all the world, as he described it.

Today the white graveyard fence across the lane sparkles in the morning sun, and the yellow-green new growth on the live oak trees against the clear blue sky speaks of life in abundance and grand profusion. The birds are chattering their approval.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Charles Lindbergh

I had a telephone call yesterday from a woman who is writing an article about airstips on the Outer Banks. She was interested in any information I might have about a story she'd heard re. Charles Lindbergh & Ocracoke.

My father often told me that Lindbergh had made a landing on the island years ago. I called cousin Blanche for more details.

It must have been in the late 1920s or very early 1930s. I'm not sure what prompted the landing -- a minor emergency? curiosity? At any rate Lindbergh landed at the north end, near Hatteras Inlet and the US Coast Guard Station that was located there at that time. The hard-packed sand on the tidal flats made a perfect runway. He must have stayed for a few hours, for the station crew recalled visiting with him. One crewman commented that he would like to sit in Lindbergh's plane, and the famous aviator cordially agreed. Maybe the entire crew had the opportunity to sit at his controls.

Ben Gaskill was the station cook. It was nearly time for dinner and he invited Lindbergh to join the men. He accepted and sat down at the table to share his stories with the captain and crew. After dinner he was on his way, having added a little excitement to an otherwise normal day.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Question Answered

Yesterday a reader asked, "How do you pronounce the word "O'cocker": O-coke-er or O-cock-er (and which syllable gets the accent)?"

The answer is O-cock-er, and the accent is on the "O."

One of the early spellings for our island was Okok, on a map of 1672. In 1709 it was spelled Ocacok on John Lawson's map. The NC Assembly spelled it Occacock in 1715. This spelling was used as late as 1861.

To see a list of all the variations I have been able to document, click here.

Native islanders still often refer to the island as Ocock, or sometimes Ocreecoe, another local variation that likely harkens back to the distant past.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Spring is the traditional season for weddings, and Ocracoke Island is a popular spot for the ceremonies. Couples may choose to tie the knot in any number of places, including one of the local churches, in the magistrate's office, in a local garden, on the beach, or in front of our 183 year old lighthouse.

Caterers, florists, and musicians are available right here on the island. For more information, take a look at the Ocracoke Wedding Guide on Hyde County's official web site.

And if you see folks walking barefooted across the beach while wearing tuxedos and white dresses, or riding through the village on a bicycle built for two with a long white veil and throwing rose petals at passersby you are probably witnessing an informal wedding celebration (or O'cockers just having a good time).

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Relatives from Tennessee have been visiting Ocracoke this week. A couple of days ago we invited cousin Blanche to join us traipsing through several old island burying grounds. There are more than 80 cemeteries in the village, most of them small family plots. We found the grave of Arcadia Williams (born 1844; see the link below to read more about her), as well as the grave of "Aunt Lot" (Charlotte Ann O'Neal, 1851 - 1947) who was the island midwife who birthed many an Ocracoke baby 65 - 130 years ago.)

Alton Ballance, in his book, "Ocracokers," quotes Miss Sarah Ellen Gaskill, Aunt Lot's daughter. "My mother tried to keep count of all the babies she had delivered," Sarah Ellen said. "She lost count around 100. She never lost a case."

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Friday, May 05, 2006


This weekend the island hosts the 23rd annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament. I have not been to the beach in the last few days, but reports indicate that, as usual, fishermen & fisherwomen are lined up all along the surf. Last year an unexpected northeaster brought strong winds and high tides (many roads were flooded and portions of the tournament were canceled). This year the weather is nearly perfect -- at least for a spring vacation. Don't know if the fish are biting, but there's nothing but blue skies and warm temperatures.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Left-hand, Right-hand

My grandmother, Aliph O'Neal Howard, always kept a conch shell on the cistern. In those days Ocracoke's only source of fresh drinking water came from rainwater that ran off the roof, through the downspout, and directly into a large round wooden (or brick) cistern.

There was, of course, a cast iron pitcher pump attached to the cistern. But the conch shell was there if you just wanted to lift the cistern lid and dip water out for a cool drink.

Conch shells grow either with the aperture on the right (as in the photo below), or on the left (these are less common). Any shell book will identify the shell below as a "right-handed" conch. The others are said to be "left-handed."

Not if you ask an O'cocker, however.

The shell pictured below makes a perfect dipper for a left-handed person, as you can imagine. The other configuration is just right for a right-handed person. So we on the island almost always call these two varieties by the opposite names of those listed in "official" shell books.

Just a little Ocracoke trivia.

An Ocracoke "Left-handed" Conch:

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Yesterday evening after dinner I watched Lachlan again for a couple of hours (Amy was working & David had a meeting). We sat on my pizer and looked at the sliver of moon hanging above our heads. We tarried for quite a while as one star and then another peeked through the advancing darkness. After an afternoon of running, squealing, & laughing, Lachlan had mellowed out and just sat quietly as we talked and contemplated our world.

As 9 o'clock approached we walked down Howard Street and through the school yard, toward the Back Porch restaurant where Mama was working. As we crossed the outdoor basketball court I noticed two basketballs lying on the ground. No one was around. The balls were just left there by some of the young people. It wasn't neglect. It was intentional. That way whoever showed up next would have basketballs to play with.

I was heartened to see that another island tradition survives. No one was worrying that someone would steal the balls. Community and sharing, two values that make Ocracoke special, continue to be passed on to our youth.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Election Day

What a long day yesterday. I awoke at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for a "trip up the beach" to pick up Amy & David. They were flying into Norfolk in the afternoon. They had been to Scotland for David's sister Ann's wedding, and then spent a second week touring Portugal. As you might imagine, they were exhausted, but delighted to get home (at 10:00 p.m.) to see Lachlan (he was asleep but happy in the morning to see them also!).

I left early so I could run some errands as well as pick up a new Subaru I had bought "long distance." The vehicle purchase took much longer than I had anticipated (what was I thinking?), so everything else on my list remained undone. I guess I'll take another scud up the beach soon.

Today I walked over to the Methodist Church Rec. Hall to cast my ballots. I noticed lots of "I Voted" stickers on shirts around the village, so I'm hoping the turnout is good. For all of our current problems, our founding fathers blessed us with a democratically elected government. It's an honor and a privilege to be a part of it.

You can read our latest newsletter here: It's the story of Old Kade.