Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three Curious Children

I recently discovered an interesting newspaper article re-printed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, dated January 10, 1879. Originally published in the Tarboro (NC) Southerner, the article was titled "Three Curious North Carolina Children."

The article is about three children of my great-grandparents James Howard (1839-1904) & Zilphia Howard (1841-1919). The three children are my grandfather, Homer Howard, (1868-1947), Sabra Howard (1870-1951), and Wheeler Howard (1874-1940).

Herewith the article:

"A remarkable case of defective vision is that of three children of James Howard, a seafaring man, whose family live on Ocracoke Island. They become totally blind each day, immediately after the sun goes down. If by chance they happen to be in the yard playing when the sun sets, their playthings are instantly laid aside, and efforts made to reach the house, when they soon after retire, and sleep soundly until sunrise, after which their sight is described as being restored, and to all appearances perfectly unimpaired. The youngest is three and the eldest ten years old -- two boys and one girl, all of light complexion. Their eyes are light blue and there is nothing about them that appears at all strange."

On first reading I thought this an extremely odd story. I had never heard about anything of the sort. Nor had cousin Blanche. She thought perhaps the children were playing a prank on their parents, or maybe my great grandfather was playing a prank on the reporter. We laughed about other mischief the Howards were known for.

However, after a bit of research I discovered that a deficiency of Vitamin A can lead to a condition called "nightime blindness." This is what Wikipedia has to say:

"Nyctalopia (from Greek νύκτ-, nykt- 'night'; αλαός, alaos 'blind, not seeing', and ὄψ, ops 'eye') also called 'Night Blindness' is a condition making it difficult or impossible to see in relatively low light. It is a symptom of several eye diseases. Night blindness may exist from birth, or be caused by injury or malnutrition (for example, a lack of vitamin A). It can be described as insufficient adaptation to darkness."

Given Ocracoke's remote location and the difficulty islanders sometimes had obtaining fresh vegetables, I wouldn't be surprised if the children had a Vitamin A deficiency.

Remember when your mamma told you to eat your carrots to help you see better? Carrots are a good source of Vitamin A.

The connection between night blindness and vitamin A was not made until 1925. L. S. Fridericia and E. Holm figured it out.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the curious story of Vera/Charlie Williams. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:31 AM

    How strange to read an article about your own grandparents.
    Wherever do you find these things?

    1. RS Spencer, from Hyde Co. mainland, recently presented me with a large loose leaf notebook containing several hundred pages of articles about Ocracoke that he found on I have known about this website for some time. Maybe it is time for me to subscribe.

    2. Anonymous7:45 AM

      Thanks. I should check it out.

  2. Julie S.7:33 AM

    If it were April, I'd tend to believe this story was a P H foolie!!