Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Scuttle the Floor!

As you might expect, Ocracoke has a number of storm and hurricane stories. This one, told by islander Ike O'Neal (1885-1968) about the 1899 hurricane to Associated Press columnist Hal Boyle, was recounted by Lawrence Maddry, former journalist for the Virginian-Pilot.

"[Ike O'Neal] said as the tide rose around their home, his father handed him an ax and told him to scuttle the floor [to allow rising water to enter, and prevent the house from floating off its foundation].

"'I began chopping away and finally knocked a hole in the floor.' O'Neal recalled. 'Like a big fountain the water gushed in and hit the ceiling, and on top of the gusher was a mallard duck that had gotten under our house as the tide pushed upward.'"

Below is a photo of the Captain Bill Thomas & Eliza Gaskill Thomas house (more recently called the Barksdale Cottage). This house was built in 1899, soon after the hurricane mentioned above. It was the first house on Ocracoke specifically built with a trap door in the floor to allow the owners to let the tide in.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a recording of Rex O'Neal telling about the time he fell overboard when he was gigging for flounder. The story was recorded for Coastal Voices, an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina. Click here to listen to Rex telling his story: https://carolinacoastalvoices.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/rex-oneal-gigging-flounders-2/.


  1. I've been in a number of older homes in the Rodanthe area with small holes drilled in the floor boards for this same reason. In major floods many homes floated from their original properties on to others, where they remained.
    I had to laugh at the mallard part of the story. It's hard to say if it's embellished or real, yet I could see it happening.
    I'm reminded of a story by Jazania O'Neal when she was a youngster, probably the storm of '44 when they evacuated the home, and forgetting the cat. When they returned after waters drained from the house, the cat was still on the sofa. The difference was that there were more cats, as the mother had her new born kittens during the storm.

  2. Anonymous12:45 PM

    I have always heard that islanders used to tie a boat to the top windows on the house as an emergency exit alternative. They would then remove everything from the first floor, roll up the carpets, and open up the holes in the floor. After the storm passed, they'd sweep everything out, let it dry and start the process of bringing everything back downstairs to start life over again. I guess its not too far from the truth.

    I also love the story from the nearby mainland about the "church moved by the hand of God" probably in a similar set of circumstances.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog about island life. I never miss a day!

  3. Anonymous4:52 PM

    Philip, what, if anything, is the Barksdale house being used for now? When I saw it last month it looked unlivable. What about her small cottage across the street from her house? In the 80's and 90's I spent many weeks in that little cottage. Rustic and an adventure to me, normal probably to people living on Ocracoke. Fun times...made me fall in love with Ocracoke and the friends I made there.

    1. The Barksdale house (the Capt. Bill Thomas house) is rustic, but very livable. Susan Barksdale's extended family uses it periodically. It is not on the rental market. The small cottage across the street may also be used now and then by family members.

  4. Anonymous6:45 PM

    Thank you Philip.