This story is an edited version that was originally published in the book, Digging up Uncle Evans, by Philip Howard, © 2008.

I didn’t recognize the woman right away, although she had been on my Ghost and History Tour the summer before. She and almost two dozen other people were with me on that July evening. We stopped at the Island Inn, as we always do. This is the building that had originally been built as Ocracoke’s Odd Fellows Lodge and Schoolhouse.

The Island Inn, now more than one hundred years old, is host to one of the island’s most active ghosts, and I was sharing details. Standing in the parking lot just after dusk I recounted the basic history of the structure and then told the gruesome tale of Mrs. Godfrey’s murder.

Most people recoil at the telling.

The Island Inn ca. 2017
The Island Inn ca. 2017

The story is not complete without sharing the sightings and strange happenings experienced by employees and guests alike.

I had not quite finished my tale when the woman felt compelled to tell her story. Some years before, she had rented a room at the Inn. After a day of exploring the island she returned to the hotel lobby and climbed the antique stairway to her second floor accommodations.

At the entrance to her room she retrieved the key from her purse and slowly opened the door. It was quiet inside. A delicate breeze wafted through the open window and gently rustled the lace curtains. She was exhausted. The old iron bed, piled high with soft pillows and a cozy quilt beckoned to her. But she could not sleep yet. Her mind raced with images of sailors, pirates, and simple island folks who had called Ocracoke home for generations. What was it like, she wondered, to live here, so far from conventional civilization? Who had built this fine hotel, and what stories did it hold?

Finally, too tired to think any more, she prepared for bed, and turned in about an hour before midnight. Several hours later, aroused from a deep sleep, she had the distinct sensation that someone was holding on to her big toe. She forced herself awake, afraid at first to open her eyes, fearful of what she might see.

With trepidation she lifted her head slowly and opened her eyes. Instantly the sensation vanished. No one was standing at the foot of her bed, and no hand grasped her toe. The curtains were still.

Convinced it had merely been a disquieting dream, she drifted back to sleep, only to be awakened a second time with the identical sensation. Again, no person, no figure, presented itself. And the pressure on her toe disappeared the moment she opened her eyes.

After the third encounter with whatever was holding on to her toe the woman propped herself on her pillows and determined to stay awake until daybreak. In the morning she requested to be moved to one of the newer rooms in the building on the other side of the street. After hearing the stories of Mrs. Godfrey, she said, she now knew who had been tormenting her that night.

The center section of what is now the Island Inn was built by Mr. Charlie Scarborough in 1900/1901 as a meeting house for Ocracoke Lodge #194, Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The ground floor of the Lodge housed the island’s first community school.

Odd Fellows Lodge, ca. 1901
Odd Fellows Lodge, ca. 1901

Following the death of Michael Lawrence Piland, a Gates County native who many believe introduced the Odd Fellows to Ocracoke, the fraternal organization was disbanded. The Lodge was sold and converted to a private residence.

Home of Ben O'Neal, ca. 1925
Home of Ben O’Neal, ca. 1925

In 1940 the building was sold again, this time to Robert Stanley Wahab, native islander and early entrepreneur. Immediately the first floor was converted into a coffee shop with soda fountain and ice cream bar. Rooms upstairs became a boarding house. Later, during the war, the second floor was converted again, this time to an exclusive club for Navy Officers. It was dubbed the “Crow’s Nest.”

Wahab Coffee Shop
Wahab Coffee Shop

After the war a number of improvements and additions were made to the building. Several former Navy barracks were moved and attached to the southwest side of the building. A sizeable northeast wing was added in the 1950s that included a dining hall and more guest quarters. Newly christened the Silver Lake Inn, the former Lodge was now a modern hotel. In addition to guest rooms and a dining facility, the Inn also included a dance hall. Local musicians gathered there on Saturday nights to play for the traditional Ocracoke square dances. The Silver Lake Inn had become a prominent landmark and social center for residents and visitors alike.

The Inn was sold in the 1960s and the name changed to the Island Inn. There is no longer a dance hall associated with the Inn, but the present owners continue to serve the traveling public with comfortable rooms, private baths, and even a swimming pool.

As an added benefit, present day guests at the Island Inn, especially those who occupy rooms on the upper floors of the older section of the building, are sometimes confronted by the ghost of Mrs. Godfrey, a former resident.

During the war Stanley Wahab hired a couple from the mainland to act as managers for his growing hotel. They took an apartment in the hotel. Although capable employees, they soon became well known on the island for their domestic squabbles. Islanders remember them “fighting like cats and dogs.” It became an embarrassment to many Ocracokers, who seldom allowed their private lives to be displayed so publicly.

In those days all of the roads on Ocracoke were primitive sandy lanes. Ocracoke’s primary link to the mainland was by mail boat. The forty-two foot Aleta could carry several dozen passengers — a few in her cabin, others on benches under a protective canvas awning, and more on wooden fish boxes or suitcases arranged on the open deck. She made one round-trip daily between Ocracoke Island and the mainland port of Atlantic, North Carolina.

The mail boat left the island soon after daybreak and arrived at the dock in Atlantic about 10:30 a.m. The Aleta laid over long enough to load mail, passengers, and supplies. Shortly after noon she made her way back east across Pamlico Sound.

At that time the main social event of the day on Ocracoke was greeting the mail boat when it glided up to the dock about 4:30 p.m. It seemed as if the entire village was there waiting for the mail, wondering who was coming home for a visit, and curious to see if any strangers were aboard. Old ladies in slat bonnets, carrying baskets filled with groceries from the general store or vegetables from their gardens, waited alongside old men in slouch hats smoking cigars or chewing tobacco.

The atmosphere was congenial and jovial as adults shared the day’s news and gossip. Teenage boys in bare feet, white t-shirts, and dungarees rolled up to their calves greeted the mail boat and eagerly hefted large canvas bags of mail over their shoulders and carried them down the dock to the waiting postmaster. Younger children squealed and ran about or entertained themselves chucking oyster shells into the harbor. Eventually the mail would be “called over” and everyone would return to their homes for supper.

Mailboat Aleta
Mailboat Aleta

One morning the manager’s wife boarded the Aleta for a trip across the sound to visit family and friends. Several days later, at the time of her scheduled return, she was conspicuously absent among the passengers disembarking from the mail boat when it arrived back home at Ocracoke. The manager seemed perplexed, but not overly concerned. No doubt his wife had decided to spend several more days with family and friends on the mainland, he thought. She would be home soon enough. In the meanwhile his life was calmer and more peaceful.

A week later, to everyone’s horror, the woman’s mutilated body was discovered on the mainland, the victim of a horrible murder. Lying face up in a pool of blood in an abandoned house, her throat had been cut. Although suspicion immediately centered on an unidentified serviceman who had been seen getting into a car with her, her murderer was never determined. Not surprisingly, many islanders wondered whether her husband had had something to do with the murder.

Already a heavy drinker, the manager relied increasingly on alcohol to dull his senses after his wife’s funeral. He was never accused of the murder, and he returned to work at the Silver Lake Inn. Evenings and nights in his quarters became increasingly troubled. Almost immediately he began seeing his wife’s ghost wandering the halls of the Inn.

All too often he would awake in the middle of the night to see her standing over his bed, fixing him with an accusing stare. She opened doors, and then abruptly slammed them closed. The stairs creaked and groaned as she made her way from floor to floor. He would enter his room to find his wife’s cosmetics, left untouched on the dresser since her demise, now rearranged while he was out.

Eventually the distressed manager could endure no more. He quit his job at the Inn and moved back to the mainland. He never returned to Ocracoke.
Over the years reports have continued to surface of Mrs. Godfrey’s ghost regularly patrolling rooms and hallways of the Island Inn. Most sightings have occurred on the second and third floors of the main section. It is not uncommon for guests who have never heard the story to approach the front desk in the morning with strange tales of doors opening and closing, of unfamiliar footsteps padding nearby in the middle of the night, or of bathroom spigots opening by themselves.

Women frequently report going out for dinner or a walk on the beach and returning to find their cosmetics scattered about on the dresser. One woman awoke with a start and was terrified to see a ghostly figure examining her toiletries. The next morning her makeup was gone. She never located it.
A young couple was staying at the Inn a number of years ago before the installation of air conditioning. The August evening was particularly hot and muggy. Not a breath of wind disturbed the heavy night air. Hoping for some relief, the couple stepped onto the balcony and settled into rockers. After a while the husband turned to his wife with a curious look on his face. “Did you just feel something odd?” he asked her. “I did,” she replied. “All of a sudden I felt a cold ripple of air passing, not over me, but through me, as if something living, but not really living, had touched my soul.” He had felt the same uneasy sensation.

The woman on my ghost tour repeats her story of feeling someone holding on to her big toe. She vows never to stay in the older section of the Inn again. Her voice betrays a lingering dread of unseen forces hovering over her bed. She is content, however, to rent a room in the newer wing, as she does often.

Only a few years ago I asked the current owners of the Island Inn if folks still report strange happenings in the upper floors of the main building.
“Oh, every summer we have at least half a dozen guests come downstairs in the morning and tell us about things they’ve heard or seen during the night. When we explain to them about the manager’s wife they nod and admit they’re not surprised.”

“But there’s more,” she continues, clearly animated by her own experiences.

“We have a regular guest here who always brings her guitar. She comes several times a year and just loves staying with us. She claims she gets the best night’s sleep in her room on the second floor. After one visit I found a small peg on the floor. It had a round, flattened end, but I didn’t recognize what it was, so I threw it away. The next day it was lying on the floor in the hallway. I discarded it again. The third time I found it in the middle of the mirror-stand at the top of the stairs. By then it was beginning to feel creepy. I picked up the peg, carried it downstairs and tossed it into the waste basket.

“The guest called several days later. She had lost one of her guitar pegs, and wondered if we had found it. I explained what had happened and apologized. The peg was gone for good now, I explained.

“Weeks later the guitarist was back, anticipating another relaxing island weekend. Imagine my surprise when she came down to the main desk to thank me for the guitar pin. It was lying on the table in her room!”

“Let me tell you another story,” the owner continues.

“One of our guests dropped her glasses just as she stepped out of her room, and onto the outside stairway. She searched ten minutes or more, but could not find her glasses. When she told us what had happened we went to help. The glasses had simply disappeared. Finally we gave up, and she checked out without her glasses.

“Two weeks went by, then one day another guest walked up to the counter with a pair of glasses. She found them lying on the steps, just outside her room. Sure enough, they were the missing glasses.”

The ghost in the Island Inn often seems to be kind and nurturing. At least that’s what people say. Some even claim that she tucks people in at night, and that is why they sleep so soundly.

She does like to play tricks, though, and has a fascination with jewelry. One woman, staying on the island while going through a difficult divorce, took off her wedding ring before going to court on the mainland. When she returned to the island her ring was gone. She never located it.

Not everyone who stays at the Island Inn encounters the ghost. Some are disappointed when she doesn’t make herself known. Even when she does, she seems harmless enough to those who have felt her presence. If you’re curious, you are invited to reserve a room at the Inn. We recommend you ask for room number 23 or 24.

Update: In 2018 the Inn was sold to the Ocracoke Preservation Society. The two wings have been demolished, and plans are underway to restore the historic center section which housed the Odd Fellows Lodge and School. Eventually the building will serve as a community visitors center and house public restrooms. I am sure Mrs. Godfrey’s ghost will remain at the Lodge as long as it stands!


Ocracoke streets did not have official names until 1999. Street signs appeared in 2005. Prior to that time the names of Ocracoke’s streets were fluid, often reflecting who lived there at the time (Mark’s Path), what public or commercial property was on a street (School Road), or what activity took place on a particular street (Poker Players’ Lane). It was common for islanders to make up names for UPS delivery. Statewide Enhanced 911 Emergency Service eventually dictated that Ocracoke, like the rest of the state, have official street names and road signs posted throughout the village.

The street-naming committee consisted of Kenny Ballance, Darlene Styron, James Barrie Gaskill, and Ellen Marie Fulcher Cloud. Determining official names was complicated because some streets had more than one unofficial name (Ammunition Dump Road, Fire House Road, Sunset Drive), while a few streets had no common names. In other cases, two or more streets had identical or almost identical names (Sarah Ellen Drive, Sarah Ellen Lane).

Well-respected island native, Maurice Balance (1927-2014), was consulted for suggestions about street names. He made a list of historic family names he thought should be honored by naming streets for them. At the bottom of his list he wrote, “No Blackbeard Road (thief, rapist, murderer), a dishonorable bastard”! As you can see, the committee agreed.

Following are all of Ocracoke village’s official street names as of 2018, with historical information.

  • 1st Avenue: This street and the surrounding area (Sunset Village) was named by Robert Lloyd Harcum (1900-1971), a real estate investor from Norfolk, Virginia, who developed this area in the late 1960’s. Harcum also established a furniture store in the building that now houses the Variety Store.
  • 2nd Avenue: Named by Lloyd Harcum (see entry for First Avenue).
  • Aretta Street: This street is named for Aretta Fulcher Williams (1878-1962). She and her husband, Leonard Williams, lived on Silver Lake Drive. Their house (built in 1913, and a contributing member of the Ocracoke Historic District) is now a rental house (“Blue Harbor”). The street in Upland Trent was named in her honor by family members who live in that area.
  • Back Road: This road, on the “back side” of the village, was cut through about 1929 (it was just a sandy lane then) to accommodate the growing number of families settling there. It was sometimes called Firehouse Road after the 1960s firehouse was built along the road. This road was also a section of the first road paved on the island, a one-lane concrete road leading from the WWII Navy Base to their “ammunition dumps.” (See also Sunset Drive and British Cemetery Road.)
  • Beach Road: This short road behind the bank was named by island native and early promoter of Ocracoke, Robert Stanley Wahab (1888-1967), who developed this area. (See also Ocean Road and Ocean View Road.)
  • Bebe Lane: This unpaved lane is named for Beatrice (Bebe) Tolson Daugherty (1922 – 1989), daughter of Celia Williams Tolson and Enoch Sylvester (Sid) Tolson, and granddaughter of Leonard and Aretta Williams. Their family home (a contributing member of the Ocracoke Historic District) was built in 1933, and is located on Silver Lake Drive, next door to the Leonard and Aretta Williams home (see Aretta Street).
  • Boos Lane: Named for members of the Boos family who operate Teeter’s Campground and live on this unpaved lane. In 1951 Warwick and Margueritte Vise Boos moved to the island from Illinois, and purchased Gary Bragg’s Cedar Grove Inn on the shore of Pamlico Sound, near the lighthouse. They renamed the business the Soundfront Inn, and operated it until the early 1970s.  From 1976 until 1996 Margueritte served as librarian for Ocracoke’s 80 square foot library, the smallest public library in the United States. At Margueritte’s death in 1996 the property passed out of the Boos family. Today the former inn on Sound Road is a popular rental property.

    Margueritte Boos
    Margueritte Boos in the Library
  • British Cemetery Road: The British Cemetery, which is located along this road, is the final resting place for four sailors from the armed British trawler, Bedfordshire, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat May 11, 1942. The section of this road from NC12 to the intersection of Back Road was for many years considered part of Back Road. This section was also sometimes referred to as Curiosity Lane. In the 1950s four island women, Nancy Williams, Lillian Jackson, Helen Fulcher, and Helen O’Neal, lived near the corner of this road and the Back Road. Rashe O’Neal (see Rashe Lane) began calling this Curiosity Corner for these women who gathered nearly every evening in the summer on one of their porches to share island news. Later on, various other women, including Elizabeth Howard, Fannie O’Neal, Etta Scarborough, Maude Fulcher, Irene O’Neal, Maggie O’Neal, Martha O’Neal, Lillian Fulcher, Fannie Pearl Fulcher, Ann Scarborough, and Jessica McManmon, continued the tradition. The road came to be known as Curiosity Lane.

    British Cemetery
  • Brugh’s Ridge Road: This unpaved lane is named for Doward and Jackie Overton Brugh. Doward was a 1970s real estate developer (he developed the nearby Oyster Creek area) who married into the Ocracoke Howard family. Before official street names were established this road was often referred to as Rug Road because a number of used carpets were placed in the lane to keep cars from getting mired down in the mud.
  • Bryant Lane: Named for the Leonard (1874-1960) and Jane Bryant family. Leonard, from the mainland, married island native, Jane Blount. Leonard made his living as a carpenter and barber. He was also the sexton of the Ocracoke Methodist Church. Jane was a domestic. Leonard and Jane had eleven children, three of whom, Julius, Mildred (Babe), and Muzel, remained on Ocracoke. Muzel died on Ocracoke at the age of 103 in 2008. (also see entry for Winnie Blount Road).

    Leonard Bryant
  • Cabana Road: Named by Lloyd Harcum (see entry for First Avenue) who developed this area.
  • Cedar Drive: For many years this unpaved road was called Old Laundrymat (sic) Road, because a laundromat was located there in the 1960s. Jimmy Jackson and others who lived on the road petitioned to make Cedar Drive the official street name. (See also Jackson Circle.)
  • Cedar Lane: This short section of road in Jackson Dunes pays tribute to the numerous cedar trees that grow in Ocracoke village. Named by the residents along this road.
  • Cedar Road: Also known locally as Bank Road (the First National Bank building sits on the corner of Irvin Garrish Highway and Cedar Road), this paved road also pays tribute to the many cedar trees on the island. Before the establishment of official street names this road was generally referred to as Richard’s Road for Richard Farrow O’Neal (1877-1944) who lived at the end of the road.
  • Cemetery Road: This road dead ends at the Ocracoke Community Cemetery which was established on September 14, 1953. A deed for approximately 5 acres of land was executed by members of the Garrish family for the sum of $1.00 for the purpose of forming a Cemetery As­sociation to supplement the more than 80 small family cemeteries that were increasingly being filled. The Ballance family relinquished a portion of their property to create the road. On November 21, 1953, two islanders were buried in the newly designated Ocracoke Community Cem­etery, Benjamin D. Gaskill, age 82, and Robert B. O’Neal, age 66. They both died on the same day and were buried on the same day.
  • Central Drive: This unpaved lane (along with West End Road) across from the Variety Store was named by Myra Wahab (1903-2002), widow of Robert Stanley Wahab (1888-1967), native islander, entrepreneur, and early promoter of Ocracoke. Myra developed this area in the late 20th
  • Creek Road: This road connects Lighthouse Road and Silver Lake Drive. Silver Lake harbor was originally called Cockle Creek (it is not a lake, but a wide, shallow tidal creek), hence the name of this road. At one time this was called Scarborough Road because Clarence Scarborough owned and operated a small general store along this road and lived next door to the store. Later Corky Mason operated the business as Corkey’s Store. At that time the road was often called Corkey’s Road.
  • Cutten Sage Lane: This is the road past the first bridge in the Oyster Creek development. It intersects Cutting Sage Road (see entry for Cutting Sage Road). On some pre-2005 maps this road is identified as Portsmouth Village Road.
  • Cutting Sage Road: This is an alternate spelling of “Cutting Sedge,” a member of a family of tufted marsh plants, Cyperaceae, and is the traditional name of the western portion of this road that leads from the intersection of Sunset Drive to Oyster Creek. This road was sometimes called Bridge Road since it crosses three canals. Also, some pre-2005 maps list the section that crosses the first bridge as Bay Ridge Road.  Confusingly, the road past the first bridge in the Oyster Creek development, which intersects “Cutting Sage,” is named “Cutten Sage Lane.”
  • Elizabeth Lane: This unpaved lane honors Elizabeth O’Neal Howard (1910-1996), wife of Robert Wahab Howard (1914-1974). Elizabeth, whose historic family property lies in this area, served as Ocracoke’s postmaster from 1941 until 1972, and was an early collector and preserver of island history and genealogy.

    Elizabeth Howard
  • Esham Lane: This road is named for David Esham (1941-2001) and family. David was the son of Ocracoke native Virginia Williams and Elisha Esham from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. David Esham, business owner, fisherman, and first president of the Ocracoke Preservation Society, had a house and a dock at the end of this road.
  • Faraway Oaks: Named by Frank Wardlow (1917-1997), who developed this area.
  • Fig Tree Lane: Named by island native, Ray Thomas Waller (1940-2007), for the luxurious fig trees growing along this lane where he lived.

  • Fish Camp Lane: Ocracoke has a long tradition of fish camps, primitive 19th century huts constructed of bull rushes, erected “down below” (the part of the island north of Ocracoke village) for use by local fishermen. Later fish camps were simple wooden buildings. Since the mid-1950s, when the National Park Service purchased most of the land outside Ocracoke village, the old fish camps were demolished or moved. However, a number of small, current-day “fish camps” with boat docks have been erected along a boardwalk on the marsh bordering a tidal creek at the end of Cutting Sage Lane in the Oyster Creek area. Thus, Fish Camp Lane.

    Fish Camps
  • Friendly Ridge Road: Named by the developer of this area, Lloyd Harkum, in the late 1960’s. (See also 1st Avenue)
  • Garrish Lane: This small lane off of Water Plant Road is named for Uriah Wahab Garrish, Sr. (1874-1968) and the Ocracoke Garrish family. The earliest documents relating to a Garrish on Ocracoke are in the estate papers of Jobe Wahab. In 1785 the estate paid 4 pounds 16 shillings to Henry Garrish (b. ca. 1760) for gradeschooling of Thomas Wahab. Henry served in the American Revolution, and married islander Elizabeth Howard (1765-1837). The name Garrish is derived from the Middle English word Gerysshe, meaning “changeful, wild, wayward.”
  • Gaskill Lane: William Gaskill (b. before 1737 – d. 1768) was a whaler and fisherman, and Justice of the Peace in Carteret County in 1749/1750. He and his wife, Ann Jarret, had ten children. At least two of their children settled on Ocracoke. Thomas Christopher Gaskill (b. ca. 1752 d. ca. 1828) arrived on Ocracoke Island before 1800. His brother, Benjamin Gaskill (d. 1787), married Jane Williams Wahab, daughter of John Williams of Ocracoke (and widow of Job Wahab). James Barrie Gaskill (1943-2017) owned property at the end of this lane, and maintained a commercial fishing operation on the canal. Gaskill is an English name derived from the location of this family in the late Middle Ages, in Gatesgill, a hamlet in Dalston Parrish within the city of Carlisle in Cumbria County on the northwest coast of England. Gatesgill, recorded as Geytescales in 1273, derives from the Old Norse words “geit” (goat) + “skali” (shelter), meaning “shelter for goats.” Modern variations include Gaitskell, Gaitskill, Gaskill, Gaskell and Gaskall.

    James Barrie Gaskill
  • Harbor Cove Lane: Named by the residents along this road.
  • Horse Pen Road: At the time this one-lane unpaved road acquired its official name (in 1999), it terminated at the property of Jim and Jennetta Henning. Jim had served as Ocracoke Island’s chief National Park Service ranger, and was a tireless supporter of the island’s Banker Pony herd. He and Jennetta maintained a sizeable horse pen on their property.
  • Howard Street: At one time Howard Street was referred to as the “Main Road.” In 1835 what had been merely a foot path was widened by court order and made a public thoroughfare. It extended from close by the present-day “School Road” all the way to the Sound (in the vicinity of today’s National Park Service Visitor Center). Several stores were located in this area – Mr. Blackwell’s store, John Pike’s store, and Willis Williams’ store and tavern. The area “Around Creek” grew considerably, especially since the post office and mailboat dock were located there.Once the state of North Carolina took control of the ferry operations in the mid-1950s and decided to pave many of the island’s sandy lanes Ocracoke’s destiny began to change. Early on the pavement was extended around the harbor from the Navy’s concrete road. Where once there had been little more than a foot path, there was now a hard surface road (where Highway 12 is today).This meant that the western end of the “Main Road” (in front of the Community Store) was now paved. And that left the eastern end of the road still a one-lane sandy path lined by family cemeteries and embraced by cedars and gnarled old live oaks.It wasn’t long before Stacy Howard nailed a hand-painted sign to a tree in front of his house. “East Howard Street” it read. The new name stuck. Of course, most of the residents there were Howards, and it was the eastern end of what had been the “Main Road.” Today, the official name of this road is simply Howard Street.

    call Howard Street in Winter
  • Ikey D’s Road: Named for island native, Isaac D. O’Neal (1935-1978), who lived on this road. Ikey D was a master carpenter who worked for Sam Jones building “Berkley Castle” and other buildings. Ikey D is also the name of Sam Jones’s horse, buried beside him at Springer’s Point. Ikey D’s son, also named Ikey, still lives on this road.
  • Irvin Garrish Highway: Irvin Garrish (1916-1997) and his wife Elsie Ballance Garrish (1915-2003) were both born and raised on Ocracoke. Irvin’s mother was a direct descendant of Agnes Scott for whom Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, is named. For a time Irvin & Elsie lived and worked off the island, but later returned to their island home on Howard Street. Irvin was a ferry captain and the island’s first representative to the Hyde County board of commissioners. NC Highway 12 (Irvin Garrish Highway) is named for him. Elsie was the island’s nurse.

    Irvin Garrish
  • Jackson Circle: In about 1745 Francis Jackson (ca. 1723- ca. 1798) married Susannah Howard (ca. 1725 – 1830), daughter of William Howard, Sr., last colonial owner of Ocracoke Island. Francis Jackson was an inlet pilot, and the first Jackson to live on Occracoke. Jackson Circle is located in the area where the Jackson family lived for many generations. Jackson Circle was developed by Doward Brugh (d. 2016) and Nathaniel Jackson (1929-2007).
  • Lake Street: This unpaved road parallel to Central Drive is divided into two sections by a marshy lake near the Ocracoke Community Ball Park.
  • Lawton Lane: This narrow sandy lane runs from NC12 to Howard Street. This lane never had a name until the 1990s when Libby & Bill Hicks rented the Homer and Aliph Howard house on the lane and used “Lawton Lane” as their address, a tribute to their neighbor, Lawton Howard (1911 – 2002), who was born in the house.

    Lawton Howard
  • Lighthouse Road: This road was traditionally called Point Road since it led to Springer’s Point. When official Ocracoke street names were first introduced this was designated Point Road. Only because several residents objected was the current name officially adopted. They had already established their addresses as Lighthouse Road in recognition of the island’s most prominent structure (built in 1823).

    Ocracoke Lighthouse
  • Live Oak Road: This road, named by the residents along the road, pays tribute to the numerous live oaks (Quercus Virginiana) found on Ocracoke. Many of these trees, the dominant hardwood tree on the island, are hundreds of years old.

    Live Oak
  • Loop Road: The name of this road is simply descriptive. It “loops” around from the southwest end of Lighthouse Road back to the intersection of Lighthouse Road and Creek Road. However, in the 1960s this section of road was sometimes called Moonlight Valley Road. This more colorful name was inspired by a glamour magazine and coined by island teenagers.
  • Lumpy’s Road: Leslie and Kenneth (Beaver) Tillett live on this unpaved road. When Leslie was pregnant with their first son, Andrew (born 1996), Beaver would put his hand on her abdomen and jokingly comment on how lumpy it was. It didn’t take much before they were both referring to the unborn baby as “Lumpy.” And thus the name of the road where Leslie, Beaver, & Andrew (and now Kyle also) live.
  • Mark’s Path: This unpaved lane is named for William Marcus Gaskins (1858-1937) who lived on this lane. Family members still live nearby.
  • Martha Jane Lane: Martha Jane O’Neal Gaskins (1903-1971) lived on this short section of road that connects Lighthouse Road to Loop Road. Martha Jane was married to Gilbert Bryan Gaskins. Her house is the small cottage sided with cedar shakes. Many years ago Martha Jane was taken to Duke University hospital complaining of abdominal discomfort. She was diagnosed with a nervous stomach and sent back home. Some months later she took a snapshot of her “nervous stomach,” her newborn baby son, and sent it to the doctors at the hospital.
  • Mary Ann Drive: This short lane is named for Mary Ann Styron Williams (born ca. 1795). She was married to Francis Williams (1790- ca. 1865), grandson of John Williams who bought half of Ocracoke Island from William Howard, Sr., in 1759. Mary Ann and Francis lived on the shore of a shallow pond in this area that came to be called Mary Ann’s Pond. This pond was located just west of Northern Pond but the pond was filled in by the Navy during WWII.
  • Maurice Ballance Road: This road honors native islander, Edgar Maurice Balance (1927-2014), the son of the late Elisha and Emma Gaskins Ballance. He was a retired port captain with the NCDOT-Ferry Division, commercial fisherman, master carpenter, talented musician, veteran of the Korean Conflict, and a respected and beloved member of the Ocracoke community. The name for this road was suggested by a friend of Maurice Ballance who has a cottage on this road.

    Maurice Ballance
  • Middle Road: This road is located in the middle of “Wahab Village,” an area of Ocracoke developed in the 1930s and 1940s by Robert Stanley Wahab (1888-1967), island native and early promoter of Ocracoke. In 1936 Stanley established the Wahab Village Hotel (now Blackbeard’s Lodge) on Back Road, on the western edge of Wahab Village.
  • Miss Elecia Lane: Miss Elecia Garrish (1889-1978) was the second wife of Alexander Norman Garrish. They lived in the house on this lane which Alexander built in 1903 (it was remodeled in the 1940s). The house is a contributing member of the Ocracoke Historic District. Today it is a rental home. Miss Elecia was the island seamstress.

    Miss Elecia’s House
  • North Street: This street behind the Ocracoke Coffee Company intersects Sunset Drive. It was named by Lloyd Harcum. (See 1st Avenue)
  • North Pond Road: This road is adjacent to Northern (or North) Pond, a small cove located in Pamlico Sound, on the north side of the village of Ocracoke.
  • NPS Road: This road to the east of the National Park Service public parking area passes the NPS maintenance buildings and leads to NPS housing units.
  • Nubbins Ridge: This is a curious name for one of the island’s narrow lanes. Carrie, Elnora, and Delphin Williams, whose family home was located here, named this road years ago for an area they were familiar with in Richmond, Virginia.
  • Ocean Road: This short road between the back of the Island Inn (the old Odd Fellows Lodge) and the Boyette Condos at one time led to the “bald beach” and the ocean. (See also Ocean View Road.)
  • Ocean View Road: Prior to World War II this road was on the edge of the “bald beach.” Hence the name. After the construction of the continuous row of barrier dunes between the ocean and NC12 in the mid-twentieth century, numerous beach grasses, sea oats, myrtle bushes, yaupons, and other vegetation colonized the area between the dunes and this road. Houses and businesses followed. For many years it has been impossible to see the Ocean from Ocean View Road.
  • Odd Fellows Road: In 1897 islanders established Ocracoke Lodge No. 194, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal order founded in 1819. The Lodge building was constructed on the corner of this lane in 1901 by Thaddeus Scarborough. The ground floor was used as a schoolhouse until 1917. The upper floor was the Lodge’s meeting room. After the Lodge was disbanded in 1925 the building was sold as a private residence. Eventually it was turned into a coffee shop, and after World War II it was re-purposed as a restaurant and inn, eventually acquiring the name Island Inn. In 2018 the Ocracoke Preservation Society, with help from Occupancy Tax money, purchased the property.

    Odd Fellows Lodge
  • Old Beach Road: This was a former sandy path leading from the village to the “bald beach.” (See also Ocean View Road.)
  • Old Church Lane: This narrow lane carries this name because the property where Zillie’s wine store is now located was once the site of Wesley Chapel, a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1883 this denomination sent a preacher to the island because a schism had erupted in the local Methodist Episcopal Church, South (which was located on Howard Street), over the use of hymn books. From 1883 until 1939, when the national denominations merged to form the United Methodist Church, Ocracoke village was home to two Methodist churches. The two existing church buildings were demolished, and the materials used to build the present Methodist Church on School Road.

    Wesley Chapel
  • Old Pony Lane: This unpaved lane adjacent to Blackbeard’s Lodge which narrows to a footpath connects Back Road with the Ocracoke School property. The name harkens back to a time when semi-wild Banker Ponies roamed freely through the village.
  • O’Neal Drive: This road passes by an area of the village settled by members of the Ocracoke O’Neal family. An O’Neal cemetery on this road includes graves of several prominent and influential members of this historic island family. Some of the O’Neal (O’Neil, Neal, Neil, Neel, Neale) family from Ireland came to Virginia in the seventeenth century, and later to Hatteras Island. The first O’Neals settled on Ocracoke in the late 1700s. The O’Neal family has owned land in this area for many years. The final several hundred feet of this road (past the curve) was sometimes called John Gaskins Drive.
  • O’Neal Lane: This lane is named for members of the Ocracoke O’Neal family. (Also see entry for O’Neal Drive.) Named by the residents along this road.

    Walter ONeal’s Store
  • Pamlico Shores Road: This road in the Northern Pond area intersects British Cemetery Road,,and was named by Frank Wardlow (1917-1997) who developed this area in the 1970s.
  • Pilot Town Circle: This paved road loops around the back of the National Park Service Visitors Center. The name was suggested by Maurice Ballance (see Maurice Ballance Road). It pays tribute to one of Ocracoke’s earliest names, Pilot Town. Ocracoke’s first European settlers in the early eighteenth century acted as inlet pilots, guiding sailing vessels through the sometimes treacherous Ocracoke Inlet. Today, Pilot Town Circle serves as stacking lanes for the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries.
  • Pintail Drive: This road is named for the northern pintail (Anas acuta), a large migratory duck that frequents Ocracoke Island. The male’s long central tail feathers provide the species’ common and scientific names. This road was named by Frank Wardlow (1917-1997), who developed this area.
  • Poker Players’ Road: Not surprisingly, this road was named to recognize a group of island men who gathered regularly in the woods nearby to play poker. Anonymous sources identified them as Ikey D. O’Neal, James Barrie Gaskill, Billy Garrish, James Garrish, Jr., Julius Bryant, and a few others.
  • Pompano Place: On Ocracoke Island pompano is a popular and prized marine delicacy and game fish in the genus Trachinotus, in the family Carangidae.
  • Rasche Lane: Named for Ocracoke native Horatio (Rasche) Willis O’Neal (1894-1981), who lived nearby.
  • Sand Dollar Drive: The Sand Dollar Motel is located on this road. Sand dollars, which are found frequently on Ocracoke’s beach, are extremely flattened, burrowing sea urchins belonging to the order Clypeasteroida.
  • Sand Dune Trail: This road off of Middle Road in the Wahab Village section of Ocracoke is named for the sand dunes that formed in this area before the erection of the man-made barrier dunes between NC12 and the ocean, when this area was on the edge of the “bald beach.”
  • Sarah Ellen Drive: Named for Miss Sarah Ellen O’Neal Gaskill (1879-1984) many years ago by her friend Susan Barksdale who owned property near this paved road “Up Trent.” (Susan Barksdale also owned the Capt. Bill Thomas house on the corner of Silver Lake Drive and Sarah Ellen Lane.) This is one of two roads honoring this much beloved island native. Miss Sarah Ellen was the daughter of Howard and Charlotte O’Neal, and she lived on the island all of her life. Her father was a fisherman and she grew up to marry a fisherman, Benjamin Gaskill, with whom she shared 46 years of marriage and five sons. (See also Sarah Ellen Lane.)
  • Sarah Ellen Lane: This unpaved lane off Silver Lake Drive on the south side of the harbor honors Miss Sarah Ellen O’Neal Gaskill (1879-1984) who lived at the end of the lane. Her descendants still live there. (See also Sarah Ellen Drive.)

    Miss Sarah Ellen Gaskill
  • School Road: The 1971 schoolhouse, which replaced the 1917 schoolhouse, sits at the end of this eponymous road, directly across from the circle.

    1917 Schoolhouse
  • Silver Lake Drive: This road travels around the south shore of Silver Lake harbor. The harbor, originally called Cockle Creek, is a tidal creek that is connected to Pamlico Sound by the “Ditch,” the narrow opening used by ferries and other water craft. In the 1930s, and again during WWII, the shallow Creek was dredged to provide a suitable harbor for larger boats and US Navy vessels. As early as the nineteenth century Cockle Creek was sometimes called Silver Lake. In an 1890 newspaper promotion in The Daily Journal (New Bern, NC) the Spencer brothers, new owners of the large Victorian inn, the Ocracoke Hotel (1885-1900), refer to “Silver Lake, a beautiful sheet of water…immediately in the rear and offer[ing] a sail for the timid who fear the sound or ocean, a bath for those who dread the surf, and fishing for anyone who prefers to angle for perch rather than trout or blue fish.”
  • Sound Road: This road is connected to Live Oak Road, and proceeds to the Soundfront Inn on the shore of Pamlico Sound. (See also Boos Lane.)

    Soundfront Inn
  • South Point Road: This two-lane sand road from NC12 at the edge of Ocracoke village to the South Point of the beach was created by the National Park Service in the 1980s to keep beach vehicles in one corridor, and to prevent destruction of vegetation in the surrounding sand flats.
  • Styron Lane: This road in the Oyster Creek development pays tribute to the Styron family of Ocracoke. George Styron, Jr. (b. ca. 1700) was the ancestor of all the Ocracoke Styrons. The family settled first in Virginia, then, after receiving land grants in Carteret County, moved to Portsmouth Island. By 1790 William and James Styron, sons of George, Jr., were living on Ocracoke.
  • Sunset Drive: The road directly across from the original Ocracoke fire hall was among the very first streets paved on the island. When the US Navy established their base here in July of 1942 they created an ammunition dump along the ridge that now connects the Oyster Creek development and Jackson Dunes, but they found the deep soft sand lanes unsatisfactory for efficient movement of vehicles. In short order they paved a one-lane concrete road from their base on the harbor to the dump. A few of the aprons that served the dumps are still visible on present-day “Cutting Sage Road” and “Trent Drive.” That section of the first road directly across from the original fire hall (now the Ocracoke School shop classroom and WOVV radio station studio) was dubbed “Ammunition Dump Road” by locals. Later on, after the fire hall was built, the road was sometimes called “Fire House Road.” In the mid to late 1960s Lloyd Harkum (1900-1971), from Norfolk, Virginia, purchased property along this road and divided it into small lots. He officially named this thoroughfare “Sunset Drive.” It is only in the winter that this road faces directly into the sunset. In the 1970’s, before the trees had grown so tall, the top of the lighthouse was clearly visible as you were driving west on this road. A few folks referred to it by its most confusing moniker, “Lighthouse Road.”

    Lloyd Harcum
  • Terrapin Drive: This road is named for the diamondback terrapin, a turtle native to Ocracoke which was harvested for many years to make turtle stew. The name is derived from the Algonquian word torope. Frank Wardlow (1917-1997), a native of Indianapolis, IN, moved to Ocracoke in the early 1970s and became manager of the Ocracoke Sanitary District. He developed this area and provided the name.
  • Tom Neal Drive: This Ocracoke street is named after Thomas Martin O’Neal, “Tom ‘Neal” (1866-1933). He was a master boatbuilder. He began construction of the boat now on display behind the Preservation Museum ca. 1929; Stacy Howard bought the boat a year or so later; Homer Howard completed construction of the boat, and it was launched in 1934.Tom ‘Neal was also an excellent fiddler who played for local square dances, and later was a founding member of an island band, The Graveyard Band. He had six children. Martin Garrish, Tom ‘Neal’s great-great-grandson, was named after him, and is recognized as one of Ocracoke’s finest musicians.

    Martin Garrish
  • Trent Drive: The southeast extension of Cutting Sage is called “Trent Drive” (sometime Upland Trent Drive). One historically major section of Ocracoke village included this area near Pamlico Sound and beyond the present-day community cemetery. It is called “Up Trent” or “Upland Trent” and, although all of the homes there today are relatively new, years ago quite a few islanders lived amongst the trees there. Hence, “Trent Road.” Interestingly, several other geographical areas in eastern North Carolina bear the Trent moniker. For example, there is the Trent River in eastern North Carolina (its origin is near Kinston, and empties into the Neuse River at New Bern).The small village of Frisco, on Hatteras Island, was at one time called Trent or Trent Woods. Although Algonquin Indians had established a village there centuries earlier, the first European settlers called the area Trent. In 1898 the U.S. Post Office renamed the village Frisco to avoid confusion with another town on the mainland called Trent. Because the majority of early Outer Banks settlers came from the British Isles, the name Trent most likely indicated a connection with the small English village of Trent in northwest Dorset. Unfortunately, details of that connection have been lost over time.
  • Tuttles Lane: This unpaved road is named for the Tuthill (Tuttle) family who moved from Long Island, NY, to South Creek, NC, in the 19th century. They became close friends of the E.D. Springer family, and married into that family. E.D. had purchased a large tract of Ocracoke land that came to be called Springer’s Point. Effingham Tuthill (1834 – 1917), a former carriage maker, established a “hotel” (several buildings and apartments) along this lane. In 1895 he advertised The Tuthill House this way: “the reputation of this house for good food, well prepared, and general comfort of guests goes without saying. Rates Reasonable.”

    Effingham Tuthill
  • Water Plant Road: Not surprisingly, this road passes by the island’s elevated water tank and the buildings that house the Ocracoke Sanitary District. The District was established in 1972. In 1977 the plant commenced operation of a newly developed reverse osmosis desalination municipal water system. The plant has been expanded and upgraded several times. Prior to 1977 islanders relied on rainwater collected in individual water cisterns for their drinking water.
  • West End Road: This unpaved lane (along with Central Drive) across from the Variety Store was named by Myra Wahab (1903-2002), widow of Robert Stanley Wahab (1888-1967), native islander, entrepreneur, and early promoter of Ocracoke. Myra developed this area in the late 20th
  • Widgeon Woods Road: This unpaved road in the Widgeon Woods development is named for the American wigeon (Mareca americana), a dabbling duck formerly called the baldpate by ornithologists. The road forks to create North Widgeon Woods Road and South Widgeon Woods Road.
  • Winnie Blount Road: Winnie Blount (affectionately known to islanders as “Aunt Winnie”) was the only native black person to return to Ocracoke after the Civil War. She married another former slave from the mainland (Hercules [Harkus] Blount) and they raised two children on the island, Jane and Annie Laura. Jane eventually met and married Leonard Bryant from Engelhard while she and Winnie were working at the old Doxsee Clam Factory which was located near the entrance to the harbor. Annie Laura also lived on the island with her husband, but they moved to Elizabeth City, NC, soon after their little boy fell off the back porch into the water barrel and drowned.  Aunt Winnie worked as a domestic; Hercules was a boat builder and carpenter. (also see the entry for Bryant Lane).
    Winnie Blount

    (Additional information about several roads was added July 25, 2018.)


In the summer of 1981 Warren Silverman, M.D. moved to Ocracoke. It had been four decades since Ocracoke had a resident doctor. Dr. Silverman’s wife, Jean, a nurse, accompanied him. They practiced from their home until the island’s new Health Center was completed the following year. Dr. Silverman also made house calls. In 2017 Dr. Silverman visited the island, and stopped by to say hello. He regaled us with stories of his time at Ocracoke.

At my request, he sent me the following story about his very first patient, island native, Maltby Bragg (1904-1985):

I wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was early.  A few hours ago I had come across the Swan Quarter ferry.  Only the second time, but it was a time of significance, for it brought me to my new home.  It had been exhaustingly late.  A mad rush to catch the darn thing, the last one out from the mainland, and now, a knock.  No, a bit of a pounding on the door, somehow not to impress urgency or anger, but persistence.  I got up in this strange room in this old new house to me.  The room was filled with morning light reflected on the slat board white-washed wall.  I reached for something to wear.  No worry about the details or wardrobe, for almost everything I had were the white daily uniform, white pants of an intern, I had worn each day at Duke.  Not quite starched as once they were, but white, nonetheless with the appearance of hygiene.  And a green scrub top, the other half of the simple uniform that marked me as house staff for three years.  I put it on, the V-neck loose shift for my upper half.  Did this non-descript green color exude calm or proficiency to rank it as the choice for inexperienced doctors?  Hard to say, and frankly, had never questioned the clothes that had been given to me.  No shoes.  It was home, and as I would soon find, the lack of shoes offered the advantage of keeping the amount of sand out of the house, and ultimately the bed, down to a minimum.  It would come to be my trademark, the bare-foot doctor of Ocracoke

I went down the stairs to the pounding door.  It was at the main door, not the screen door outside the porch, so in fact two doors were breached.  I could see him out there, the man who would later be known to me as Maltby, Maltby Bragg.  I pulled the door open and he looked hard at me.  The pause lasted long enough for his questions to be answered. Well, most of them.

“Are you the doc?”

“Uh…yea”, I replied.  Surprised in fact, since I had not told anyone I was going to arrive or I had arrived on the island, trying to slip quietly into the village in the dead of night.  Or had I mentioned it to one of the ferry hands at 11 last night.  Didn’t think so.

“You gotta take care of this”, he thrust forth a gnarled and wrapped hand, an old tee shirt wrapped around the palm, mid-section of it.  He was wearing an old plaid flannel shirt, in spite of the early morning heat, and a pair of dirty jeans.  You could see the sun had been his master and worn him down and fed him at the same time.

I un-wrapped it.  As the cloth came about I could see it was bloodied, dried blood of something that had happened hours earlier’

“I cut it on my boat last night, pulling nets, must have been something in there, but never saw it”

The hand was dirty, but the wound was straight and with sharp edges.  He had washed it, in a rudimentary way, but you could see the effort had been made.

“Hmmm”, looking at him as he stared down into the damaged hand.

“I don’t think I can help you today, as much as I would like to. I just arrived last night and don’t have any of my stuff here.  I have nothing to sew it up with.  Nothing is set up and all the supplies are coming later.”

He looked oddly at me as if to wonder if I was really the doctor or not.

“Well, you gotta do something ‘cause I ain’t going to leave the island for this thing.  Don’t have time and I figure you can do something to close it up. “

He meant it; I could tell, and was not being turned away.  And, I, my first patient in my new home, would I be able to so easily turn him away?  I looked back at the hand and stared a second.  I thought a bit.  In the trunk of my ‘70 Lemans, the Upjohn guy had filled me up with samples of Erythromycin and all kinds of other stuff.  What else did I have?

My black bag.  That vestigial remnant of the old days of medicine, we had to get as medical students, but never really would have to use.  I had my basic tools in there.  Stethoscope, otoscope and ophthalmoscope, a tuning fork and a percussion hammer.  But, having looked in there occasionally, I remembered.  There was a small package that contained a 4-0 Silk suture, still wrapped in its sterile, but expired package from when I had been a second-year medical student over 5 years ago.  It was all I had, short of asking around the neighborhood for a sewing needle and thread.

I looked at him.  “Do you have a pair of needle-nosed pliers?”


“And a tweezers”


“OK, go home and put them in a pot and boil them for 10 minutes.  Drain the water, but don’t touch them.  Bring them back with some whisky or vodka and we will sew you up.  I don’t have anything to numb you, but if you can take it, we’ll get you fixed up.”

“You got it”, he said.  He turned around and started wandering away.  He had a limp, something to suggest he had hurt his leg sometime in the past.  I waited until he was out of the yard and on his way.    It was only then that I looked down at my arm and noticed it was covered with dozens of tiny moving specks.  And with the specks I noticed a familiar feeling…. The feeling of being bit by mosquitoes.  My arms were covered by flying hungry beasts at 6 am on a soon-to-be hot summer day.

I went back into the house and walked up the stairs.  Jean was lying in bed, half awake.  The light was shining through the window onto the white sheets.  She had preceded me to the island to set up house.  In fact, she had done most of the negotiating and meeting and greeting, as I was tied up with the last loose ends back in Durham.   She was good, real good, and I admired her so.  I am a controlling person.  I know that, a fault of mine.  Yet, inherently, for the first time in my life I knew my partner would do everything right.  That she could do things better than I and even before I arrived, she would have the island know us, be ready for us; begin to love us, for she was infectious.

“Who was that?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t know how he figured out I was here, but that was our first patient.  I got the feeling he cut himself fishing or something with a good gash on his hand.  I told him I couldn’t do anything about it without supplies, but I guess I’m going to.  Want to help me?”

She seemed a bit puzzled, but something stirred a sudden gust of energy and she was up in a flash.  We set upon the task of trying to get ready for the return of the fisherman.  Apprehensive, borne somewhat with not knowing the people or how the outsiders would be perceived or accepted.  You see, this was a community with a history.  A history dating back to the 1600s and even though in the state of North Carolina, cut off from the rest of the American population for all practical purposes until the US mail boat began sailing, when people started arriving from the outside they found a fishing village that spoke in an old Elizabethan English accent and with only a dozen or so last names between the 600-700 folk population.

We set out to find some supplies.  I got my black bag, still in the trunk of my car.  Leather, just a place to keep my tools, but never carried to a patient’s bed.  Different from my father’s. His was about twice the size.  When you pulled apart the two sides of the top, there were compartments on each side.  One side held the hypodermics.  Glass syringes having been previously sterilized in an autoclave at his office.  Now in a holder to keep them from breaking.  The outside glass clear, with red painted lines to measure off the dose.  The plungers a thin long shaft of etched roughened glass, the two parts sliding together with precision, but with a slight grittiness when they were dry

The needles were steel.  Thin, or not so thin by today’s standards, shafts of tubular steel on a squared steel base, terminated in a Luer twisting lock to intercourse with the syringe in medicinal harmony.  These steel needles had also been autoclaved and I myself, as a child, had sharpened them at times, using a whetstone, to take the tiny barbs off the end and decrease the pain on insertion into flesh.  Tiny little circles, holding the tip of the needle against the stone, trying to mimic the angle that was there already.  Sometimes turning them over to straighten out the barb, possibly from hitting bone or just banging around.

In the other side of his bag in the upper chamber was his portable pharmacopeia.  I used to look through the bottles while playing in the back of our family car as a tot.  Some were bottles with the rubber top to draw out the drug.  The big bottles of Morphine and Demerol.  There were glass things, ampoules that you had to break at the neck to open.   They scared me.  Wouldn’t you cut your finger breaking the glass or get glass into the medicine?  There was epinephrine otherwise known as adrenaline, atropine, and Benadryl.  There were often other things.   Paregoric, Compazine, Thorazine, the medications that made American medical practice a powerhouse of society.  His was the generation that crossed over from cupping and bloodletting, leaches and smoke inhalation for asthma, to electrocardiograms, cardiac care units, X-rays and proctoscopes.  Here I was, stepping back to his beginnings.   I was going to sew up a man with no anesthesia, liquor for anesthesia, and silk that had long passed its expiration date for sterility.  And I had my black bag.  It’s funny, my dad used to carry his black bag in the car with us wherever we were.  It was his identity, an extension of self.  Then in the ‘60s, he took it out.  You see, the addicts, heroin addicts, would break into the cars of doctors.  Particularly ones with MD plates, and steal the bags for their Morphine.  Having it there threatened our family safety.

When I would go with him on house calls, long drives into the farm country of New Jersey, we would enter a home.  “Thank goodness you’re here.  Mother has been having a real problem.”  The black bag and the stethoscope around the neck, a white coat.  The treatment had started, even before he set his bag down.  Even before he put a stethoscope on the old woman laboring in her breathing in the soft feather bed.  One could feel the tension lifting, seeing the black bag.  Everyone in the house feeling that, no matter the outcome, the doctor was here to lift the responsibility of the inevitability of fate and its consequences from off their shoulders onto his.  And then, with a shot or two, be carried out in the black bag waiting for the hand of god to follow.

I put the bag on the kitchen table and opened it.  It was sparse, not nearly as rich with stories and the weight of humankind inside.  No compartments.  But along each side was a pocket.  Normally flat against the wall, but you could slip things in there.  I suspected I would find my prize, and I was not disappointed.

Modern suture materials are mad of a variety of substances.  With time, more and more complex and synthetic.  The early materials were the bailiwick of the tailor.  Cotton, silk, wire, familiar things that we could understand.    With the war, World War II, came nylon.   Silk was wonderful material.  Soft, yet very tough.  If you tie a knot, it stays.  If you place it down it lies flat.  But the tiny fibers allow bacteria and debris to form, and the scar that results is inflamed and likely to be quite noticeable.  Nylon monofilament, basically fishing line, was the more modern alternative leaving better results, but also more likely to untie itself, or remain rigid in its shape.  Many other materials were to follow, but are of no matter for Maltby.  For you see, what I had in my little black bad was silk, 2-0 silk to be exact.  Suture material diameter, its degree of coarse or fine, is measured in numbers with the more zero’s the tinier the fiber.  One would sew up an eyebrow on a child with 7-0.  2-0 usually has a large needle and is good to pull together skin edges that need some force to bring them together.  It is usually too tough to break even if one pulls real hard.  Today it was Maltby’s number.  Sutures are also double wrapped and sealed for sterility.  The sterilization process has an expiration date.  But on this day there was only the blue seal left and the expiration, 6 years passed.

Nonetheless, I would not open it until we were ready to go, to avoid bacteria from gaining unfettered access.  Access that they more easily had in my father’s medical bag with the hypodermics in their case.

Jean went to find some gauze.  Maybe something in a first aid bag, or in her supplies, and where was our tube of bacitracin and some of our band-aids.  Paper towels to make a surgical field, and soap and water to clean the wound.

It took about 45 minutes for him to return.  This was North Carolina time, where the clocks run at about 1/3 the speed of those in the northeast.

I had been a brand-new intern, just starting on Long Ward at Duke.  It was considered the “public ward” which meant that they were poor farmers, some white, mostly black, who had no money, no Medicare, Medicaid or any other anything.  It had existed decades earlier in the north as “charity wards,” but had long disappeared, but here was Long Ward, the Public service ward for males.   My first patient …. “How are you today?”

“Say what?”

“What brings you in today?”

“Doc, I can’t understand a word you’re saying.  You have ta slow down, you speakin’ too fast”

And he was right.  It took me a couple of painful weeks to talk reallllll slllooooowwww, before anyone could understand me.  So it made sense that this medical emergency was now almost an hour into it and that wound was no better off.  So we sat there.  It was a small kitchen table and soon to be surgical suite.  It was early July and one could feel the humidity already.  There was a window by the table.  The items we had accumulated in our life together so far were all put away.  The kitchen was clean, simple and ours.   Sleep gone from Jean’s eyes, they looked around, so many things to see.  The eyes of a girl at the beach, the eyes of a wife, a new bride explorer going off into the unknown with her husband, the eyes of a nurse about to care and nurture.

We heard the front door open.


“Ok, come on back here and we’ll fix you up.  I felt the sweat on my brow beginning.  There was no air conditioning in as yet, it was early in the morning, but it was July.

“Come on over here,” Jean in her southern Greensboro accent.  She gave him some soap and told him to wash the area best he could.  Normally, this is the part where we scrub the wound with Povidine Iodine a few times, followed by saline or peroxide, cleaning and scrubbing until all the debris is done and establishing a sterile field.  Sterile gloves are used.  Tools are placed in the sterile zone and sterile and non-sterile are segregated.  She put paper towels on the table and told him to put his hand there, palm up.  She had found some cotton balls in her make-up kit.  I had her put them in a cup and we took his bottle of whisky, bourbon, and poured some in.  Latex gloves….not today.

I went to the kitchen sink and washed my hands.

“This is gonna sting,” I said, looking over the array of items on the table and the man sitting with arm and hand extended…palm up in vulnerability.

Maltby didn’t look up from his palm. “Don’t worry ‘bout it.”

I took a cotton ball and squeezed out the extra booze.  Even I could feel what was going to happen, but it was easy.  I dabbed at first, trying to apply the alcohol to kill all the bacteria.  Then seeing him sitting there with hardly the flinch, I took another and began to scrub.  Some blood started flowing.

I set his hand down on the less than sterile field that Jean had prepared; some paper towels from a roll she had picked up at the Variety Store down in the village center.  I had a chance to look at the wound.  It was a laceration about 4 centimeters in length, or just shy of two inches.  It was in the area of the thenar eminence, that fleshy part of the palm that sits just below the thumb, but above the wrist.  Not too rough a cut, it had gone through the dermis and just into the muscle.

I asked, “Do you feel this”, as I stroked the skin lightly over the thumb.


I looked over at Jean.  She was in her nurse’s role, one I had seen her perform so well, so many times.  Often, in such situations, she would take the other hand of the guy being inflicted with whatever medical torture was happening that day, but she could tell that this man did not look to hold a woman’s hand at this moment.  He was concentrating, in his own stoic way, to not care.  But, she had to do something.  She was standing behind him as he sat at the table, and she did the one thing she could to comfort, she put her hand on his shoulder.  Perfect strangers, communicating without words, a sub-primal form of speaking.  I could see in her eyes, she was anticipating feeling the pain, and I knew, if I could watch her face, there would be a grimace coming.

And I asked him to move the thumb, which he did with no signs of problem.   There are some nerves that go through this area, important to the thumb, but he seemed to have missed them.

Nothing at the base of the wound besides the top layer of muscle.  It seems clean and not too deep.  The skin edges were smooth, it must have been a sharp edge of some sort.  Many such objects on a trawler, as I would later learn, some covered with some amazing things pulled from the deep.

I took one of the couple of packs of silk.  I ripped it open, exposing the thin black thread.  Wrapped around a piece of thicker paper, the silk was packaged in longitudinal loops which are designed to facilitate removal by a steady pull of the needle, and yes, there was that shiny semicircular metallic needle, barely larger than the thread.  Some inventor had once figured how to insert the thread into the core of the needle so that there was no loop, no knot, as might be found in the seamstress’s needle-thread interface.   The shape of the needle when I had first seen them, had reminded me of needles that I had seen as a teen, used to sew carpets, semicircular thin metal designed to come back to you if pushed away.  A boomerang of sorts.

I took the pliers and, reaching down into the package, I found the needle and grabbed it.  With a gentle tug the needle came and the black string followed.

Ok, how was this going to go?  I had sewn people up before they had gotten the full effects of the local anesthesia, I had sewn up children with topical anesthesia whose main constituent was cocaine.  I had even sewed up a person or two under hypnosis, who in fact, felt no pain, but I had never gone into untouched skin.    The only thing I could compare it with were the old black and white westerns I had grown up with.  Remember the cowboy who is shot, maybe it was a couple of John Wayne films or some others, and old Doc comes around and says he has to take the bullet out with only a shot of whiskey to numb up the pain.  Well, today I was old Doc.

You hold the needle, which is semicircular so that the leading portion is perpendicular to the skin, a straight down plunge.  I took it.    With a swift movement, I puncture the skin and down.  Maltby didn’t move, pull back or flinch.  A slight twitch of the muscle in his hand, which he could not control was his body’s only response.  Now changing angles, out through the base of the wound, I could see the gleam of the needle emerge between the muscle walls.  Then grabbing the other side with the tweezers, I pushed forward about the same distance.  It was smooth as silk, so to speak.  The final movement takes the needle back up perpendicular to the skin with a sudden thrust, and out pops the point of a razor-sharp needle.  I took hold of it and completed the act by pulling the entire needle out and all of the string until only about 2 inches was left on the other side.  I was good at tying.  Had scrubbed in hundreds of OR cases, and been asked to close many times.  Instrument tie or manual tie, with fingers flashing about in difficult to see movements.  Hours and hours of practice.

As students, we had been told to practice on the foot of a pig.  Pigskin is quite close in consistency to human, and it would provide non-living flesh to make mistakes on.  We tied knots on everything, any bar we could wrap a string around.  I recall going home for thanksgiving and bringing home some silk to tie the turkey closed once the stuffing had been placed. With a bit of around, in, out, up and down the first knot was placed.  A surgeon’s knot, with the thread being swung around twice instead of once to make it stay.  And then a gentle pull to draw the edges of the skin together.  Not too tight, for a knot placed too tight will strangle the blood supply to the tissue underneath and cause tissue death or necrosis.  Or it can cause the edges to misalign with more scar formation.  But also not too loose, for edges that leave a gap are filled with fibrin, which later becomes scar.  The suture must also have entry points far enough away from the wound to keep from choking the underlying flesh.  We call this “taking a good bite.”  It is a complex task which eventually becomes routine.  Now with silk one can get by with two or three knots, since, once tied it is likely to stay tied if one snugs things up.   Were this nylon, or some of the other synthetics, it would be a matter of 6 knots or more, each in alternating direction, to avoid the suture untying itself.  Silk is easier, more pleasant to work with, but it leaves more scar than the biologically inert nylon.

After a couple of knots, laying one upon the other, I lifted up the leading suture material and the tail, and with a snip, cut them both with ½ inch of a tail for each.  Time for number two.  Maltby was ready, Jean was ready, no reason to slow down.

I repeated the process until 4 sutures were placed, each sitting flat and lined up like miniature rungs of a ladder. The wound had come together nicely.

“O.K., it looks pretty good.  Now don’t touch it and find some first aid ointment.  Cover it with some of that and a band –aid.  Keep it clean and dry and come back and see me in a week, sooner if it looks like it is infected, red, or has more pain.”

“How much I owe ya?”

I looked at jean.  She shrugged.

“Well, I don’t even have a way to charge you yet, so this one is on the house.  Benefits of being the first patient in this office.   Anyway, I haven’t even thought of how much things cost yet, so don’t worry about it. Jean smiled.

“Well, thanks doc.” He got up, looked again at his hand with the little black lines on it, and walked out the door.  I followed him out and so did jean.  Screen door closed behind us, we stood on our porch. We watched him walk away.  Suddenly, I realized something stirring on my arms.  I raised my hand and saw an amazing sight, maybe 30- 40 mosquitoes all dancing on my arm.  Jean looked at me. “Oh, I didn’t tell you about that; how about some breakfast.”