PO Box 248
June 30, 2005
In a past newsletter I documented a number of island residents' unusual first
names -- names such as Epherena, Emelis, Leevella, Hiteous, and Maltby.
You can read them all here.
Now and then a visitor will ask about another unusual name carved into a
grave marker on Howard Street -- Kunigunde.
My mother, Kunigunde Guth, was born to Hungarian immigrants on March 17, 1914 in
Allentown, Pennsylvania. She died October 20, 1989 on Ocracoke Island and
lies in the Howard graveyard under the shade of live oak trees, yaupon, and
Kunigunde Guth, 1946:
In 1927 my father, Lawton, was sixteen years old and, like most of the young men from
the island, left home to work in Philadelphia on the dredges and tugboats on
the Delaware River. Years before, Perry Howard had secured a job
there with the American Dredging Company. Over the years various relatives
and neighbors joined him "up north." By the time my father was a
teenager a steady stream of O'cockers had left home for the big city, and were
living in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
My mother's family were German speaking Hungarians. At twelve years old
my grandfather, Josef Guth who was born in the town of Pusztavam, learned the butcher's trade in the small village
of Kecsked, west of Budapest. There he met my grandmother, Julianna, when
he was a young man.
Joszef Guth (on left) in Kecsked:
(Click on photo for larger image)
Because his family was "Evangelical" (Lutheran) and hers Roman
Catholic their families forbade them from marrying. However, as so often
happens in such situations, they had a child when Julianna was barely sixteen
years old. She immediately left Kecsked and joined other family and
friends across the Atlantic Ocean, in New York City. Her parents kept and raised her newborn son,
Julianna Pohlmuller (fourth from right) & Family:
on photo for larger image)
On seeing New York for the first time she wrote home describing the day's
laundry hung from the many clotheslines strung between tenements.
The city is "mit Lumpfen verhängt," she wrote. The city is
strung together with rags!
Josef, Sr. followed Julianna within two years, as WWI was escalating.
Hoping to emigrate before being conscripted and in order to elude the
authorities he hid under train benches behind women's long dresses.
Eventually he reached the seacoast where he boarded a vessel bound for America.
The ship had barely left the dock when the captain made an announcement. He was seeking a
butcher. Because Josef could speak no English he had to ask a shipmate to
translate. Within minutes, however, he had a job aboard the ship. As
Josef explained the situation, "Der Butcher var drunk. He don't
Shortly after arriving in New York Julianna and Josef were married.
They had two more children, Kunigunde and Helena. It was nine years before
Josef, Jr. joined the rest of his family in the United States.
In a few years the Guths followed other Hungarian immigrants to Allentown,
Pennsylvania. When my mother was a teenager, however, my grandfather moved his
family once again, from Allentown to Philadelphia where he set up his own butcher shop.
Joszef Guth, Butcher, in Allentown, Pa.:
on photo for larger image)
It was there that my mother and father met, at a dance. Though before
leaving Ocracoke my father had never heard of anything but the traditional island
square dance my mother
introduced him to the polka and other old-world dances. He was an
immediate convert. They danced, continued to see each other, and eventually
My mother was a "city girl," my father, of course, from the island,
but they soon moved to a small working class suburb outside of Philadelphia,
where they raised their two boys.
Neither my father nor my mother had a high school education, but they always
encouraged my brother and me to do our best. A quiet, kind, and
unpretentious woman, my mother understood the value of honesty, genuineness, and
Mother agreed to spend every summer's vacation on Ocracoke. The journey from
Philadelphia to the island was long then (two days driving to Atlantic, NC, plus
another four hours across the sound on the mailboat).
In 1950, when I was 6 years old, Frazier Peele from Hatteras Island started
the first ferry service across Hatteras Inlet. His vessel was two
wooden skiffs tied together with planks nailed across the top. It held
three vehicles (two side by side, the third slid around sideways by the
strongest men nearby) and had no railing. Frazier was a jolly man with a
red face and an oversized belly. He wore an old straw hat and smoked
cigarettes non-stop. He sat next to the engine which seemed always to be
emitting copious amounts of gasoline fumes.
We no sooner left the shore (there was no dock, just planks laid onto the
sand for a ramp) when the men got out of their cars and two of them leaned
against our 1948 Plymouth. In the middle of the inlet, rolling with the
sizeable ocean swells, my mother and I looked out the car windows to see the
blue-green water so very uncomfortably close. Needless to say, we were
both relieved to finally bump up against the sandy shore on the north end of
Ocracoke (although for a six year old it was quite the adventure!).
Of course at that time there was no paved road to the village. Frazier
would only make the trip across the inlet at low tide. This allowed his
passengers to drive the fourteen miles of hard-packed sand between the
high & low water line. If at least one of the three vehicles made it
to the village they could notify the Coast Guard of any of the others that had
My mother was a good sport. She may not have wanted quite so much
adventure, but she seldom complained.
My island grandparents' simple home in the village not only had no indoor plumbing; the
kitchen was a separate building behind the main house. Chickens and horses
shared the sandy lot that was sprinkled with sand spurs and "pickle
pear" cactuses. The house was hot by midday (though it caught a pleasant
breeze almost every evening), and at times the mosquitoes were as thick as
tourists on the strand at Myrtle Beach. We pumped drinking water from the
cistern by hand and poured it through cheesecloth to strain out the
"wigglers" (mosquito larvae). I never heard my mother
When my father retired and announced that he was planning to move back home
to Ocracoke (no surprise, since we had built a house on the island in the
mid-1950's), my mother worried that she wouldn't have a network of friends and
neighbors here. Although she had visited the island for decades, she had
lived in the same suburban neighborhood for 25 years and knew she would miss
friends and the convenience of a nearby city. With some hesitation she
agreed to the move.
My mother adapted well to island life. Though more retiring than my
father, she quickly nurtured friendships and involved herself in community and
church activities. When I moved home with my family she was
delighted. She counted time with her grandchildren precious. And she
enjoyed stopping by the Village Craftsmen to help out at the counter and to chat
Employees remember mother as a quiet, kind woman who almost always wore a
simple cotton house dress. Pockets were essential, for she always carried
a handkerchief, something she had done since she was a young girl.
In Pennsylvania her father operated his butcher business and my mother would frequently deliver meat to customer's doors.
On one occasion a rather wealthy woman invited her to step into her
parlor. It was my mother's first introduction to an oriental rug, and she
fell in love. She decided then and there that one day she would own such a
Years later, after Sam Jones died (Sam was a Hyde County native and wealthy
industrialist, who married an island woman), his family sold most of the
furnishings from the several large homes he had built on the island.
My mother walked through the "Castle" and looked at every one of
the many oriental rugs that were for sale. Sam's son-in-law later
commented that he couldn't imagine that my mother would actually make a
purchase, but he dutifully showed her every carpet in the house.
At the end of their tour through the many rooms, my mother took him back to
the rug of her choice, pointed to it and said firmly, "I'll take that
one." It was $1000.00. My mother reached into the pocket of her
house dress (sometimes she'd keep more than hankies in her pockets) and pulled
out $500.00. "I'll be right back with the other $500.00," she
said. And she was.
My father had recently purchased a new outboard motor for his skiff and my
mother explained that she felt it was her turn to splurge. As it turned
out, she was rather fussy, and the fringe on the carpet bothered her because she
had trouble keeping it tidy. Eventually she gave the rug to me. But
she had realized one of her childhood dreams.
In truth, my mother was wealthy in ways far more significant than could be
demonstrated by an oriental rug. And she realized that,
My mother and father traveled some after his retirement, but mostly they
stayed put on Ocracoke. They tended a small garden (mostly
tomatoes), made excursions with their wooden skiff into Pamlico Sound for clams
or fish, kept their modest home neat & tidy, sat on their porch swing in the
late afternoon, and almost daily drove down by the visitor center to watch the
Mostly, however, they enjoyed spending time with their
Kunigunde Guth Howard, ca. 1987:
Ocracoke Island is a long way from Pusztavam and Kecsked in Hungary.
But Ocracoke became my mother's adopted home, full of family, love, and
laughter. She died in October of 1989, at home in her own bed, surrounded
by her sons, grandchildren, family, and friends. Hers was a full
life....and a good life. We miss her.