The “Hurricane House” sits at the end of a sandy lane, overlooking Pamlico Sound. Built about 1900, it is a traditional “story and a jump” house with a rear ell. Now a summer cottage, the Hurricane House was rebuilt in 1986 after a severe hurricane tore across the island.
The Hurricane House is a rustic cottage without central heat or air conditioning. Furnishings are simple and basic. There is no television or Internet access. This is an authentic, no-frills island getaway where guests kick off their shoes, open a book, and relax on the screened porch to watch the ferries pass by and savor some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world.
An interesting feature of this house (and how it got its name) is a hand-written account of the 1933 hurricane that is penciled on the kitchen wall. These words, now faded and barely legible, are the one remaining account of four that were written on the walls. The other three were lost when the house stood empty for several years, and by damage to the house from the 1986 storm.
Fortunately Dr. William V. Burlingame of Hillsborough, North Carolina visited the house forty years ago, photographed the storm accounts, and recorded his impressions and observations. Dr. Burlingame’s photographs, transcriptions of the accounts, and his report are reproduced below. Dr. Burlingame’s photographs and narratives are all copyright, William V. Burlingame, 2012.
Storm warning 6 P.M. Aug. 21
N.E. wind all night.
Mail boat started to Atlantic,
but returned. Inlet too rough.
Strong N.E. wind until about 11 A.M.
Walked to beach during lull in storm
to view washed up “Victoria”,
wrecked 1925. Water knee-deep
between village and beach.
Storm warning in afternoon.
Barometer falling. Tide very high.
5 P.M. water coming into yard.
10 P.M. water to second step.
Mid-night water to sills.
3 A. M. wind shifted to N.W.,
4 A. M. wind shifted to W.
8 A.M. wind shifted to S.W.
Water dropping, barometer
Front of Anderson cottage
Lum Gaskill’s fish-house
washed out to sea.
Gary Bragg’s dock gone.
Pamlico Inn dock badly
damaged. Dance hall at end
of dock swept away.
In the lake, the “Marie” badly
damaged and sunk, the “Eleanor M.”
Bad mess at the government dock.
Most small boats in the lake sunk or smashed up
Debris all over the island.
Worst storm in memory of oldest
Wind estimated at Hatteras at
122 m.p.h. Barometer fell to 28.28.
lowest known locally.
Saturday A.M., Sept. 16, tide flooded island.
Many people took refuge in light
Water stood 7 inches above floor in
this cottage. Porch torn off by wind
and tide and demolished. Roof over
cistern blown off. Fence swept away.
Surf against front of house reached
In the lake, “Eleanor M.” run down
by oil tanker, blown up on shore,
stove in and sunk. Salvaged later.
Capt. Ike’s freight boat beached a few yards
from post office. Too badly damaged to
salvage. Another schooner, the “Tucker,”
lodged in cedars near John Gaskins home.
Later broken up for fire-wood. Practically
all small boats in the lake damaged.
Many tore loose from stakes and were
scattered all over the island.
Worst damage to trees.
Practically all cedars and many
ancient live oaks were either up-
rooted or killed by salt water.
No lives lost on Ocracoke.
Family left island Sept. 7. Reports
obtained from Islanders.
Summer of 1934 spent repairing
damage to house and boats.
GREAT ATLANTIC HURRICANE
——————————-SEPT. 14, 1944
STORM WARNINGS SEPT 13. DAY CALM AND HOT. IN EVENING 14 FISH BOATS CAME INTO
LAKE FOR SHELTER.
SEPT 14 — 5:A.M. WIND RISING, N.E. AT 7:00 A.M. WIND REACHED 75 KNOTS. ANOMOMETER
ON WATER TOWER AT NAVAL BASE CARRIED AWAY. LATER WIND ESTIMATED AT OVER 100 KNOTS
BAROMETER 28.40 AT 7:30 A.M. WIND SHIFTED TO N.W. 14 FOOT TIDE.
ISLAND COMPLETELY UNDER WATER. MOST FISH BOATS BLOWN FAR ASHORE CAUSING
CONSIDERABLE DAMAGE TO BOATS, DOCKS, AND HOUSES. MAIL BOAT TOSSED ASHORE
CLOSE TO COFFEE SHOP. SIX HOUSES COMPLETELY DEMOLISHED. PAMLICO INN DAMAGED
BEYOND REPAIR. EXTENSIVE DAMAGE DONE TO GARY BRAGG’S HOME.
THREE FEET OF WATER POUNDED THROUGH THIS COTTAGE. PORCH BLOWN OFF AND FRONT
WINDOWS, SHUTTERS AND DOOR BLOWN IN. PRACTICALLY ALL FURNITURE UPTURNED
AND MUCH OF IT WASHED INTO KITCHEN. SIDE KITCHEN WINDOW SMASHED. FRONT
ROOM FLOOR TORN UP.
9:25 A.M. — WIND VELOCITY DROPPING. COMPLETELY CALM BY 12:30 P.M.
WORST STORM EVER TO STRIKE ISLAND. NO LIVES LOST.
August 24, 1949
Storm warnings Aug 23. Wind rising 0430 NNE. Velocity estimated
60 knots 0800. Barometer Reading 29.14. Winds increasing 0900 estimated
80 knots. Water coming up road in front of house. Everything secure
at 0910. John Gaskill in water up to waist 40 ft in front of house.
Almost swept away. “Aleta” and “Lindsay C. Warren” did not sail.
Jeep drowned out at Scarborough’s Store. Wind NE, 80 knots at 0915.
Wind shifted NNW at 60 knots 0945. Rain slackened. Tide going
out slowly. Storm shudders [sic] up at Kuglers, not up here.
Water in the streets, debris over island. Bridge washed out over
At Aunt Minnies gut [Aunt Winnie’s gut]. Is belived [sic] we got tail-end of hur [hurricane]. Just as
The man for whom named — ineffectual!
The Hurricane Boards, (c) William V. Burlingame, Ph.D.:
I can date my early encounters with the hurricane boards to the mid-1970s when an island resident first showed me the boards in the seemingly abandoned Folger cottage in the Down Point district of Ocracoke village. To reach the cottage we had to push through dense brush and navigate a collapsing porch to reach an interior room where the narratives were carefully and legibly written in pencil on a whitewashed wall of vertical pine planks. It required two flashlight beams for me to focus my camera, but I was able to capture the narratives on black-and-white film on that fall day. I returned to Ocracoke a year later and photographed the narratives in color. Unfortunately they had deteriorated considerably. The roof was leaking, the floor was shaky, and the whitewash was flaking off. Portions of the narratives were no longer legible, and I can remember thinking that they would not endure much longer. I then returned a year or so later — only to discover that someone had cut the pine planks and taken several of the relevant boards. I wondered if anything of worth could have survived the removal from that wall — given their fragile condition of the year previous. They are indeed still missing, as attested by an inquiry in “The Mullet Wrapper,” the newsletter of the Ocracoke Preservation Society. In the Spring 2003 issue there was a newsletter item requesting their return. The cottage itself had been moved a short distance to the sound and was renovated in 1986. It is known as “The Hurricane House” and serves as a weekly rental cottage. A careful examination of an interior wall reveals that one of the narratives has survived as a two-line very faint notation of one of the storms. The hurricane narratives are also partially reprinted in Alton Ballance’s Ocracokers (1989).
As of this writing, there is some verified history regarding the origin of the boards. Oral tradition held that the cottage was owned and maintained by a UNC faculty member and his family who came to Ocracoke during the summers for many years. It is said that the cottage was built about 1900 and was purchased in the 1920s by Ray and Eleanor Mosher. Ray was indeed on the faculty of UNC, and one of the narratives notes that the family left on September 7, 1933, following their summer on Ocracoke. Information regarding that September storm was secured at a later point from islanders. An analysis of the several texts suggests that they were crafted by educated persons whose spelling was nearly totally accurate and who observed the niceties of punctuation and grammar — even though various abbreviations, ellipses, local expressions, nautical terms, and place names appear. Eleanor Mosher was a social activist ahead of her times and it was she who reportedly documented the two hurricanes of 1933. This history was provided to Julia Howard, the museum director in 2003, when she interviewed Paul Mosher (one of Ray and Eleanor’s two sons). According to Paul, the Moshers had acquired the cottage in the 1920s from a Gallagher family for $1000, and sold it to the Folgers in 1945 or 1946. From the Folgers the property proceeded to its present owners, the Woodwells.
Based on stylistic differences in the handwriting as well as the history provided to Julia Howard, there appear to have been three authors. According to Paul Mosher, the 1933 narratives were written by his mother, Eleanor Mosher, while the 1944 narrative was drafted by a navy lieutenant who was stationed on Ocracoke and resided in the cottage during wartime. It was he who documented this worst of storms (in capitals, unlike the earlier narratives). The author of the 1949 narrative is not known. He or she is the only author who uses the military convention for recording time, while he also mentions that a bridge has been washed out at “Aunt Minnie’s gut.” “Gut” has a seventh order definition as a narrow waterway and may have been used primarily as a nautical term; this author also made the unusual error of rendering “shutters” as “shudders.” Collectively, the authors were impressed with the force and devastation of these tropical storms — detailing their fury and destructive power and characterizing these qualities by the choice of colorful adjectives and verbs and in the recitation of damage. As noted. the narratives appeared to have been written in pencil on whitewash. Two of them are inscribed on a single plank while the other two span two planks. In places the accounts are additionally colored by the whorls of sap from pine knots which have leaked through and into the whitewash. That one author was an informed and educated man is further suggested by his apparently droll sense of humor. He documents a relatively weak 1949 hurricane which he identifies as “Harry’s Hurricane.” He then proceeds to characterize it as “ineffectual,” “as the man for whom named.” There is no further clue as to the identity of “Harry.” but perhaps this is a reference to Harry Truman, then President of the United States, and seen by some at the time as a tepid successor to the deceased Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The images of the hurricane boards were made in 1975 with a Nikon F2 fitted with a Nikon 1.4/50 mm. lens using Kodak Tri-X film. The film was developed and printed in my Hillsborough darkroom. The narratives have also been commemorated in a folk lyric by J. Michael Bramble which is included as “Storm Board” on “Ivanhoe Sessions,” by Bramble and Sunderman. 1988.
We have learned that the tropical storm that passed over Ocracoke in August of 1949 had hit Florida a few days earlier. Because President Harry Truman was visiting Florida at the time, the storm became widely known as Harry’s Hurricane, just as Dr. Burlingame suggests.
Two small streams (or “guts”) originally flowed from Silver Lake Harbor (Cockle Creek), and divided Ocracoke village into two sections, Down Point (on the lighthouse side) and Around Creek (on the Howard Street side). Wooden foot bridges spanned the guts. The bridges were buried when the Navy dredged the harbor in 1942 and filled in the guts. The 1949 storm uncoved (or “washed out”) the bridge that spanned Aunt Winnie’s Gut (named after “Aunt” Winnie Blount, who lived near the gut).