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.


  1. Anonymous12:34 PM

    Philip, Thank you for the new insights about Portsmouth Island. We've enjoyed many vacations on Ocracoke over the years, we're planning to be down the week of Thanksgiving this year (no Nor'easter this time, if you please), and we look forward to many more relaxing visits over the years to come. One of the things I enjoy about Ocracoke is learning new things and exploring/discovering new places every time we're there. Thanks, as always, for indulging the curiosity of your readers, and for keeping us up to date on island life, events, and activities. Cheers!

  2. You didn't mention egging...