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!

(0)

by Thomas E. MacDonald

I was finally embarking on my much-anticipated vacation to my favorite destination and knew what to expect, or so I thought.

After being on the road for eight-plus hours, I would arrive at the Inn on Ocracoke Island after hours to find the office closed. The key to my room would be in an envelope with my name hand written and taped to the door. I would haul my luggage up the steep wooden stairs leading to a spacious second floor porch with slatted rocking chairs and let myself in. I would then go to room #21 enter and settle in for the week. During the week I will reacquaint myself with friends, both islanders and tourists alike, that I have come to know over the last decade and a half. Maybe sometime during the week I will officially check in at the office with a signature and such, maybe not. Some folks down here are more than a tad laid back.

The Island Inn Today:

Did I mention that I specifically requested room #21 and why? No, I didn’t. The spirit of a past innkeeper reportedly haunts the Inn and room #21 is said to have the highest probability of paranormal occurrences. Objects have been known to be unexplainedly moved and sometimes even disappear, only to be discovered later in other parts of the Inn. Bathroom spigots have been known to turn on by themselves. Pictures on the wall are occasionally found to be askew in the morning. Sounds of an undetermined source have been heard and doors have been known to open and close unassisted. Rarely there have been reports of a full-bodied apparition going around the beds tucking the guests in. I was hoping to at least get some photographs of hazy silhouettes. Her name is Mrs. Godfrey and it is reported that she doesn’t choose to interact with men. What little I know about her history, I can understand why.

The Island Inn Before WWII:

During the Second World War the Inn’s owner, Robert Stanley Wahab hired Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey from the mainland to manage his hotel. The Godfreys lived in an apartment in the hotel and reportedly had many public domestic spats “fighting like cats and dogs.” The Islanders did not approve of such public displays for one should not air one’s dirty laundry. As my grandmother used to say, “You don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” Some matters are best kept behind closed doors.

During the War, Mrs. Godfrey decided to visit with friends and family on the mainland for a few days. Back then travel to and from the Island was a task in and of itself. There was not the luxury of hourly ferries and such. The daily mail boat, the Aleta would leave from the docks with passengers shortly after sunrise and arrive in Atlantic in late morning. There the Aleta would be unloaded and then supplied for the return trip and would always return to Ocracoke by the late afternoon. Mr. Godfrey went down to the docks on the day that the Mrs. was to return and she was not there. Mr. Godfrey thought little of her absence, assumed that Mrs. Godfrey had changed her plans and would stay on the mainland a bit longer to visit. He looked forward to the continued respite from their squabbles. A week later Mrs. Godfrey’s body was discovered in an abandoned house on the mainland. Her throat had been slashed. Her killer was never found.

Mr. Godfrey soon returned to his duties at the Inn. It seems that no sooner than Mrs. Godfrey was interred, Mr. Godfrey would become haunted by her ghost. He would see her walking about the Inn and awaken in the midst of the night to her accusing stare. Doors would open and forcefully slam shut. Her cosmetics would be found rearranged on the dresser. The alcohol could not dull Mr. Godfrey’s senses enough and he could take no more. He left. She stayed.

The sun was rapidly closing in on the horizon beyond Silver Lake as I parked my car in front of the Inn on this comfortable early November evening. There was minimal lighting emitting from the Inn as dusk enshrouded the Island. The walkway and entrance basked in the glow of external lanterns and on the second floor the lights were on in the hallway and the corner room (which was not mine).

I fetched the room key from the envelope taped to the door of the closed office, as expected. I hauled as much of my luggage as I could handle up the external wooden stairs past a sign that read “ Please use handrails. Stairs are steep.” How well I knew. I grasped at the handle to the porch door that would allow my entrance. It would not turn. I tried the knob again more forcefully, but did not wish to break it.  This was not expected. I set my gear down on the wooden rocker and tried my room key on the door. It would not fit. I called the provided number on my cell phone, but the call was not forwarded. Instead the call went to the voicemail. This was not expected. I gazed through the door window with its gossamer curtain as I left a message on the other end. “Hi Cee, this is Tom from Wilmington, the one in Delaware. I’m here at the Inn and the upstairs porch door is locked and I can’t get in.” My voice was taut with frustration as I said, “I just don’t know what to do.” As I spoke those words in despair, I heard a very distinctive click come from the doorknob. I hung up my phone and tried the door once again. The knob turned with ease and allowed my entrance to the Inn. The hall was well lit and if someone were on the other side of the door, I would have seen them. I saw no shadows or movements or anything that could be attributed to optical illusions. Nobody was there.

As I entered and made my way to the rear of the Inn where room #21 awaited, I saw that the doors to all the rooms were closed and secured, with the exception of mine. The door was slightly ajar and the inside lights were on as if someone were awaiting my arrival. I then said aloud, “Thank you Mrs. Godfrey!”  Not once during my stay did I feel as if I was being watched or someone else was present. The room was furnished with antique furniture, figurines, and eye pleasing prints adorned the walls. I felt as if I was staying in someone’s home and settled in for a comfortable night.

A Typical Room in the Island Inn:

The following morning I encountered Rusty who assists with the daily operations of the Inn. He inquired if was comfortable and if I needed anything. I related my experience of the previous night. He asked if I had tried to call the number provided and said that it would have forwarded the call. I related that it did not and went to voicemail. Rusty then mentioned that he has locked that door only about three times in the last five years and admitted that he did indeed leave it locked the day before. He then asked how I got in. I ventured to guess that Mrs. Godfrey’s duties as the past innkeeper superseded her reluctance to interact with men. Rusty replied that that was the only explanation for I was the only living being in the building last night. Nobody was there.

The author would like to gratefully acknowledge Philip Howard of Ocracoke, NC and the proprietors of the Island Inn for the historical information used in this writing.

Information about the Island Inn is available here: http://www.ocracokeislandinn.com.

(0)