Happy Holidays to all of our friends!

Ocracoke Lighthouse in a Winter Snow, 2002
Ocracoke Lighthouse Snow

As the depth of winter envelopes us we often come together with family and friends to pass through this season of long nights with meaningful rituals.

On Ocracoke, as elsewhere, many folks decorate their homes with lights and greens.

Ocracoke Christmas Decorations
Sue O'Niel's House

The Ocracoke Preservation Society hosted its annual Tree Lighting & Wassail Party on Friday, December 13.  The term “wassail” comes from the Old Norse language meaning “to be well or healthy.”  Today it refers to a traditional English toast to someone’s health, as well as to a hot drink made with cider, spices, and sugar.  Wassail is traditionally served in a large punch bowl during the Christmas season.  Although “wassail” can refer to riotous drinking and revelry, Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS) normally hosts a rather mild gathering.

On Saturday, December 14, OPS also sponsored the second annual Historic District House Tour.  Eight homes were represented and over two hundred residents and visitors walked, biked, or drove through the village for an opportunity to view some of Ocracoke’s historic structures.

Later that evening, Jimmy & Linda Jackson and Jamie Jackson opened up their garage for another community Christmas party & pot luck dinner. Several hundred residents were there to share food, drink, stories, music and dance.

Tables filled with food line the garage

Paula visits with David as he readies his fiddle
David and Paula

A friend makes a special guest appearance

Several of us also gathered on December 22 for our second annual solstice pot luck dinner.

As we now know, of course, the earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June — by three million miles.

The seasons of our year, therefore, are caused not  by the proximity of the earth to the sun, but by the 23.5º tilt of the earth’s axis. The angle of the earth’s rays to the surface of the earth varies based on how far the surface is tilted toward or away from the sun. 

At 8:14 pm EST, December 22, 2002, the northern hemisphere of the earth was tilted furthest away from the perpendicular angle.  This is the winter solstice — the first day of winter, when the sun appears lowest in the sky and night time hours are maximum.  The tilt also causes the seasons to be reversed in the southern hemisphere.

We continued last year’s tradition of crowning Ocracoke’s Monarch of the Winter Solstice.  Last year we followed a medieval tradition and baked a bean in a holiday cake.  Pat Tweedie, mother of Molasses Creek’s fiddler Dave, found the bean in her dessert and was crowned Queen in 2001.  This year we drew lots and Blanche Howard Jolliff was honored with a throne, a staff, a royal robe and a star-studded crown.

Blanche, Queen of the Solstice, 2002
Solstice Queen

In other news, the Ocracoke Assembly of God church held their annual Christmas program on Sunday, December 22.  The Methodist church hosted a live nativity on the church lawn this holiday, and conducted a traditional Christmas eve candlelight service.  Christmas caroling, again this year, was a joint venture of the Methodist and Assembly churches.  Caroling was on December 20.

Of course, the days will now be gradually lengthening, the sun will be rising higher and higher into the sky each day, and within a few months we will be looking for the first robins and the early signs of new growth.

All of us at Village Craftsmen join me in wishing you and yours the happiest of wintertime holidays and the very best in the coming new year.

Hoping to see you again soon,

Philip, Dallie, Jude, Amy, Mary and Leon


Summertime greetings from Ocracoke Island!

For those of you who haven’t been to the island recently, this month we share with you news about some recent events and island happenings.

Just over a month ago my daughter, Amy, and “Molasses Creek’s” own, Fiddler Dave, were married on a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon in the side yard of the Rondthaler House, an old island residence originally belonging to my grandfather’s sister and her husband, “Aunt Sabra and Uncle Dan.”  Over 200 people attended the ceremony which was performed by Ocracoke’s best known storyteller, Donald Davis.  After the wedding, guests gathered at Julie Howard’s house for a backyard feast and several hours of great music.  Ocracoke’s Martin Garrish played guitar, along with Gary Mitchell, Wes Lassiter, and Bill & Libby Hicks.  David even joined in, and played fiddle for his very own love song, “Howard Street,” which is on Molasses Creek’s latest Album, “The Best of Molasses Creek.”

Amy and David on Their Wedding Day:
Amy and David Wedding
Speaking of music and Ocracoke, the “Ocrafolk Festival, 2002” is scheduled for June 8 & 9.   Beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday, along Howard Street and the School Road, you will find music, storytelling, and demonstrations at three stages.  In addition, artisans, performers, and craftspeople from all over coastal Carolina will be displaying wares and giving performances and workshops.  On Friday evening, at 8:30, we will gather for a traditional Ocracoke square dance in the school gym.  On Sunday morning performers will host a hymn/gospel sing-along at the Live Oak Stage, followed by a fundraising auction at 1:00 p.m. in the gym.  Admission to all events is free.  We hope you can join us.  If not this year, perhaps you will want to plan next year’s vacation around the Ocrafolk Festival, 2003.

In other news, “Friends of Portsmouth Island” held their “every-other year” reunion this Spring.  Several hundred friends of the island were on hand strolling through the village, visiting with old friends, and  remembering life as it once was on Portsmouth.  A church service was held at 11 o’clock with a potluck dinner on the lawn at noon.  For a brief history of the island click on either of the two photos below.

Portsmouth Methodist Church:
Portsmouth Church

One highlight of the day was the opening of the U.S. Post Office.  Friends of Portsmouth Island, along with the National Park Service, have spruced up the building with a new coat of paint, period furnishings and other repairs.

Portsmouth Post Office:
Portsmouth Post Office
All day long, folks stood in line to mail postcards, letters, and notes from the small wooden structure.  This was the first time since 1959 that mail had been posted from Portsmouth Island.  Ocracoke’s postmaster, Ruth Jordan, and clerk, Melissa Fulcher, were on hand with other helpers to assist the steady stream of customers wanting to send mail on this historic day.  A special postmark was created with the words, “Portsmouth Island Homecoming, Portsmouth Island Station, April 6, 2002, Ocracoke, NC  27960.”  We mailed a number of envelopes from Portsmouth that day and have them for sale ($5.00 each) on our web site.  All proceeds will go to “Friends of Portsmouth.” You can click on the image below to order one for yourself.

Portsmouth Island Covers:

If you are traveling from Cedar Island this season you may notice renovations made to the ferry “Silver Lake.”  Although the vehicle deck has remained unchanged, the vessel looks much larger.  The entire superstructure has been rebuilt with a spacious passenger lounge (three times the size of the former lounge) with more tables and a commanding view across the bow.  The “Silver Lake,” which took almost three months and nearly two million dollars to renovate, even offers a handicap accessible elevator to the upper level.

Motor Vessel “Silver Lake:”
Silver Lake Ferry
The public was invited to tour the ferry several weeks ago.  The captain and crew welcomed us on board and encouraged us to wander throughout the vessel, including into the pilot house.

Silver Lake Pilot House:
Silver Lake Pilot House

And even into the engine room.

Silver Lake Engine Room:
Silver Lake Engine Room

The Silver Lake is 200 feet long on deck and is powered by twin 800 hp Caterpillar diesel engines.  She makes the run between Ocracoke and Cedar Island in about 2 1/2 hours.

Whichever route you take on your next journey to Ocracoke, be sure to stroll down Howard Street, and stop by the shop to say hello.

Until next time, all the best to you from the entire staff of Village Craftsmen.


Spring is definitely on its way as evidenced by the many daffodils blooming throughout the village.  Another sign of warmer weather is the new growth on island fig trees.  Below is a close-up of a budding fig and newly sprouting leaf.


New life indeed is bursting forth all over.  Before long the fig trees will be thick with fruit and leaves.  Nearly every older home on the island has at least one fig tree in the yard.  We have two by the Village Craftsmen. By mid summer the figs will be ripening, but the best crop comes later, usually in August.  It is then that figs bubble in pots around the village before being “put up” for later use in delicious Ocracoke Island fig cakes and other delicacies.

Look for recipes and more information in upcoming newsletters.

Over the years visitors have come to Ocracoke for the superb fishing, the undeveloped beach, the natural beauty of the island and for the cultural heritage of the village and its people.

Ocracoke is rich in tradition, history and a unique way of life.  Although the island has changed quite a bit, especially in the last thirty years, the special quality of her people survives.  This may not always be the case, however.  Telephones, television (and now the internet) have joined ferries and roads in an unorganized conspiracy to blend island life with the outside world.

If you have been visiting the island for a number of years you may have the privilege of knowing many of the local residents.  If you are fairly new to Ocracoke you may find it difficult to meet its people.  With the increase in tourism local folks find it harder every year to greet visitors with the enthusiasm they once had.

In this newsletter I would like to introduce you to Ocracoke native, Muzel Bryant.

Muze, as she is generally known, celebrated her 96th birthday March 12.  In this photo she is seen holding some spring flowers given to her at a birthday party in her honor.


Here she is shown with Jamie Gaskins and one of her birthday presents.

Muze With Jamie

One of nine children of Jane and Leonard Bryant, Muze grew up on what is now “Lighthouse Road.”  Until a few years ago she lived with her two sisters in the renovated US Life Saving Service boat house on lighthouse road.  Mildred, also known as “Babe,” died recently, and Annie Laura is living in a nursing home in Swan Quarter.  Their brother, Julius, island fisherman, poker player and musician, died several years ago.  Their family home, which sat not far away, had been abandoned for years and long ago succumbed to rain, termites and gravity.

With the end of the War Between the States, all of the recently freed slaves living on the island left Ocracoke for the mainland.  Muze’s grandmother, known affectionately to islanders as “Aunt Winnie,” had been living in slavery with a family in Blount’s Creek, NC.  After emancipation, she came to Ocracoke with her husband, Hercules (or Harklis, or Harkus) Blount.  No one seems to know why they chose to settle here but they acquired a sizable tract of land “down point” (the area on the lighthouse side of the village) and raised two daughters in the late 1800’s.

Because they were the only black family living on the island in a less enlightened time, they did not have many of the privileges afforded their white neighbors.  Nevertheless, while color-blindness may not have been the rule, many white islanders learned to accept and appreciate Muze and her family for their unique contributions to island life.

Muze worked for years for Vera and Lawrence Ballance, as well as for other local families.  Now Kenny Ballance, one of the island’s more colorful, younger residents is “looking after” Muzie, as he calls her, in appreciation for the many kindnesses she has shown him and his family since he was an infant.

The fondness islanders have for Muzel was evident in the number of friends who stopped by to wish her well on her 96th birthday.  She accepted graciously the presents and hugs and told stories about her family and early life on the island.  As usual she could remember nearly everyone’s birthday and smiled readily knowing we were all impressed with her easy recall.

If you happen to be riding your bicycle down the “Back Road” this summer and Muze is sitting on Kenny’s front porch, give her a big wave and call out a cheery “Good Day Muzel.”  She may not know your name, but she will enjoy your greeting.

Exciting News Flash from Molasses Creek: Our very own local folk/bluegrass band, Molasses Creek (Gary Mitchell, Kitty Mitchell and David Tweedie), has been selected to appear on “A Prairie Home Companion” on April 15.  They are among the winners of the show’s “Talent from Towns under 2000” contest.  Mark your calendars and also be sure to look for their performance schedule when you visit the island. Their show is a treat not to be missed. 

Spring Breaks have been bringing a number of visitors to Ocracoke these last couple of weeks.  Not many restaurants are open yet and the beach is sometimes breezy and cool, but folks are enjoying the quiet moments exploring the village and the shore. 

In our next newsletter look for the story of “Old Quork.”  March 16 has been a day that island seamen have been wary of since this colorful character defied the elements on that date over 150 years ago. 

Until next time, remember to relax and slow down at least a little.  It will be good practice for planning your next vacation on the Outer Banks.

Our best to you all, from Philip and staff at Village Craftsmen