Following is an article written by Alice K. Rondthaler about one of Ocracoke’s first July 4th parades. It was published July 6, 1953. (Accompanying photos are from the Mary Ruth Dickson Collection, courtesy of the Ocracoke Preservation Society, with the exception of “Miss Ocracoke & Miss Portsmouth,” courtesy Chip Stevens Collection.)


CELEBRATION LONG TO BE REMEMBERED MARKS 200TH ANNIVERSARY ON OCRACOKE — Observance of 200 Years of Contented Living Proves Delightful Occasion for Many People; Jane Bryan, Colored Matron, Crowned Queen of The Pony Pennings.


Ocracoke, July 6. —

Ocracoke Island residents will long remember July 4, 1953 because of the  wonderful home-town celebration on that day. Historically the Celebration might have been in honor of the 200th anniversary of the appointment of a town here, since the Colonial Assembly passed an Act in 1753 making both Ocracoke and its neighbor, Portsmouth, towns.

And the history of the Island goes further back than that, for the Colonial Legislature of 1715 had purchased land on the Island for the maintenance of pilots who had settled here. And, going still further back, historical records indicate that on June 23, 1585, one of the Raleigh Expeditions en route to Roanoke Island, made its first landfall here.

But actually the July 4th, 1953 celebration had no designs on perpetuating history; it was just a grand, home-town affair, first suggested last April by Marvin Howard, native of the Island, happily retired here after years of service with the U. S. Army Engineeers — a man who believes that everyone likes to have a good time now and then.

Marvin Howard astride one of the Banker Ponies:

Of course Pony Penning is an annual event on the Fourth, and Capt. Howard was particularly interested in this because his father, Homer Howard, was one of Ocracoke’s famous horsemen in the old days. And to follow the old-time custom, the Pony Penning this year was on the harbor shore directly west of Silver Lake Inn, and the ponies were started at daybreak from the northern end of the Island down the east shore to the Coast Guard Station point. In the old days before the harbor shore was lined with docks and buildings the ponies came right along the shore, but this year they were driven straight down Ocracoke’s paved road which borders the Harbor. It was a stirring sight to watch the herd of galloping ponies round the road into the corral —- not a pony lost at the entrance corral.

Ponies Corralled at the Pony Penning:

A small fleet of visiting yachts in the harbor had natural grandstand seats for the event. After that, the usual branding, selling, and releasing ran on through the day. Crowned Queen of the Pony Penning was aging Jane Bryant, respected wife and mother of the town’s only colored family.

Next event of the day was the patriotic service at the local school with an inspiring Flag Raising, military style, by the local Coast Guard contingent.

Coast Guard Personnel at the Flag Raising:

At noon the women of the Methodist Church served a ham-beans-salad dinner in the Church Recreation Hall. And immediately after dinner everyone hurried home to get ready for the Big Parade — many to be in it; others to watch it. Twenty trucks, or cars gaily decorated, a dozen horsemen, 35 costumed youngsters, a half dozen majorettes, and a dozen bicyclists formed a procession a quarter mile long, fllying  banners, penants, signs and ribbons. Horns honked, kids tootled and kazooed, clowns monkeyed, and majorettes strutted. Many an ancient jalopy showed off a brand new red, white, and blue coat of paint and sailed its
flagpoles high in the air. Brightly dyed feed-sack costumes, all home-made, brought laughter for the watching crowd which lined the lanes along the way, pointing, laughing and admiring. Floats, all home-made, rolled by gaily, wholly unfettered by commercialism or expensiveness, but showing (so visitors said) more natural charm and ingenuity than appears in many a small city affair.

An Ocracoke “Wedding”:

Laundry Hanging Out to Dry:

US Coast Guard Life Car:

Clowns on Bikes:


Leading the procession on horseback were Marvin Howard and Lum Gaskill, Jr., dressed in gay clown costumes of feed-sack material.

Lum Gaskill, Jr.:

Next came the U. S. Coast Guard truck beautiful with its flags and Coast Guard Banner.

Then followed more horsemen and more floats. Judges were all from “out-of-town” — Carl Goerch of Raleigh, Murray Kempton of Princeton, N. J., Mrs. Woodrow Price of Raleigh, Edward Pons of Valdese, N. C, and Patsy Gatrell of New York City. First Prize went to Danny Garrish and Leslie Howard, who were gorgeously and seductively attired to represent “Miss Ocracoke” and “Miss Portsmouth” 1953.

Miss Ocracoke (right) & Miss Portsmouth (left):

Second Prize went to young Billy Wahab Taylor, who was costumed as Uncle Sam. Prize for the “prettiest” truck went to the Ocracoke Electric Corporation, which was loaded with gaily dressed little children who won the award for it.

Ocracoke Electric Corporation:

Prize for the most realistic” went to “Blackbeard the Pirate” with his “Favorite Wife, Mr. Eph Esham and several other wives who rode the float with him.


Prize for the “most comical” went to Mrs. Nina Williams and her sister, Mrs. Ray Waller; prize for the “most unusual” went to Harold Wahab, dressed as “Farmer Brown” and driving [a] pony and a cart.

Harold Wahab and his Pony Cart:

Prize for “best use of local materials” went to Thad Gaskins, whose gaily painted  Ford  truck was filled with baskets of cabbage, tomatoes, and other home-grown vegetables.

Thad Gaskins and his Veggies:

Other trucks or floats were “The Quilting Party,”  “California or Bust” (with Albert  Styron,  Jr. attired  in a slat-bonnet), [and] the “Ocracoke Hunter” (with Wilbur Gaskill shooting from a duck blind).

Wilbur Gaskill Ready to Shoot a Released Duck:

[Along came] the “Fishing Guide” (with Rob Tolson and his little boat).

Rob Hanks:

[Also joinging the merriment were] the “Graveyard Band” (featuring Monford Garrish, Ben Spencer, Roy Parsons and others with guitars and kazoos), and the “Woccocon” (early  Indian name for the Island) Indians, featuring Larry Williams, Blanche Howard, Calvin O’Neal, Jr., and others.

The Graveyard Band:

Ocracoke Indians:

In addition to prizes for the outstanding floats, each driver received a box of shot gun shells for his part in the expedition. And there were many individual prizes given. Sam Keach Williams got first prize for the best home-made chicken-feed sack costume; Albert Styron, Jr., for second-best. Lum Gaskill, Jr., Zora Babel Gaskins [and] Ikey O’Neal were recognized for horsemanship. Two prizes went to Belinda Styron and Betsy Carol Styron for excellence in singing. Betty Helen Howard won first prize of the majorettes, Henrietta Peele, second prize; Ellen Marie Fulcher first prize as the prettiest, Connie Sue Styron, second prize; Martha Garrish and John Ivey O’Neal, and Betsy Q’Neal, for the  best children’s chicken-feed costumes; Lindsay Howard for best clown: Lorraine Howard, Edward O’Neal, David and Ann Esham, Yevette Austin for Mother Goose costumes; a group of Devils were awarded    prizes for being the “ugliest,” and many of the bicyclists won awards.

The day ended  with the movie “Blackbeard the Pirate” at the local theatre, after which in gay  mood 250 people jammed the school recreation hall for dancing and square dancing until  midnight. Congressman Herbert C. Bonner was over for the occasion on one of the Washington, N. C, yachts; other yachts were in from Norfolk. Everyone had a very happy day, and talk about town now and for some time to come will be about the Big Parade.


In 1953 Capt. Marvin Howard made a proposal at the Ocracoke Civic Club’s Spring Meeting. “Let’s have some fun,” he announced, and suggested adding a parade to the annual July 4th pony penning and patriotic noontime service. Thus a tradition was born.

The Ocracoke Island July 4th Parade was held annually for several years. Although it was discontinued in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the parade was reintroduced in the 1980s. It has always been a quirky, home-grown affair. Residents and visitors cobble together whatever materials are available to make creative, often idiosyncratic, floats. Following is a photo gallery from some of Ocracoke’s parades. Unfortunately, I don’t know what year most of these were taken. You can click on most photos to view a larger image.

Wilbur Gaskill and his Duck Blind:

Musicians on WWII Vehicle:

On the Back Road:

Lum Gaskill??:

Marvin Howard & Wilbur Gaskill:

Rev. Shinkle & the Methodist Church Choir:

Uncle Sam:

Philip Howard as Old Quawk:
Old Quawk

Popeye & Crew:
Parade Photo

Classic Wooden Boat:

US Coast Guard:

Ocracoke Square Dancers:

Square Dance Musicians:

Patriot in Boat:

Lawton Howard, Grand Marshal, & Attendants:

Grand Marshal on Vehicle:

NPS on Horseback:

Patriot on Recumbent Bike:


Schooner Windfall:

VW Pulled by “Bones” (not shown):

Ocracoke Bear Sighting:

Scary Bear:

Mad Mag & Friends:


Summer greetings from Ocracoke!

As usual, the island community came together for a creative, whacky, fun-filled July 4th celebration last month.  The highlight of the day for me is always the traditional Independence Day parade.  Begun in the 1950’s (after the Navy and the state of North Carolina had paved enough of the roads to make a parade possible), the modern day version is every bit as funky as the original parades.

Every entry is conceived and executed by local residents or visitors using whatever material is at hand — boats, tree limbs, canvas, paint, what-have-you.  This year the parade had more entrants than ever, and the streets were lined with people all the way from Captain Ben’s Restaurant, past the Island Inn, where the judges sat, to the Preservation Society Museum, where awards were handed out.

This July Kathy Scarborough and friends topped the awards with their version of Amtrak’s rail service to Ocracoke Island.  Their silver “Viewliner” train, dining car, and towed boat sported an authentic whistle, clouds of white smoke, and a cadre of excited passengers waving and dancing to lively island music.  Numerous Amtrak brochures were on hand for distribution along the way.  You can read more about Amtrak’s brochure in our April 1, 2002 newsletter.

Best of Parade, Amtrak’s Viewliner Train:
Parade Float
For this year’s parade, Village Craftsmen joined forces with Natural Selections Hemp Shop to celebrate one of our local island legends.  You can read about “Old Quawk” in an earlier newsletter.  In the photo below, you can see me dressed as Old Quawk, in a sinking skiff, raising my fist to heaven as a lightening bolt strikes my boat from a menacing storm cloud.  We won second prize in our category, outflanked only by 7-year-old Emmett Temple riding his bicycle and being chased by a fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Old Quawk inveighs against the gods:
Old Quawk Float

Other entries were colorful and creative.

Fat Boys Fish Company tows their skiff in the parade:
Parade Float

Day Care children portray the newly discovered Civil War Fort on Beacon Island:
Parade Float

This season saw the introduction of two new books about Ocracoke. The Ocracoke Walking Tour & Ocracoke Island Guide is a delightful addition to any collection of Ocracoke books. With vintage and contemporary photographs to complement the superb writing, it will guide you on an entertaining and informative tour through the village historic district.  From this one publication you can capture much of the flavor of island life from years past.

Ocracoke Walking Tour:
Walking Tour
I would be less than forthcoming if I neglected to mention that one of the reasons I am so taken with this book is the photograph on page 22.

Photo from Ocracoke Walking Tour:
Pip with Uncle Stanley

On the left is my great uncle, Stanley O’Neal.  On the right is my father.  Of course that is “your’s truly” sitting between them, on the porch of uncle Stanley’s home on Howard Street, in the early 1950’s.

Another interesting book published this year is Paul Mosher’s Pieces of Eight and Ocracoke.  Written in a conversational style, almost as if the author is sitting on the porch sharing his many years of experience with you, this book includes a general  history of coins as they relate to Ocracoke island, and specifically the story of the 1783 Spanish dollar that Paul found on the island when he was a child.

Pieces of Eight & Ocracoke Island:
Pieces of 8

A Spanish Coin from 1776:
Spanish Coin

Of course, rare coins are not common on Ocracoke.  However, it is not unheard of for someone to find a valuable coin in the village or on the beach.  Reports surface periodically of old coins washing up on the ocean side, and as recently as 1996 a neighbor spotted a 150-year-old coin in Howard Street after routine road grading.

1850 One Cent Piece found on Howard Street:
1850 One Cent Piece

And, of course, Paul Mosher found his piece of eight on the sound side of the village in the shallow water.

On your next visit to the island keep your eyes open.  You might be the next lucky person who stumbles across a long-lost part of some forgotten treasure that belonged to Blackbeard himself!

All the best to you,

Philip and the entire staff at Village Craftsmen