Thursday, January 19, 2012

Joe Bell

It's that time again. We have just published our latest Ocracoke Newsletter, the story of Joe Bell and the beautiful red and yellow flowers that bear his name on the Outer Banks. You can read the story here:


  1. Anonymous9:24 AM

    How wonderful to be remembered in such a beautiful way. Thanks for a very interesting read.

  2. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Yes, a very interesting story. But I am puzzled. What was the name of the brother-in-law who owned the house where Joe Bell died and was buried? I think I remember reading on this blog, sometime ago, that your family had owned that very house. Is there a connection? (I have rented that house and noticed the grave.)

  3. Bill from Waxhaw/Beaufort10:57 AM

    Good morning, Phillip

    I met you during Ocrafolk School. Your blog lets those of us who can't be there all the time feel like part of the Island.

    Coming in February for sock hop. Are many restaurants open year round?

    Thanks so much!

    Bill W.

  4. Anon 10:36 -- I am a little unclear about Joe Bell's family connections...and the two houses they owned on Ocracoke. I know Joe Bell was kin to Fred Mallison (author of To Ocracoke!). I am pretty sure his family was kin to the Kuglers (they owned the first summer cottage on Ocracoke; it sits on the sound shore on Silver Lake Drive).

    Joe Bell is buried in the yard of the Theodore & Alice Rondthaler house (Theodore was principal of the Ocracoke School more than 50 years ago). That house at one time belonged to my father's Uncle Dan Tolson and his wife Sabra Howard Tolson (my grandfather's sister). The house that Joe Bell was caretaker for was nearby.

    I will check my notes and ask Blanche if she knows exactly which houses were owned by Joe Bell's family.

  5. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Ok what other evidence is there today that the joebel is celebrated.. hats, shirts, stationary, postcards, sandwiches, bakeries ... is this name all over the island? Honestly, it is refreshing though that a quaint story is attached to a common item. The Daffodil is celebrated by a festival on nantucket

  6. Anonymous10:05 PM

    Loved the story and I remember wondering what kind of flowers those were I was in Ocracoke!

    And now, another off the wall question ... in 1986, if a letter was mailed to someone on Ocracoke, would it have a complete address (P.O. Box), or would it reach the recipient with only the name and Ocracoke Island, NC?


  7. Jackie, I can't remember the year, but I once mailed a letter with just C as the address. No PO Box #, no "Ocracoke, NC," no zip code! It was delivered to the correct person (her nickname was Cee). Of course I mailed to from Ocracoke and dropped it in the local slot at the PO.

    Nowadays all mail from off-island is routed through Rocky Mount. Sometimes they reject mail destined for Ocracoke if it doesn't have a PO Box #. If you don't know the PO Box # I suggest making up an outrageous number (e.g. 12695). The postmaster and clerks at Ocracoke will put it in the correct box.

  8. Anon 10:36 -- Joe Bell's brother-in-law was William whiting McIlhenny. He had married Joe Bell's sister, Lena Bell. W.W. McIlhenny's daughter, Anita, married Samuel Mallison. Their son, Fred McIlhenny ("Mac") Mallison, wrote a wonderful book about his visits to the island in the 1930s (To Ocracoke! Boyhood Summers on the Outer Banks). I believe the book is out of print.

    Apparently W.W. McIlhenny (Grandpa "Bup" in Mallison's book) owned two summer cottages on Ocracoke, and his extended family also owned a couple of other cottages.

    The McIlhenny's were either kin or friends with the Nunnelees, who also owned a cottage on the sound shore (the McIlhenny property, on the other hand, was on the "creek" side, "down point," in other words, close to the harbor). Martha Ellen Nunnelee married "Doc" Kugler. Their cottage, the first house on Ocracoke built specifically as a summer cottage, is still referred to as the "Kugler Cottage."

    Joe Bell is buried in the yard of the Rondthaler House (my father always called it "Uncle Dan & Aunt Saber's). Dan & Sabra Howard Tolson lived there until sometime around 1920, when they moved to New Jersey (presumably for Dan to work for the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Delaware River, as most island men did). Their house changed hands several times before the Rondthalers purchased it. Maybe the McIlhenny's owned that house at one time...and maybe Joe Bell was living there when he died. That would explain why he is buried in that yard. Even Blanche was unsure of which houses the McIlhenny's owned, but they were all located down point in the same general vicinity.

    I hope this helps!

  9. Another tidbit of information: Sabra Howard (my grandfather's sister) married Daniel Tolson (Sabra's father's first cousin; her first cousin once removed; in other words, Sabra's grandmother and Dan's father were brothers...are you thoroughly confused yet?).

    Although Dan & Sabra were both from Ocracoke, the good thing about so many young island men moving to Philadelphia for work was that they often married up north and brought new genes into island families!

  10. Bobby Rondthaler9:19 AM

    I was much interested in the question by anon 10:36 about the house where Joe Bell was buried and your two detailed replies about the "connections" - My family bought that house from McIlhenny in 1936, and, yes, Joe Bell is buried there in the yard. So I guess he died on our front porch. I knew that Joe Bell had sometimes stayed in the house, but did not know, until your response, that he was kin to McIlhenny. Thanks for your thorough research and information on all of the kinship connections and your own family connection.

  11. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Thanks Philip--Without asking a single question, I learned something in all that confusion. My mother's 1st cousin is not my 2nd cousin, but my 1st cousin once removed. Never was sure.

  12. Think of it this way: 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousins, etc. are all in the same generation. 1st cousin once removed can be thought of as "1st cousin, one generation removed." Of course it can get complicated (e.g. 3rd cousin, two times removed). But it is a way of keeping family connections understandable, something that can be particularly complex on Ocracoke. Several folks on the island are double first cousins!

  13. Bobby, your comment helps clear up a few Joe Bell details. Thanks.

    One more thing...I'd like to write a monthly newsletter about your mother & father sometime. I'd like to ask you a few questions, but I don't have your email address. Would you send me an email via Village Craftsmen (just put "For Philip" in the subject line; the address is on the home page)?

  14. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Continue to enjoy your island stories Phillip including this one. Remember seeing the Gillardia many years ago on one of our early visits to O. We have lots of these plant on our property in IL and they re really a "workhorse" in terms of floral output beginning to bloom in early June all the way to frost-it's the last bouquet of the year. Even though we look forward to our visits each year, it's hard to pull ourselves away from our 5 acres of gardens etc. There's always a wistful look from the driveway as we back out and gaze at those happy blooms. So, we were thrilled to see them thriving on the sands of the island. We were lucky enjoy to stay at the Kugler for several years where we picked them for a kitchen bouquet much as we did at home. Thanks for this lovely story about Joe Bell. Sue M.

  15. Anonymous12:50 AM

    Greetings. My name is John McIlhenny. William Whiting McIlhenny and Lena Bell McIlhenny were my great-grandparents. I would be interested in any links that could further my search into family history. This is a wonderful site and a great history. Thank you for posting it.

  16. John McIlhenny, please click on the link to "Village Craftsmen Home Page" (it's just above the photo of Howard Street) and use the email link at the top of the home page to send me an email. I will probably not be much help since I don't have much more information for you, but maybe I can point you in the right direction. Put "Attn. Philip" in the subject box to help speed your email directly to me.

  17. Anonymous12:42 AM

    Hello, Doc Kugler and Martha Ellen are my great-grandparents. We were sad to sell the Kugler cottage a few years back and hope it's doing well - my grandmother is still so heartbroken that she's yet to return to the island. Thank you for the lovely blog - it's a lovely reminder of the Ocracoke life that we miss so dearly.