Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Hi. This is Philip. I am wishing all of our readers a very Merry Christmas a tad early because we will be posting somewhat erratically for the next month or so. During this holiday season I plan to spend most of my time with family and friends (my brother might even be coming to the island for an extended visit, and of course Lou Ann will be here for a while), and I may just turn off my computer! I also have some winter-time projects here at Village Craftsmen and at my home that need attention. So, I will be counting these next several weeks as my annual vacation.

While I am otherwise occupied I am hoping that Jude or Amy might share a few thoughts now and then. It will be good to have another perspective on island life. I'll be back at the Journal sometime in February.

But before I leave you all for six weeks or so, I want to share an Ocracoke Christmas story. It's about the wreck of the steamship Ariosto on Christmas Eve of 1899. You can read it here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wild Surf

Islanders woke up this morning to a warm breeze. Actually more than a breeze. It has been very windy today. The beach was powerful. Six or seven rows of wild, angry breakers were charging in and crashing onto the beach. The strong winds were coming from the southwest and blowing beautiful plumes of spray back off the tops of the waves. The early afternoon sun would occasionally catch the spray and transform it into a delicate veil of rainbow-hued mist. All the colors were, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

This is a remarkable and wonderful world.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wind & Fog

It is cooler today, with overcast skies, and a forecast that calls for strong winds and rain this evening. As most of our readers know, weather plays an important role in daily island life. Wind, if it's fierce enough, can stop the ferries. Fog often has the same effect. It is the rare islander who hasn't ended up sleeping in his or her car on the mainland or Hatteras waiting for the ferries to resume operation.

A friend who recently moved to Ocracoke remarked the other day that he is gradually adjusting to our island pace. When the fog rolled in several days ago he biked out to the post office and saw the sign on the door: "No mail delivery today." Not having mail every now and then is a small price to pay for enjoying the rest of island life.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Suit & Tie

Last night I attended an Ocracoke Preservation Society executive committee meeting. Five or six of us had already arrived and were chatting when Clayton walked in. Everyone stopped talking, stared at Clayton, and made some exclamation ("Whoa!" or "Huh?" or some such sound). Clayton was wearing a suit and a tie.

"Was there a funeral we didn't know about?" we asked. "What's going on, Clayton?"

Clayton explained that he'd been to a meeting "up the beach" (maybe in Nags Head or Kill Devil Hills, I can't remember exactly where), and had just gotten off the ferry.

We had finally quit talking about Clayton's sartorial idiosyncrasy when Ruth walked in, stopped short, and stared at Clayton. Ruth demanded an explanation, too.

Eventually we got on with the meeting and pretty much ignored the suit and tie. But it speaks a lot about Ocracoke that one man in a suit and tie elicits so much mild shock. As I write this morning I wonder why Clayton didn't remove his jacket and tie on the ferry. Maybe he was simply enjoying an extended evening feeling connected to the world beyond the inlets. We'll start worrying about him if he shows up at the post office in his suit and tie.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Altered Ferry Schedules

I was recently sent the following press release re. altered ferry schedules in early 2008. As many of our readers know, a portion of Highway 12 will be closed from Jan 02 - Mar 15, 2008 while the NCDOT replaces all seven bridges between the campground and the pony pen. The NPS will open a beach access ramp at the pony pen to allow 4WD vehicles to drive on the beach in that area where the road is closed.

If you live on Ocracoke, or are planning a trip to the island during the first 75 days of 2008 you might want to print this schedule.

"Press Release, October 14, 2007
Ferry Schedules Altered during Ocracoke Beach Detour Project

To help accommodate traffic to and from Ocracoke during the bridge replacement project this winter, the NC Ferry Division has approved a schedule affecting Cedar Island, Swan Quarter, and Hatteras routes to Ocracoke.

According to a memorandum from Charlie Fearing, NC Ferry Division I, the Hatteras runs will be as follows:

A vessel will leave each side at 5 am and run every other hour from each side until 9 pm. The last vessel will leave Hatteras and tie up at Ocracoke and be in place for an emergency over night.

Leave Ocracoke
5 am
6 am
8 am (etc…)
8 pm – last run

Leave Hatteras
5 am
7 am
9 am (etc…)
9 pm – last run

The Ocracoke/Swan Quarter run will be the same as the summer schedule:

Leaving Ocracoke: 6:30 am, 10 am, 12:30 pm, and 4 pm
Leaving Swan Quarter: 7 am, 9:30 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm

*Tolls will be waived on the Ocracoke/Swan Quarter run.

The Ocracoke/Cedar Island run will follow the newly adopted winter schedule:

Leaving Ocracoke: 7 am, 10:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm.
Leaving CedarIsland: 7 am, 10:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm.

The Tuesday 7 am ferry from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke will be designated for LP Gas and gasoline trucks.

The Tuesday and Wednesday 4 pm ferries from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter will be designated for their return. This will limit the passengers allowed on the vessel as per USCG.

Please plan accordingly.This schedule will be in place from January 2 to March 15, 2008 unless otherwise notified."

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Those Little Cat Feet

At the beach yesterday, pewter was the dominant color. Fog had rolled in early in the morning, and the sky melted into the Atlantic Ocean. There was no horizon. By mid-afternoon the sun, like a shiny tin disc, hung in the southwest sky, peering through the thickening cloud cover. Ferries were tied up at the docks and the sense of isolation was palpable.

Late at night, long after the sun had set, I walked down Howard Street. It was quiet, dead quiet. Not a sound was to be heard, and all was dark, save a dim light visible in Blanche's living room window and beams from a security light some distance away. Wispy layers of fog floated above the tombstones in the cemeteries.

I unfastened the latch; the hinges creaked; I stepped inside. The distant light cast ominous shadows across the graves. Gnarled oak limbs swayed slowly, and every movement sent my heart racing a tad faster. I moved gingerly among the markers, careful not to trip on foot stones, or step on graves. The fog hung heavy in the warm December air.

I stayed a while. Not too long. Just enough time to greet the ancestors and assure them that we were looking after their beloved home.

I stepped back out onto Howard Street and walked home, savoring the eerie quietness of a foggy Ocracoke night.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Beach & Cookies

Several days ago I mentioned starting my beach walk with a long sleeve shirt and ending in a t-shirt. Yesterday afternoon I started barefooted, and in a t-shirt, and ended by pulling my t-shirt off. I can't remember when it's been this warm in mid-December.

I'm told that the fishing is not good, but I did see quite a few pelicans diving for their dinner.

The Library cookie swap is this evening. Maybe I'll bake a batch this year and come home with a variety of other kinds. It sure sounds like a good idea.

(One note about comments: Sometimes I reply to comments by adding another comment on the same post, and sometimes I address comments and questions in a new daily post. If you leave a comment or question and don't see a reply, please leave another comment. By the way, thanks to you all for reading regularly, and for posting comments. We like to hear from you.)

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cracker Quilt

Christmas is approaching, of course, and I am reminded of the present my daughter, Amy, gave me last year. It was originally intended as a birthday present, but August came and went, and the present still lay unfinished on her work table. She did complete it by December, though.

Amy came upstairs the other day (to give me advice on my leaking toilet -- "I've fixed lots of toilets," she informed me....but this one has proven to be a challenge for us both!). We both stopped to look at the cracker quilt on my bed.

" I love the quilt," I told Amy. "Thank you so much for taking the time to make it for me."

In case you haven't read our journal entry about island quilts, this design is Ocracoke's most popular quilt, and to my knowledge is virtually unheard of anywhere else after the colonial era.

Here is a photo of us at Christmas last year. (I guess she still had a few stitches to complete). Thanks again, Amy!

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I don't know what the temperature was today. I only know that I walked on the beach this morning in a long sleeve shirt, but by half way through I was down to my t-shirt. This afternoon Lachlan and I spent two hours at the beach. In short order Lachlan was barefooted and bare-chested. As Lachlan played with his trucks and shovel, and ran up and down the dunes, I lay in the sun and watched pelicans and dolphins.

As we sat there by the walk-over ramp quite a few folks passed by. Everyone was local, so we stopped and chatted. People were walking dogs, running, strolling, doing exercises, or just enjoying the day. Everyone had a comment about the day: "Isn't it glorious!" "What a beautiful day." "Can you believe it's the middle of December?" "Isn't it wonderful!"

We know it won't last, but it sure was nice. I was even tempted to jump in the ocean!

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Yesterday afternoon for my walk I thought I would have the whole beach to myself. The wind had died down, the temperature was rising, the sky was clear, and there was no one to be seen in either direction (actually there was one young man down by the water, but he soon left, and then it was deserted).

Because the wind had subsided the water was calmer than it has been these last few days. Gentle waves washed up on the beach, but beyond the breakers was a soft rolling surface. I kept my eyes trained a hundred yards or so off shore, and sure enough it wasn't long before I spotted the first pod of dolphins. I wasn't alone after all.

In the winter, when the water is not too choppy, dolphins are almost always in sight. Yesterday was no exception.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas Concert, Jimmy's Garage & Ferries

Last night's Christmas Concert at Deepwater Theater was an evening of outstanding music, good cheer, and delicious treats. I am continually amazed at the talent in this small community. If you have never been to one of our shows, be sure to make time at your next opportunity. This time of year, of course, virtually everyone in the audience was a local resident. I did see a half dozen folks I didn't recognize, however. I spoke with one visiting couple who told me that they had heard about the musical traditions on the island but had no idea there was so much quality and talent here.

Jimmy and Linda Jackson were in attendance last night and I had a chance to speak with them briefly. Not long ago a reader of this journal had asked this question:

"You mention an event hosted at Jimmy's garage. In my visits to Ocracoke, I've noticed no other auto repair facility on the island. Jimmy's is kind of tucked quietly away and, happily for me (not so much for Jimmy, perhaps), I've never had occasion to patronize his business, though it would seem Jimmy is a community-minded fellow (opening his business for the dinner/dance) and likely very busy, as possibly the only game in town when it comes to getting you car fixed. I also heard, on my last visit to the island, over Thanksgiving, that Jimmy's is the only place with a public air pump to refill your car tires. Mind telling us a little bit about Jimmy and the realities/implications of auto repair and maintenance on your remote island?"

Jimmy's Garage is a family owned enterprise. Jimmy Jackson was born and raised on Ocracoke (he is a few years younger than I am), and is descended from a long line of islanders. He has been operating his garage since at least the 1970s. In the early years he operated the service station/garage, and then later he worked out of the small garage behind his house. A number of years ago he moved his operation to a brand-new facility across from the Pony Island Restaurant.

I was sitting next to Karen Lovejoy last night when Jimmy & Linda walked in. Karen, who moved to the island from Rochester, NY in the early 1970s, told me that the first time she pulled up to the gas pump in her VW "bug" Jimmy looked at her and remarked, "You're that new Yankee teacher, aren't you? You know we don't work on those foreign cars!" Karen didn't know what to think.

Of course, Jimmy was teasing. I know he's worked on Karen's car many times.

Jimmy works with his son, Jamie, and both of them are top-notch mechanics. Linda, wife & mother, tends to the scheduling and bookkeeping. If you need repairs made on your automobile Jimmy's is the place to go, not only because his is the only garage on the island (!), but also because he and Jamie provide excellent, reliable service. By the way, I believe he does have the only commercial air pump on the island.

Every Christmas season Jimmy, Linda, & Jamie move all of the cars out of the garage, scrub down the concrete floor, haul in picnic tables and chairs, and host THE community pot luck gathering of the year. Everyone, it seems, is there -- old time natives, young folks, residents in wheelchairs, children of all ages, newcomers, off-island natives, people who used to live here, distant relatives, long-time residents, and even a few visitors.

Good spirits dominate the garage as people greet each other, laugh, tell stories, introduce new friends, share jokes, and toast the season. Long lines form to fill up plates with some of the best fare anywhere. There is plenty of food and drink for everyone.

Eventually everyone is full ("run ashore" as O-cockers will say) and satisfied. The serving dishes are cleared away, the tables carried outside, and the chairs arranged around the walls, under the radiator hoses, fan belts, and air filters. That's when the Ocracoke Rockers set up their instruments and sound system. In short order the garage is filled with classic rock & roll dance music, and the floor is a whirl of people gyrating to the pulsing music.

The dance continues until late in the evening, and then folks return home filled with memories of a small, but diverse village coming together to celebrate the season, their community, and the goodness of life.

Many thanks to Jimmy, Linda, and Jamie for making this wonderful event possible!


We recently had another question on the journal:

"[R]e. your return ferry trip to the island, when the deck hands reopened the gate to let you board. Just wondering whether there was anyone else on the ferry with you. I imagine the traffic load would be very light at this time of year. Do the ferries ever occasionally run empty?"

Oh, there were other folks on the ferry, maybe eight or ten if I remember correctly. Most were locals who had gone "up the beach" like we had, for doctor or dentist appointments, or to do some Christmas shopping, or maybe just to go see a movie. And there were a few visitors, I think. And yes, the ferries do run empty at times, especially in the "bleak mid-winter." They must keep their schedules though, because there might be vehicles on the far shore ready to go the other way.

(A weather note before closing -- it's been cold these last few days [in the low 40s, and very windy at times], but it is warming up today. Yesterday's walk on the beach was brisk. Today's should be much easier.)

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

A Few Answers & Photos

Several folks posted comments and/or asked questions this past month. I had configured the journal so that I receive an email notification every time someone posts a comment here. Unfortunately I changed my email address and forgot to make the change on the blog settings. So I wasn't notified when comments were made. I went back through the blogs and am posting replies here.

A reader asked why Michael Lawrence Piland is buried in the Howard (or Howard-Wahab) cemetery. I am sure the reason is that he was married to Lucretia Credle Wahab. But then why is Miss Lucretia not buried in that cemetery? I don't know why. Perhaps she is buried on the mainland. To my knowledge she is not buried on the island. I'll do some research.

I was asked to post some photos. Below are a few pictures of some island Christmas decorations. You can click on any photo to see a large image.

The tree at the OPS museum:

A decorated fence near the lighthouse:

The Preservation museum:

The Pony Island Horse:

One of many community "power pole" snowflakes at night:

And a shot of the James Henry Garrish home. This is the home for which Michael and Paula Schramel won this year's OPS "Old House Award."

And, finally, David & Lachlan at last night's Wassail Party at the OPS museum:

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Upcoming Events

Ocracoke may be quiet in some ways this time of year (few visitors, most restaurants closed, shops closed or with reduced hours), but in other ways the village is quite busy. Below are some of the activities, meetings, and get-togethers scheduled for December:

Anne Runyon's Book Signing at the OPS museum, starting at 4:30. Her new children's book "The Sheltering Cedar" is set on Ocracoke Island.

Wassail and Tree Lighting at the museum, 5-7 pm

Ocrafolk Christmas Concert at Deepwater Theater, 7:30 pm

Community Christmas Potluck & Dance at Jimmy's Garage

Ocracoke Methodist Church Women’s Christmas Potluck Dinner at the Community Center, 6 pm.

Friends of the Library Cookie Swap, 7 pm. Bring two dozen of your favorite cookies and swap for two dozen of your choice!

Ocracoke Civic & Business Association Potluck Dinner at 6 pm, Meeting at 7 pm

Children’s Christmas Party at the Community Center, 2:30 – 4 pm

Assembly of God Christmas Program, 6:30 pm

Live Nativity at the United Methodist Church, 6 – 7 pm

Ocracoke School Christmas Program, 7 pm

Christmas Caroling. Meet at the United Methodist Church at 5 pm. Enjoy chili and hot chocolate afterwards at the Assembly of God Church.

Christmas Eve Service with children’s pageant and candle lighting at the United Methodist Church, 7 pm

Ocracoke Seafood Company Fish Fry and Oyster Roast at the Fish House, starting at 2 pm

New Year's Eve Service at Ocracoke Assembly of God

New Year's Eve Dance with the Ocracoke Rockers at the Community Center, 8 pm - 1 am. Benefit Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Dept. $25.00 (includes food and beverages; tickets only available ahead of time, at the Island Ragpicker; no tickets sold at the door).

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Off-Island Schedule

Amy and I went to Nags Head today. I just thought some of our readers might like to see a typical daily schedule for an off-island trip. Here goes:

5:30 am Wake up & get ready.
6:30 Leave for Hatteras Inlet.
7:00 Board the ferry.
9:15 Arrive at dentist's office (Amy & I both had appointments).
10:30 Leave dentist's office.
11:00 Stop at Alltel to extend contract and get new phone.
11:30 Stop at a small strip mall. Philip buys new shoes; Amy buys a few items at the Thrift Store.
12:00 Stop for sandwiches (Amy is still numb, so she doesn't eat much).
12:30 Go to a shopping center. We buy a few small items (specialty light bulbs, plastic file holder, chocolate truffles, a rubber washer [for my leaking toilet])
1:30 Leave the northern Outer Banks.
2:45 Meet David at his dentist in Frisco, take Lachlan, and hightail it for the ferry.
3:00 Arrive at the ferry just as it is ready to pull out. The deckhands look at us, then at each other....then open the gate and wave us on. We smile and thank them all. It's windy today and the water is rough. We roll a bit in the inlet.
3:45 The ferry docks at Ocracoke.
4:00 Arrive in the village, check our post office boxes, and drive home. It's been a 10 1/2 hour day. We're glad to be home.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


On my drive to the beach this morning I couldn't help notice the parking lot at the Variety Store -- only one lonely car.

I walked over the ramp at the lifeguard beach (of course, there are no lifeguards this time of year), and walked about a mile. Not a single person was in evidence. When I turned around I did see four people near the ramp, but three of them soon disappeared back over the dunes. I only passed the one other person as I made my way back. The tide was high, broken shells were washed up on the beach, and there were a few other footprints. But other than that it was quiet and peaceful. Walking north I had my lightweight sweatshirt pulled tight around my neck (the cool wind was blowing into my face), but after I turned around I took off the sweatshirt, rolled up my sleeves, and removed my hat. At a brisk pace, and without the breeze it felt rather warm.

Winter at the beach can sometimes be dreary and lonely, but it is often a great time for reflection and contemplation.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Living on an Island.... wonderful. Easy and quick access to America's number one beach, a vibrant and creative community of interesting people, security & safety, a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle....I could go on and on. And Ocracoke is all of these things.

And there is a certain level of frustration now and then. I have a slow seeping leak at one of the water connections on my toilet tank. For several months I dealt with the problem by placing a plastic container under the leak. I was just too busy to tackle it.

Today I took wrench in hand to tighten the plastic nut. It didn't help. I put plumber's putty between the nut and the tank. Still it leaked. Then I took the tank off, removed all of the internal parts (more involved than your standard toilet tank -- it's one of those new-fangled, high tech models), and rearranged a large custom shaped gasket inside. No help. Finally I decided that a large flat rubber washer on the outside bottom of the tank might do the trick. Of course, no such item is to be found at our local hardware store. They carry all of the standard items (even several not-so-common parts), but no washer like the one I need.

So I cut an inner tube in the shape I wanted. It is not ideal -- too thin and flexible, but it seems to be helping some.

I guess I'll add one more item to my list of things to pick up on my next trip off-island. In the meanwhile, I'm keeping the plastic container under the toilet tank.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday Approaching

Christmas decorations are going up in the village. Illuminated angels and snowflakes adorn power poles, garlands are draped across fences, electric candles glow in windows, and colored lights sparkle on eaves and porch posts. As the days and weeks pass there will be more holiday displays, although you'd hardly know December is peeking around the corner. I woke up this morning to a spring-like temperature in the high sixties. The sky is ashen gray, and a light breeze is rustling the trees, but it is warm. T-shirts are the order of the day it seems. Yesterday was considerably cooler, but even then bare feet tracks were in evidence at the beach. It's good to be alive!

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Late November

From Easter to Thanksgiving most islanders are immersed in "the season." Sure, we still enjoy family and friends, but businesses are full of people, streets are crowded with cars, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians, and the pace of life is quicker. Oh, we get to the beach (maybe not as often as we'd like), go clamming or fishing, enjoy local concerts, and love island life. But we all look forward to this time of year. Everything has slowed down. Right now there's not much business, of course. The streets are quiet, parking lots almost empty, and life is more relaxed.

But this is also the time of year to catch up on long-neglected chores: visits to the doctor and dentist, fixing that slowly dripping faucet, scraping peeling paint, replacing fence palings, organizing desks, defragmenting computers, shopping for shoes & underwear.....

And its a time for reflection and relaxation and play. Al came by yesterday with a kite he'd made for his grandson, Max. I guess I inspired him! Maybe this afternoon we'll take the two youngsters out to the beach and fly kites together. It is certainly breezy enough today. Until then I'll continue organizing all of these piles of papers!

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Old Howard Cemetery

Friday night a former island resident asked me about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. She was hoping I would write a monthly newsletter about the cemetery. So I did.

There are some interesting stories there -- the woman who lived to be 117 years old, the boy who died before he was born, a sea captain who went west with a wagon train, and a shipwrecked Arab sailor.

You can read our article about the old Howard cemetery here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Our Kite

There was a stiff breeze yesterday so Lachlan, David, and I went out to the beach and launched our kite. I had to add a bit more to the tail to keep it steady, and then it soared. Sometimes it would loop and dive, depending on the air currents, but mostly it hovered far above us while we messed about on the beach.

Here are a few photos:

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Busy Day

I missed all of the fun yesterday. In the afternoon, from 1 to 4, Michael & Paula Schramel hosted an open house at their home on Lighthouse Road. The Schramels won the Ocracoke Preservation Society Old House Award this year for their work rehabilitating the 100 year old James Henry Garrish house. It is the one story building with the wrap around porch and metal roof about half way between the Island Inn and Albert Styron's store. All of the work was done to NC state preservation standards. Congratulation to Michael & Paula!

At about the same time the Ocracoke Working Watermen's Association was offering seafood dinners at the fish house. I heard they were serving delicious seafood gumbo. Unfortunately I was working all afternoon and missed both the open house and the food.

From 5 to 7 Mary Ellen and Jim Piland opened their home for a spontaneous early evening party. (One of the things I love about Ocracoke is the spontaneity of social gatherings. Neither the Schramels nor the Pilands had planned their get-togethers more than a day ahead, and everyone was invited. Word was just passed around the village informally.) I didn't get out of the Village Craftsmen until after 5:30, and was committed to baby sitting at 6:30 so I decided not to rush, and just went home to relax for a bit before Lachlan came over.

Lachlan and I played and read until Mama and Daddy came home at about 8:30, so I can't say I missed all of the fun yesterday! Later today we'll be going out to the beach to fly our kite again. I'll take my camera this time.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

An Evening's Entertainment

Last night the Ocrafolk Festival Fall Fund Raiser played to a full house. The Ocracoke Jazz Society opened the evening with two upbeat tunes. They were followed by one of Lou Ann's original Radio Theater skits. More music followed, to the enjoyment of all present. Marcie & Lou, Aaron Caswell, John Golden, and, of course, Molasses Creek, entertained with enthusiasm and high spirits. Jamie Tunnel, Jule Garrish, April Trueblood, and Sundae Horn added their engaging vocal talents to the evening. April's deadpan demeanor, and eccentric lyrics surprised most of the audience and tickled their funny bones. Next, Captain Rob captured everyone's attention with his original seafarer's version of "The Night Before Christmas." More talented performances followed. Donald Davis closed the show with a rousing story that kept everyone in stitches.

On your next Thanksgiving visit to the island be sure to take in this delightful show.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Sandwiches

Like most Americans, many Ocracokers celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and all of the fixings. The Howard family is no exception. About a dozen family members and friends gathered around my dining room table yesterday for good food and good conversation. We always repeat one of my grandfather's observations. Grandpop Guth was my mother's father, and he was born in Hungary. He came to the U.S. as a young man. Almost every time we sat down at the dinner table he would remark on the abundance of delicious and healthful food we enjoy in this country. "We eat good in America!" he would exclaim. Lachlan chimes in with the rest of us. "We eat good in America!"

Today is no exception. My kitchen table was piled with leftovers at lunch today. We had turkey sandwiches, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, deviled eggs....and much more. And we'll enjoy more again this evening before we head over to the Community Center for the annual Fall fund raiser for the June, Ocrafolk Festival. If you're on the island we hope to see you there.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dallie, Jude, and I wish all of our readers a very happy Thanksgiving. We will be closed on Thursday so we can enjoy our turkey dinners with family and friends. My brother arrives on the island tonight, but I need to be gone much of tomorrow (I've got an appointment with my eye doctor in Elizabeth City). I'm sure he'll be able to entertain himself.

Since I won't be on the island tomorrow, and we'll be closed on Thanksgiving Day, this will be the last post for a couple of days.

Coincidentally, Thanksgiving Day this year is on November 22, the anniversary of the capture and killing of Blackbeard the pirate right here in Ocracoke waters in 1718.

Don't eat too much turkey or dessert!

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mid November

It's been warming up again today. People have been out and about in light jackets, even shorts. Children are racing bicycles down the streets. Neighbors are walking their dogs. David has been scraping paint off of his window frames and priming them. I've seen Blanche picking up dead branches in the graveyards across the street. And tomorrow should be even warmer. The forecast for Thanksgiving is temperatures in the low 70s.

Visitors are arriving for one last week on the island. Some are first timers. Others have been here many times. They all are looking forward to a delightful autumn week, and we who live here are as well.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Homemade Kite

Lachlan and I made our kite yesterday (well, OK, I made the kite....Lachlan mostly ran around and got more and more excited). It is a paper diamond kite. Pretty standard, actually, at least for the kinds of kites I remember making as a kid.

There were a few last minute details to attend to this morning. We tied on the bed sheet tail and attached the string to the "keel" (the extra string that goes from the top of the kite to the bottom), and then we were off to the beach.

The wind was just about right, it seemed. But down on the flat beach we couldn't get the kite to stay up. The dunes were blocking the breeze. So we climbed to the top of the dunes and let 'er go. Out kite soared up into the sky. Every once in a while we'd have to move backwards or tighten up on the string to keep our beauty flying, but eventually it climbed high enough that we could tie our string down to the walk-over ramp and attend to other pressing matters like building sand castles and just running around. Every now and then we'd see the kite's shadow against the dunes. When we'd look up she was hovering gracefully like a benevolent spirit watching over us.

The next time we go kite flying I'll take my camera and post a picture.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another Wonderful Link

The last two weeks of October were busy ones for me. I helped teach the "Ocracoke Sampler" for our OcraFolk School, and I participated in an NCCAT seminar on ghost tales. But I'm sure I've already mentioned these. During those same weeks a gentleman from South Carolina was on the island absorbing much about Ocracoke and our close-knit community. He was fortunate to learn about our special Opry performance (for the OcraFolk School, but open to the general public), and square dance. I met him briefly during intermission, and then again when he stopped by the Village Craftsmen before he left on his way home.

Several days ago I was alerted to his personal blog site, "Balance, Celebration and Search" where he posted reflections on nine days of his vacation on Ocracoke. His name is Steve, and he is a pastor from South Carolina. He graciously agreed for me to provide a link to his site. In addition to some remarkable photographs (including a modern-day shipwreck that I had heard about but never got to see), Steve captures many of the sentiments visitors feel, especially their captivation with Ocracoke Island and its people. His verbal images and "turns of phrase" make for delightful reading....and his blog site is crisp, clean, and inviting.

To read his posts just click on this link, Balance, and scroll to his posts for Oct 24 - Nov 1. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cold Front

I recently received an email from a gentleman who had joined me for a Ghost & History Walk several weeks ago. The email contained a link to his web site (Canyon Rim Photography). He has posted 38 photos of his recent trip to Ocracoke. You can see his pictures by clicking here. The images are wonderful; his sunrises and sunsets are particularly stunning. Enjoy!

Ocracoke has been basking in warm, almost summer-like weather practically all Fall. That changed overnight. Actually it changed yesterday. In the morning we had even turned the A/C on for about an hour. Until early-mid afternoon doors and windows were flung open. The temperature outside was in the mid-70s. As the afternoon progressed, however, a cold front moved through and the temperature dropped quickly. This morning the mercury had fallen into the low 40s, about a 35 degree difference. The air is crisp and clear.

To be honest, this more normal November weather feels invigorating and refreshing.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Kite

Lachlan wants me to make him a kite! I can't do it today, because I'm working, but I think it's a grand idea. Of course I could go down to Kitty Hawk Kites and buy him a plastic kite. It would be colorful and maybe even exotic. But how much more fun it would be to cut two sticks, tie them together with string to make a cross, and paste paper over them. We could cut up an old bed sheet (maybe a colorful one) and make a tail. Then we could head out to the beach and watch her fly!

Today would have been a good day to fly a kite, at least in the morning. The wind was blowing about 25 mph (maybe it would have even been too windy!). But now it's raining and the temperature is dropping.

I'll get the materials together, and maybe we can make our kite this weekend. If you see a paper diamond-shaped kite in the air out at the beach look for Lachlan and me. We might even let you fly it for a bit.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Historical Note

I'm three days late, but just wanted to acknowledge that Sunday, November 11 was the 288th anniversary of the granting of Ocracoke Island by the Lords Proprietors to John Lovick, the first individual to hold ownership of the island. OK, so it's not something many people think about, but I believe that a sense of shared history is one thing that helps keep a community bound together.

Another thing that maintains a close community is productive public meetings. Last night Hyde County officials met with a group of concerned citizens regarding how to pay for solid waste collection and removal on Ocracoke Island. At the present time much of the cost for this service is hidden in our tax bills. In addition there is much inequity in the additional fee structure. For instance the additional county fees for solid waste disposal make no distinction among businesses, whether they are small or large, or whether they generate much trash or hardly any.

Citizens were encouraged to submit comments about the three options presented, and there were many thoughtful and intelligent questions raised. It was a well-conducted and productive meeting. We are all hoping that our county commissioners will endorse a fair and equitable system that puts minimum burden both on home owners and business owners.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Murder Mystery Weekend

What a full weekend. Lou Ann arrived late afternoon on Friday. She was on the island to host a Murder Mystery interactive evening at the Cove B & B. Twenty guests from various states booked rooms just to be part of this weekend's fun. Lou Ann provided everyone with general information about the time and setting (it was 1823, a fierce storm was brewing, and the guests at the inn were brought together to solve a tragic murder that occurred during dinner). There was a ship captain (in frock coat, breeches, and a plumed hat!), a local fisherman, a distraught widow, a laundress, a seamstress, the town gossip, a circuit riding preacher, a ship builder, and other characters.

During a heated poker game mock tensions arose. Accusations flew, guests whispered back and forth, and the preacher was busy calming people's fears. Everything settled down long enough to enjoy a delicious catered dinner (from the Flying Melon restaurant), but then one of the guests died suddenly. Who done it?

The rest of the evening was devoted to an inquiry. When the evening was over everyone agreed that it was totally fun, with many opportunities to play, exaggerate, act, and perform. We all voted for best actor, best actress, and best costume. Lou Ann awarded trophies.

If your family or group is interested in hosting a Murder Mystery on Ocracoke, take a look at our Murder Mystery web page.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Back Home Again

Yes, I've been off the island (the reason for several days without a post), but only for today. Well, I was off island on Friday as well. I drove to Norfolk to pick up Lou Ann (that was Friday), and back to Norfolk again today (to carry her back to the airport). We had a fun and wonderful weekend. Lou Ann came to the island to orchestrate a Murder Mystery Weekend at the Cove Bed and Breakfast (I'll share more about that in another post). While she was here Tommy Hutcherson and Kathy Ballance O'Neal were married. Lou Ann and I stopped by their party on Friday night and went to the wedding (and reception) on Saturday. We also had an opportunity to be part of a pot luck dinner last night in honor of Julia Child.

It's hard to imagine how we squeezed it all in -- in a matter of four days (and two of them involved ten hours, or more, of travel)! Let's just say we were creatively busy. And folks often wonder what we do here all winter.....and don't we "get bored" on this little island. Not on your life!

I'll try to catch you up on things in the next few days. Right now I need to unload my car and give Lou Ann a call. I'll be back tomorrow.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Last night Ocracoke Preservation Society held its annual meeting and pot luck dinner. Everyone agreed that the spread of delicious food was truly outstanding. Our guests from the NC state preservation office were especially impressed. After a brief meeting Ried Thomas and Claudia Deviney from the state office presented a Power Point program explaining the ways their organization has helped promote the preservation and rehabilitation of significant historical structures in eastern North Carolina.

Every year since 1989 OPS awards a bronze plaque to be placed on a building in the historic district which has been maintained, restored, or rehabilitated to preserve the architectural features that allowed it to be included as a contributing structure when the historic district was established. This year the award was presented to Paula and Michael Schramel for their work in preserving the James Henry Garrish house on Lighthouse Road. They have done a beautiful job with this house, always abiding by the standards set forth by the state preservation office. Congratulations to Paula and Michael!

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Last night cool winds began to ripple through the village. After weeks of unseasonably warm days it was beginning to seem like Fall. I even put the heat on and settled down for the evening with my latest book.

Today I'll continue concentrating on catching up -- organizing my office, answering emails, writing notes, ordering a new lap top, working on the Village Craftsmen web site. During the busy tourist season, it seems, everything falls to the wayside, and it takes weeks (months even) to "tie up all the loose ends."

Several days ago I was asked, "Will you still be doing any walking tours [ghost and history tours] or is it getting to cold & slow???" Well, it's getting pretty cold and slow! We will be offering a tour on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but otherwise we'll be taking a break until next Spring.

In other news, the NC DOT has published a new website with information on the NC 12 bridge replacement project on Ocracoke Island. You can access their site directly (and keep up-to-date on the project) by going to

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

More Answers

My last several postings generated a few more questions & comments. It is always interesting to know what folks are curious about, and I'll respond as best I can. Here goes:

  • Interesting to hear about the Preservation Society interviews. What's the scope of the project (i.e., is it a focused, ongoing effort or something more casual, lots of people slated to be interviewed, etc.) and will the results be available for the public to view and enjoy? You often mention your friend Muzel. Might she be a subject of a future session?

  • Very interested in the Preservation Society interviews...this sounds like a very important work, and one that's missing in so many other communities (and, even in families!). Would be wonderful to know how they plan to be used or published?

The interviewing project is the idea of Clayton Gaskill (island videographer) and Ann Ehringhaus (island photographer). I interviewed Earl O'Neal and Blanche & Bertha, but Ann will be conducting some of the future interviews. They have compiled a list of folks they want to capture on tape/DVD, including Muzel. (By the way, island native, Kathy Ballance, and long-time island resident, Tommy Hutcherson, will be married this weekend. Muzel, who is 103 years old, will be Kathy's maid of honor!) I understand that the interviews will be archived at the Preservation Museum and will be available for research.

  • I read your journal all the time I am also wiccan please everyone is not evil there is dark and white good and bad in all walks of life there are some misbelifs when its comes to us I hope that you take the time to read the following to gain a better understanding of Samhain and please also let it be known we do visit your peaceful island every year many of us we harm nobody we are really very peaceful people.
Thank you for your comment. The full text of your comment can be found here. I am a strong defender of the first amendment, which reads in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

  • You didn't mention egging...
Oh yes, egging -- how did this slip my mind??? Egging is a long-time island Halloween tradition. For years island teenagers have gathered in groups on Halloween night armed with cases of eggs which they toss about after dark. The mid 70s may have been the apogee of egg throwing here. Not only did the teenagers store eggs in the woods for weeks (maybe months), but they were indiscriminate about who or what they threw them at. Moving targets were especially tempting. By morning, road signs, commercial signs, cars, businesses, houses, boats, and virtually anything else might be plastered with eggs. In addition, skiffs, loose pilings, signs, and other large but movable objects would often end up across the roadways, in yards, or otherwise disturbed. Over the years parents, deputies, and teachers have been successful in toning down the mischief. Nowadays, it's mostly just egg throwing, and even that is usually confined to groups of kids battling it out amongst themselves. Businesses, neighbors, and automobiles are generally spared, and to my knowledge, the internecine youth rivalries are good-natured and short-lived.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Morning

Hurricane Noel is already little more than a fleeting memory. This late offshore tropical storm blew by last Friday and Saturday with winds around 50 mph. It shut down the ferries for a while, and caused an electrical blackout for several hours, but otherwise had little impact on Ocracoke.

Yesterday was bright and sunny. David and I carried Lachlan to Springer's Point where he waded in the Sound, explored the shoreline, and ran around looking for treasures. In the afternoon Ann Ehringhaus and I interviewed Blanche Howard Jolliff & Bertha Garrish O'Neal. Clayton Gaskill videoed the two hour session for the Ocracoke Preservation Society. Blanche and Bertha. dressed in their Sunday best, shared stories of hurricanes, childhood games, midwives, windmills, and island life in the early twentieth century. It was a delight to hear their stories. We've got several more interviews planned for future Sunday afternoons.

The sun is shining again this morning, and the temperature will soon be in the upper 60s, I'm sure. Life is good.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

2008 Road Closures

The following press release has been issued by the NCDOT. Please read this carefully if you are planning a visit to the island anytime between January 1, 2008 and mid-March, 2008.


Contact: Communications Office, (919) 733-2522


Lane closures beginning as early as next week

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Transportation will begin moving construction materials and equipment onto Ocracoke Island this month in preparation for the N.C. 12 bridge replacements scheduled to start in January 2008.

To prepare for this project, signalized lane closures along N.C. 12 on Ocracoke Island are scheduled to occur as follows:

One of two lanes will be closed in the construction zone beginning as early as Monday, Nov. 5, through Friday, Nov. 16;

All lanes will remain open from Friday, Nov. 16, through Monday, Nov. 26, to accommodate motorists traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday;

One of two lanes will be closed in construction zone from Monday, Nov. 26, to Friday, Dec. 21; and

All lanes will remain open from Friday, Dec. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 2, to accommodate motorists traveling for the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays.

Beginning on Wednesday, Jan. 2, through Friday, March 15, crews will close access to N.C. 12 on Ocracoke Island to replace seven bridges on the island. Work includes removing the current wooden bridges and replacing them with wider concrete structures. During this time, only four-wheel-drive vehicles will be able to use the established beach detour between the National Park Service campground and the Pony Pens to access the village of Ocracoke. All other vehicles must use the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries to access Ocracoke.

More traveler information as well as ferry schedule changes will be available next month.

NCDOT reminds motorists to stay alert, travel at non-peak times and use alternate routes, when possible. Plan ahead before driving by visiting the NCDOT Traveler Information Management System Web site at or call 511, the state's toll-free travel information line for current travel conditions.

For more information on this project, please contact Division 1 Maintenance Engineer Sterling Baker at (252) 482-7977.


-- Shelley M. Winters Public Information Officer NCDOT Communications Office
(919) 733-2522 (919) 733-9980 (fax)

E-mail correspondence to and from this address is subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Some Answers

Recently I received several questions about Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands. Below, I post the questions along with my answers.

  • "How is Halloween observed on the island? Is there some community event; do children trick or treat; is it encouraged or discouraged ? are there any traditions for this Day?Do residents decorate & carve pumpkins; how about some photos too??"

Ocracoke School sponsors an annual Halloween Carnival with a children's costume parade, hot dog sale, games (dunking booth, dart throw, basketball toss, etc.), Quizo (really, it's Bingo), and a Spook Walk down Howard Street. This year it rained a torrent. The Spook Walk was canceled, and rescheduled for the next Friday. The forecast called for high winds that Friday (Tropical Storm Noel), so the whole thing was finally canceled. It is typically one of the highlights of the carnival, with elaborate and realistic vignettes.

Children go trick or treating on Halloween afternoon & evening, but seldom venture down Howard Street. Maybe it's TOO spooky!

Some folks decorate with pumpkins, lights, "ghosts" in the trees, etc. Some don't.

Ocracoke's current Assembly of God minister has expressed concerns about the celebration of Halloween. I do not share his views or his concerns. In November of 2005 I published in this journal a letter of his and my response. You can read both here.

There are always adult parties at various restaurants and private homes. Costumes are often creative and lots of fun.

  • "Philip,Your entry today sparked a few questions about daily life on Portsmouth Island in modern times. For example, are there not a few updated homes maintained/used by private, off-island owners? Aren't there some "permanent" (i.e., day-to-day) residents who live on the island? I thought National Park Service personnel who work around the village live there, but perhaps they too commute, like so many of us. And what about maintenance/services on the island? When I visited several years ago, we chatted a bit with maintenance personnel who were tooling about on ATVs. Do those folk work year round? Do you know if there's reliable cell phone coverage in/around the village. (I know, why would anyone WANT such an intrusion there, but my mind was just wandering in terms of a worst-case scenario...could day-trippers make an emergency call in dire circumstances?) And finally--for now--the island extends far southward, beyond the village; any insight into what lies beyond? Is it barren to the southern tip? As always, thanks in advance for your consideration."
The village is on the national register of historic places and all structures in the village are "contributing." There are a very few homes on Portsmouth that are leased by private individuals. None are "updated" except that they may have composting toilets, or maybe an electric generator. The Park Service seems reluctant to grant any more leases, and may not renew those that expire in the next few years.

There are no "permanent" residents of Portsmouth island. However, it is true that volunteers may live there for several months at a time. I don't know if anyone will be living there in the coming winter months. Dave Frum, the ranger there, lives on Ocracoke and commutes by boat every day. There are also construction workers there right now (they are repairing the Life Saving Station), but I believe they travel back and forth from the mainland every day.

There are one or two ATVs that allow workers, volunteers, and rangers to move about the village and carry heavier loads (tree limbs, lumber, water, etc.). They make their work routines much more productive.

Dave works on Portsmouth year around, unless the weather prevents him from getting there.

Alltel phones work on Portsmouth. They also work on Ocracoke, although many other carriers' phones have no reception.

There are remains of two other historic settlements on Portsmouth -- "Middle Community" and "Sheep's Head Island." Plans are underway to clear the "Straight Road" that leads to those areas, although little remains there.

Farther south along the Core Banks (about 16miles distant) are a few rental cabins. But most of the sandy banks are uninhabited, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. You can camp on the beach, but must bring all of your food, water, and other equipment (especially insect repellent -- lots of it!). There are no facilities. There is a small private ferry that will carry four wheel drive vehicles to the banks from Atlantic, NC. Vehicles (other than Park Service ATVs) are not allowed in Portsmouth village. The grass landing strip has been closed for several years, so the only access to the island is by boat.

Our latest Newsletter is an article about Blackbeard the pirate and new research that suggests he may have been born in eastern North Carolina. You can read it here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Black Beard

Several days ago we published our latest Ocracoke Newsletter, comments on the history of Ocracoke's most (in)famous visitor, Captain Edward Teach, aka Black Beard the Pirate. There has been some fascinating new research exploring Black Beard's origins. You can read some of the latest information by clicking here.

I woke up this morning to wind....25 - 30 mph wind....from Hurricane Noel which is tracking to the northeast offshore. Forecasters are calling for high surf with breakers of 8 - 10 feet later today. I think I'll check out the beach sometime this afternoon. It is always exciting to see the ocean worked up. It is a periodic reminder of how vulnerable we are in the face of wild nature.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Across the Inlet

Yesterday I accompanied twenty-one teachers to Portsmouth, the abandoned village on the south side of Ocracoke inlet. It was the perfect day -- just cool enough for a light jacket in the morning; t-shirt weather by mid afternoon. And hardly a mosquito to be felt! Almost unheard of. We walked unmolested to the Salter home, the post office, the school, the Dixon home, the church, and the US Life Saving Station.

One of the teachers played a hymn on the church piano, we walked up into the tower at the station to survey the village and the sound, and we marveled at the high tide lines on the wooden marker outside the post office.

At times it seemed as if we might be standing among the citizens, the children, the life savers, and the fishermen of this small, isolated village that two hundred years ago was bustling with commerce and the daily activities of a thriving seaport town. But today Portsmouth is one of this country's last refuges for peace and quiet. The houses are vacant now; the church bell is silent; the Life Saving Station is empty; and the sandy lanes are quiet. It is the perfect retreat from the busy-ness of the modern world.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


This morning I joined friends at the old Sound Front Inn, now a rental "cottage." We enjoyed pancakes (with real maple syrup), sausage, coffee, and orange juice on the side porch, just a clam shell's throw away from the old Bragg cemetery. This house had once belonged to the Bragg family. In fact, there is some evidence that the original part of the building may be the second oldest surviving structure on the island. The lighthouse was built in 1823; the Sound Front Inn, maybe 15 or so years later. One wall is canted in a noticeable angle, and the front steps are not lined up correctly with the porch. The house was washed off of its foundation in the 1944 hurricane. It remains a silent witness to the destruction of that memorable storm. Today Pamlico Sound was calm and serene not far away.

The sky is "Carolina Blue" and the air has just a touch of autumn in it. In less than an hour I'll be in a boat heading for Portsmouth Island. I think this is the perfect October day for a visit to this fascinating ghost village.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ghost Orbs

It is 9:10 pm and I just returned from a nighttime visit to Springer's Point. I wasn't alone. I was with 21 teachers spending a week on Ocracoke participating in an NCCAT (NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching) seminar. The seminar is entitled "Ghosts of the Coast" and we have been sharing creepy tales from the island, talking about what makes a good ghost story, and exploring the many family cemeteries in Ocracoke village.

This afternoon we listened to a "paranormal investigator" who explained the tools she uses to hunt for ghosts. These include EMF (Electro-Magnetic Field) meters, infra-red cameras, and digital & analog recording devices.

At 7 o'clock this evening we walked to Springer's Point and spent almost two hours in the eerie darkness there, under the canopy of live oaks and cedars, beside the lonely and forlorn cemetery, listening to the wind blowing through the gnarled and twisted branches above us.

The ghost hunter called for spirits to manifest themselves as we stood in a circle around the old brick cistern. Cameras flashed, highlighting the investigator in front of a shadowy background of dappled branches and sinewy limbs. "Look, there they are, in our photos. See the orbs floating just above her shoulder!"

I looked at the camera display. The "orbs" looked suspiciously like what I would expect from light reflecting off dust particles in the air. Springer's is dark and mysterious. There is no doubt about that. And the Point gives almost everyone an uneasy, unsettled feeling, especially after dark. But I suspect that just the sense of the unknown will have that effect.

Actually, "ghosts" I can deal with. I for one couldn't help wondering if one of those big dark snakes I've seen crawl across the path during the day might be slithering close by. It was time to head back home.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Folk School Photos

As promised, I am including in today's journal several photos (in no particular order) of various folk school classes and activities. Enjoy (and consider joining us next year in October -- everyone had a great time!).

Jewelry Making:

Music during Breakfast:

Display by Photography Class:

Studying Island History:

Sailing on board the Schooner Windfall:

Finishing a Basket:

Enjoying a Shrimp Boil:

Exploring Ocracoke's Wild Side:

Dive for the Oyster, Dig for the Clam:

Visiting Graveyards at Night:

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


On Friday the heavens let loose and inundated Ocracoke with about six inches of rain. We needed the rain, like so many other places on the east coast, but it drowned out the annual school spook walk on Howard Street. It was a disappointment. Not only is the spook walk lots of fun....and many people had put hours and hours of work into the project....but it is also a big money maker for the school PTA. Haven't heard yet if it will happen on another date.

The rain left huge deep puddles all over the village -- on roads, in yards, nearly everywhere one looked. But the island is drying out today. Lachlan enjoyed one big muddy pond this morning, stomping back and forth, eventually splashing above his butter-colored boots and soaking his trousers. That's all it took. In minutes his boots and pants were lying in the mud and he was tromping through the muddy water again, this time in his bare feet.

I've got a CD of folk school photos. If I get a few spare minutes tomorrow or in the next several days I'll upload three or four so you can see some of what made this last week so memorable.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tempus Fugit

I can't believe it's been four days since I last posted. This week has been a non-stop assortment of creative & exciting activities. The inaugural week of the new Ocrafolk School ended yesterday with presentations by all of the student participants. We looked at displays of colorful enameled jewelry, intricately woven baskets, and photographs of Ocracoke Island (none of which showed the lighthouse or Silver Lake Harbor!). We also heard stories of shipwrecks & rescues, saw an old-time island bird trap, and passed around biological specimens and examples of nautical knots. Earlier in the morning we were treated to a sumptuous breakfast prepared by the cooking class.

I believe it's fair to say that everyone had a marvelous week. In addition to classes, we had the pleasure of enjoying music almost every day (jazz, classical, folk, and nautical), joined fellow students on walks along the shore and through the maritime forests, followed paths in the village while listening to history, stories, and ghost tales, and watched the wind catch the red sails aboard the traditional schooner, Windfall.

It was a fun week, but also a tiring week. When off-islanders wonder what we "do all winter" just keep the folk school in mind. It is not always this intense, but we seldom get bored for a lack of activity.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 23

What a lovely day! It rained a bit last night (I only know because everything is wet outside this morning), there is a light breeze, and the skies are partly cloudy (I did see a fair amount of Carolina Blue sky earlier), but already the temperature is nearly 80 degrees. Several students from the folk school have headed to Pamlico Sound to launch their kayaks [unfortunately I am not able to join them : - ( ], and others are busily working on their baskets, jewelry, photography, or gourmet meals. I'm sure we'll hear all about their classes this evening at dinner.

I can't let this day pass without a mention of its historical significance. According to James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin, today, October 23, is the 6011th anniversary of the creation of the world. A momentous date if there ever was one. Let's celebrate!

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Folk School

Last night more than two dozen folks met at the Pony Island restaurant for the first gathering of students and instructors of the new Ocrafolk School. We enjoyed a delicious meal while chatting and getting to know each other.

This morning after breakfast at Deepwater Theater (David Tweedie & John Golden entertained us with fiddle and banjo music) I led the group on a tour down Lighthouse Road. I shared stories and local history. As an added treat, the Park Service opened the lighthouse so we could step inside and view the 184 year old beacon from a different perspective. We ended at the Community Store dock where Capt. Rob invited everyone on board his schooner for and hour and a half cruise in Pamlico Sound.

Classes in jewelry, basketry, photography, and island cooking, as well as an "Ocracoke Sampler" began this afternoon in various locations around the village. We will meet again this evening for John Ivey's famous fish cakes at Jason's restaurant. I'm sure the tables will be abuzz about all the skills learned already. We will all be looking forward to three more days of work, fun, and learning even more.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Catching Up

Sorry for the two-day hiatus from the journal. This weekend Ocracoke welcomed the Howard family reunion. My brother was here, along with close and distant cousins. In addition to registration, a picnic, and dinner we enjoyed sharing stories, listening to good music, dancing the traditional island square dance, and even watching an accomplished belly dancer (one of our mainland Howard kin).

At the same time, NCCAT (the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching) hosted an open house, shrimp dinner, and community cookout this weekend. Their new facility, the renovated Coast Guard Station, is simply wonderful. Conference and seminar rooms, dormitory rooms (each with private bath), reception area, open deck, and dining room are all beautiful and of the highest quality. The view from the lookout tower was a highlight of everyone's visit. We welcome NCCAT to our community.

In just a few minutes I will be meeting our first students for the new Ocrafolk School. Right now I'd better get a shower and then bike out to the Pony Island Restaurant.

After dinner I'll be leading a Ghost & History Walk for several British journalists.

More on the Ocrafolk School later this week.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


As humorist Dave Barry would say, an "alert reader" reminded me yesterday that the Ocracoke School Halloween Carnival and Spook Walk will take place on Friday, October 26, followed by Quizo (Bingo). I also forgot to mention the chicken dinner served last evening as a fund raiser for the Ocracoke Child Care. I wasn't able to partake, but I'm sure it was delicious.

There really are quite a few community events happening in the next few weeks.

If you are planning a visit to the island (for the Howard Reunion, the Folk School, the A.A. Jamboree, the Murder Mystery Weekend, or just to get away for a while) be sure to plan for a dip in the Atlantic. The ocean temperature has been just perfect for swimming. Everyone on the island is basking in the warm weather, sleeping with windows wide open, and enjoying the outdoors as much as possible.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Upcoming Events

The village is not as quiet in October as it once was, but there are definitely fewer visitors out and about this week. Everything seems more relaxed and laid back. However the next few weeks will see more activity here on the island.

A large Howard family reunion will meet this weekend at the community center. Latest reports indicate that more than 150 people from all over the country will be gathering to share stories, photos, and history. A picnic, dinner, music, and dance will round out the weekend.

Close on the heels of the reunion will be a community cookout to celebrate the opening of the NCCAT (N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching) campus (the old Coast Guard station) on Sunday, October 21. The next day will be the inaugural session of the Ocrafolk School. On October 22 classes will begin in jewelry making, photography, island cooking, basketry, and island culture, history, & ecology. Evenings will include music, square dancing, sailing, and other island activities.

Following the folk school NCCAT will be hosting a seminar on "Ghosts of the Coast" the week of October 28. That session will barely be concluded when the island hosts the annual A.A. Jamboree. The next weekend Lou Ann will be back on the island to lead a "Murder Mystery Weekend" at the Cove Bed & Breakfast.

When that ends it will be the middle of November! Whew.

We'll keep you informed as the events unfold.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


This morning the birds were chirping and singing, sunbeams were streaming down through the cedars....and goldenrod was in full bloom all over the island.

This week is proving to be as grand and beautiful as one could imagine. The temperature right now is 72 degrees. Amy & Lachlan & I played "baseball" in the yard a while ago. They are planning to be outside as much as possible today.

The only downside to this weather is the goldenrod, but I'll simply cough and sneeze every morning, and then get on with enjoying the rest of the day.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Pioneer

Yesterday proved to be a super October day, and today looks to be just as nice; even a tad warmer, probably with temperatures in the mid-70s. It is clear and sunny, unlike October 14, one hundred and eighteen years ago yesterday. It was on that date that the steamer "Pioneer" wrecked on Ocracoke's beach within sight of the village. Unlike most vessels which carried one type of cargo (lumber, molasses, rum, or sugar, e.g.), the Pioneer was carrying general cargo. When it broke up and sent all manner of desirable goods floating through the town residents were ecstatic.

You can read a brief account of the wreck, and the aftermath, here:

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Phil Platt

Many of our readers knew Phil Platt, owner and pilot for Ocracoke Island's Pelican Airways. I spoke with Phil early in the week while checking my mail at the Post Office. Late that afternoon Phil died suddenly. He was one in a long list of island characters. Strong willed, quirky, and quick to tell you what he thought, Phil was interesting, entertaining, and likable.

My first encounter with Phil was seeing him driving around the village in a car with most of the windshield broken out. There was a large hole in the passenger's side; the driver's side of the windshield was nothing more than cracks and "spider webby" lines obscuring any possibility of a view of the road. Phil, with hands on the wheel, was leaning far to his right, peering out of the broken glass. He was wearing his vintage leather flight goggles.

The memorial service was held today at the airstrip. A catholic priest was there, along with Joyce, our Methodist minister, and Dwight Burrus, lay preacher and pilot from Hatteras. The altar was Phil's rough work bench, stained with grease & oil. On the corner was Phil's vise, bolted firmly to the top. It was a fitting testimonial to a memorable island character. We will miss him.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cooler Weather

After weeks of unseasonably warm autumn weather, it turned a bit cooler yesterday. A neighbor I spoke with in the bank told me with a smile on his face how he'd slept under two blankets. Folks were walking and biking about in sweatshirts, light jackets, and hats.

This morning the "cold snap" (my apologies to all of our northern readers) is quickly morphing into the perfect, sunny day. Already the temperature is in the upper 60s, and is expected to be in the lower 70s by mid-morning. Nighttime temps in the mid 50s will be a fitting complement to what is shaping up to be a lovely October day.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Blue Heron Realty

Island native, Jennifer Esham, has established a new realty on Ocracoke Island. She specializes in vacation rentals and asked me to let you know about her recent venture. Her web site is

This is how she describes Blue Heron Realty (I think she expresses many of our concerns about preserving the island's unique traditions, culture, and values):

"Blue Heron Realty invites you to vacation in one or our Ocracoke Island rentals. We take great pride in our island home, this one-of-a-kind place on the North Carolina Outer Banks, known for the incomparable beauty of its land- and seascapes-- and for the wonderful people who call it home.

My goal for Blue Heron Realty is to offer an Ocracoke vacation rental service that matches the island itself – a company founded on the island’s traditions of hard work, friendliness, in going the extra mile and keeping things simple.

You won't find national hotel and motel chains and the "usual suspect" fast food restaurants on Ocracoke Island. Yes, Ocracoke will grow and change, shifting like the tides. Still, we all want it to hold on to the values and customs that make it unique. I hope you will enjoy your vacation rental on our Ocracoke. Leave your footprints in the sand and take away with you enough happy memories to last a lifetime (and plenty of seashells too!).

Have a wonderful stay!

Jennifer Esham"

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Playing Catch Up

I meant to write a journal entry yesterday. Really I did. But I have been playing catch up since I returned home. You know what I mean -- bills, emails, family, friends, mowing the lawn, laundry....and, of course, work.

And the Village Craftsmen has been busy for this time of year. Of course, Kelly, our summer employee, is now gone, and Dallie has been off island this week. So Jude and I are keeping things going.

But we have been blessed with warm, pleasant weather. I did join Amy for a walk on the beach right after I got home (including a dip in the ocean -- the water is warm and very inviting!), but that wasn't to be yesterday. Although shop owners are happy for the continued revenue, I believe many folks are becoming wistful for cooler weather and a slower pace.

For those of our readers who speak German, here is a link to a recent article in "Welt Online" about Ocracoke Island:

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Some Answers....

....or at least points to ponder.

Our recent posts about Ocracoke and change inspired a number of comments and questions. I always like to reply to our readers' questions, so here goes (I'll take the inquiries in the order we received them):

The East Coast (nay, the whole world)NEEDS your unspoiled serenity, not another overpriced, honky-tonk wasteland!

OK, this is a comment, not a question, but it is typical of so many comments of our readers who replied to Jude's initial post. (I chose this comment as representative of many others.) I can only say that I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, and with the others who long for the Ocracoke they love and cherish not to "change" in the sense of becoming like every other coastal tourist trap.

You folks need to hold on tight to what you have as long as you can, because when it's gone there's no going back. I don't want Ocracoke to lose the charm that it has.
That's what keep bringing people back year after year. If Ocracoke winds up like a Myrtle Beach, then what have you got?.

I believe I speak for most, perhaps almost all, of our island residents when I agree that Ocracoke needs to hold on to our sense of community, our culture, our traditions, our lifestyle, our sense of humor....(you fill in the rest of the blanks).

What is your background in writing, language, etc? Your abilities as a writer are uncommonly good and suggest specialization in the field, or perhaps a career in teaching. Am I close?

Thank you for the kind words. Well, you are only close. I did teach a couple of years off the island; and I taught here at Ocracoke way back in the mid-70s. But I have no background in education. Wasn't really a very good teacher, either. At least I don't think I was that great. However, I love to read....and think. My educational background is in Philosophy and Religion. It's a wonder anything I write makes any sense.

One would only hope that Ocracokers have their zoning laws in order, and that esthetics and "quality of living" trumps "making money" under at least [some?] circumstances. Also, that the cost of living is somehow kept down so that the kids of native Ocracokers can afford land and a house AND non-natives of modest means can continue to visit and stay in Ocracoke. I would hate to think that in 20 years only rich people could live or vacation on OK Island.

Whoa! This is a complicated question/comment. Actually I have few answers. Ocracoke has no zoning laws (in the sense of commercial, residential, and industrial "zones"). We do have a building ordinance, but not a particularly strong one, and enforcement is problematic. For one thing, our county seat is so far removed, and we have so little influence in county decisions. It is very complicated. Also, many other factors complicate this issue. To name just one, strict building codes, for all their good intentions and benefits (and there are many), tend to drive home prices up. When large lot sizes are mandated, and various restrictions are placed on construction, properties (especially in coastal communities) become more desirable, and thus more expensive. I wish I knew a solution to this dilemma.

How much more do you think the island can change? For example, how many more buildable lots are available? Is there the potential for lots more to be constructed or is most of the large places already full? Around the harbor, how many more lots do you anticipate will change or built upon? Can the towns infrastructure handle another building boom?

I don't know the answer to this question. But I do know that almost anything is possible, and all too often small communities like ours are re-active, rather than pro-active. How do you identify the next potential problem? How do you know you're right? How do you convince your fellow citizens to prepare for something that may never materialize?

How many buildable lots are available? I own four contiguous lots that total about an acre. Could I bulldoze everything down, connect the lots, and build a motel? I suppose, but, of course, I wouldn't. But how could we prevent someone else from doing the same thing? I don't know.

I wonder though if Portsmouth wouldn't have discovered a new breed of folks if the government hadn't stepped in.

Perhaps. An "artists' community?" Maybe an experimental Utopian society? It might have been wonderful, creative, and exciting. But it wouldn't have been the traditional island community.

I hope that there are ways for the next generation to be able to afford to stay on the island if they want.

We all hope for this. But it is a struggle. By now, most local families have pretty much divided up their traditional holdings for children and grandchildren. We'll have to see what will happen to the next generation. If only we could halt change. But then, what would we be hoping for. As I said before, change is inevitable. The only rational goal is to direct the change and work for change that is life-affirming and community-building. And then we need the good graces to accept the changes and to continue to strive for all that is good and healthy and nurturing (even if that means working for other changes).

I hope this discussion has prompted us all to do whatever we can to preserve all the best of this wonderful island of Ocracoke.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hello Folks!

It's so nice to be missed. Thanks for the concerns about us. If you read Dale's comment on the last post you already know that I have been off the island for more than two weeks, and that Jude has gone to visit her mother. But I have returned....just last night.

I spent a week in Indiana with Lou Ann. We had a wonderful time -- rode on a train with a 100+ year old steam locomotive, witnessed a Civil War re-enactment (even had the opportunity to don period costumes and join in the dances later that evening), visited friends, walked in the woods, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

From there I traveled to East Tennessee for my annual hike to the top of Mt. LeConte (over 6500 feet elevation). It is an eight mile trek to the top, and quite a treat to be out in the woods and into the rarefied air. Two friends even startled a large black bear early in the morning, just beyond our quarters.

From LeConte I hopped over to Weaverville, NC to visit with my son and his family. I see those three grandchildren only a few times each year, so it is always a treat. Then it was back to Tennessee for the National Storytelling Festival. Lou Ann joined me again, and we listened to some of the best tellers in the nation (including, of course, our own Donald Davis).

Back home I discovered tall disorderly and unkempt grasses assaulting my front yard, stacks of unwelcomed bills, and more than a hundred emails awaiting me.

Thank you all for your comments about Ocracoke and change. I'd like to share more thoughts on several of the posts, but that will have to wait for another day. Until then, enjoy the rest of the day.

Our latest monthly newsletter is Lou Ann's story of commercial clamming with 13 year old Morty. You can read it here.