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


Welcome to another addition to our on-line Ocracoke Newsletter!

This month we bring you exciting news from the island.  For all of you who worry about the increased traffic both on your trip to the Outer Banks, and in the village of Ocracoke, we hope you will be pleased to know that Amtrak seems to be offering regular rail service to Ocracoke Island!

According to a recent brochure for Amtrak’s “View liner” trains you can enjoy this familiar view from your first class, luxury car window:
Amtrak on Ocracoke
The slick Amtrak brochure boasts a “spectacular view outside!”

Look carefully, and you will see the distinctive white Ocracoke lighthouse and Miss Helena Willis’s home outside the train window.  On another page of the brochure there is a panoramic Silver Lake view, showing the Castle Bed & Breakfast, the Whittler’s House and other buildings with boats, docks and marsh grass in the foreground.

Mostly, as you could imagine, islanders might be excited about the prospect of this new service.  It would mean relaxed, carefree off-island trips.  No more two and a half hour ferry rides to Swan Quarter and then a three and a half hour drive to the Raleigh/Durham airport!  If the picture is any indication, the train should run close by Wayne Teeter’s Fish and Clam House.  For most of us it will be a short walk or ride to the station and then we can sit back and enjoy the view.

The prospect of new, rewarding employment has also intrigued many locals.  Job opportunities would present themselves as ticket agents, conductors, even engineers (ferry service might be curtailed as the View liner gains in popularity, but captains & deckhands could very likely transfer many of their skills to the railroad).  Of course, arriving rail travelers would soon demand local mass transit.  This would provide additional jobs for local residents as taxi and bus drivers.

Some residents on the “Point” side of the island, however, have expressed a few initial reservations.  Concern with noise pollution seems to be the number one issue.  Islanders who are accustomed to the peace and quiet of island life are wondering if the regular clickety-clack of locomotives on steel rails will have a negative impact on their way of life.  Young people who sleep late are concerned, as are many older residents who retire early.  And what if the train traffic continues throughout the night?  Wayne Teeter has also expressed concern for the future of his fishing industry, asking if the constant rumble of railroad cars might shorten the shelf life of fish and crabs unloaded at his docks, just a few feet away.

“Creekers” have even begun to worry that their side of the village might be neglected as rail travel fuels development on the other side of the harbor.

Safety is another major concern and there has even been talk about the need for gated railroad crossings at several streets.  What to do about protecting youngsters from speeding trains has not even been addressed yet.  We imagine that high metal fences topped with razor wire would probably suffice, but at what cost to aesthetics?

Environmental issues are also on many people’s minds.  How, we wonder, has Amtrak obtained permission from the National Park Service to construct a railroad through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore?

Will it be built on the ocean side?  If so, we have a number of questions, not the least of which is how will Amtrak protect its investment from erosion?  Of course, it may be that Amtrak’s involvement with the NPS will be just what it takes for the powers that be to find a workable solution.  The other question, of course, is what provision will be made for access to the surf from the parking areas?  Tunnels under the tracks are certainly not practical on a barrier island.  So we imagine overhead pedestrian bridges.  An added benefit would be spectacular views from sound to sea.

On the other hand, if the track is laid on the sound side, how will that impact wildlife and ecotourism?  Birds, fish, and crabs would certainly be affected, not to mention otters, mink and snakes (but then many visitors and locals alike are not particularly fond of snakes anyway).  We suspect that the Banker Ponies might have to be moved, but since we no longer have a mounted Boy Scout troop, we guess that would be a small price to pay for progress.  Kayak access to the sound would surely be affected and local outdoors enterprises are keeping a wary eye on these developments even while acknowledging the overall positive benefits of major rail service to the island.

Locals have also been abuzz about the high cost of construction of a railroad bridge from Ocracoke to the mainland (the bridge across Hatteras Inlet would be a minor expense in comparison).  But we reassure ourselves that the cost would not come out of our pockets, and that government and corporate America are wise beyond our ability to comprehend.  So we go to bed at night secure in the thought that the good life is coming to our once isolated ribbon of sand, thanks in large part to Amtrak.

When planning your next vacation, Amtrak invites you to “Enjoy the Utmost Comfort, Service and Style” while taking in the spectacular view of Silver Lake outside your window.  Call 1-800-USA-RAIL or your travel agent for information and reservations.

Until next time, all of us at Village Craftsmen join Amtrak in wishing you the “New Standard of Luxury in First Class Travel.”

Hope to see you soon,

Philip and crew at Village Craftsmen

PS: Just in case you didn’t notice the date of this newsletter, now is the time to do so.  Please don’t send plaintive e-mails bemoaning this unwelcome news.  However, the photograph on Amtrak’s “Viewliner” brochure really does show a view of Silver Lake from the car’s window.  As Dave Barry might say, “I am not making this up!” Next time you are in an Amtrak terminal look for the Viewliner brochure.  It’s a hoot.  As you can imagine, islanders have had many a good laugh about it.  We hope you did too.

After writing this newsletter I found the spot where the Amtrak photo was taken, supposedly through the train window.  I snapped a picture for myself and turned to walk home.  For some reason, until I turned around, I hadn’t noticed Arlene sitting a few steps away, mending her husband’s nets.  She was perched right next to where the tracks would be, but seemed decidedly unconcerned!