A few days ago, Sundae Horn, our local community librarian, sent me a copy of the sheet music for “The Ocracoke School Song.” Arnold Sundgaard wrote the words; Alec Wilder composed the music. With the annual PTA Variety Show coming up, Sundae thought it would be fun for the kids to revive the song that she remembers hearing students sing once about fifteen years ago. Principal Leslie Cole located a copy in the school files and shared it with Sundae, who asked me, “Any idea who Arnold Sundgaard was?”

Not only did I have no idea who Arnold Sundgaard was, I had never seen or heard of the song.

These are the words:

There’s a school on the sands,
on the sands by the sea;
You can see where it stands
by a green cedar tree.

There a mocking bird sings
and the gulls fly above;
O the school on the sands
is the school that I love.

There’s a light on the bay,
and it shines from the shore.
It will show you the way
to the bright school house door.

Though you travel from home
to the far distant lands,
You will always recall
the white school on the sands.

The Ocracoke School Song Page 1
The Ocracoke School Song Page 2

Thanks to the world wide web I soon learned that Arnold Sundgaard (1909-2006) was a nationally recognized American playwright, librettist, and lyricist. In addition to writing short stories and children’s books, he taught at Columbia University, Bennington College, and the University of Texas. He specialized in drama and theatrics, and was probably best known for his role in the production of six Broadway plays. He even has his own Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Sundgaard.

Just as on the “Ocracoke School Song,” Sundgaard often collaborated with the prominent composer, Alec Wilder (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alec_Wilder).

This new wealth of information led to the even more puzzling question, how did a prominent, celebrated lyricist come to write a beautifully simple song in homage to Ocracoke’s tiny school?

After a little more research I discovered “The Lowland Sea,” a one-act folk opera (Libretto by Arnold Sundgaard, Music by Alec Wilder), written in 1952. You can listen to it here: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/wilderworld/episodes/2014-02-16T20_57_28-08_00, as performed May 16 & 17, 1963, in Dolton, Illinois, at the Thornridge High School Spring Musicale.

According to the liner notes, “’The Lowland Sea’…was written as a remembering of the sea and sea songs – of dunes, of harbors, of voyaging, of loneliness, of waiting. It is hoped that it will seem familiar to anyone who has walked (or wanted to walk) the streets of Nantucket, or has waited for the evening mail boat at Ocracoke.”

I contacted Arnold Sundgaard’s son who said that his father and Alec Wilder visited Ocracoke, probably in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and mentioned the island frequently. Our isolated island village seems to have made quite an impression on them. Sundaard’s son explained that his father and Wilder enjoyed the island and working in the peace and quiet. Unfortunately, no one alive remembers having met them. Nevertheless, it turns out that some of the school’s alumni remember singing “The Ocracoke School Song.” Mr. Theodore Rondthaler (school principal from 1948 to 1962) included the song at various school gatherings, the elementary teacher, Ms. Davis, taught it to her students in the 1960s, and Ms. Mary Ellen Piland discovered it and introduced it to her students in more recent years.

The 1917 Ocracoke Schoolhouse
The 1917 Ocracoke Schoolhouse

The old 1917 schoolhouse, painted bright white, was replaced in the early 1970s with the current, larger and more modern building. But, thanks to Sundae, the school students are again learning to sing “The Ocracoke School Song.” Maybe now it will be recognized and preserved as the official song for the Ocracoke School.


Last week one of Ocracoke’s native sons, George Guthrie Jackson, died after a long illness.  George was descended from one of the island’s very first residents, Francis Jackson.  I remember George mostly as the island barber when I was a youngster.  His tiny barber shop was located “down point” past the lighthouse.

George Guthrie was also an enthusiastic storyteller.  He clearly enjoyed telling his stories as much as his listeners enjoyed hearing them. Many times he would stop me and my father (at the Post Office, in the Community Store parking lot, or just along the road) and recount one of his favorite stories.  I call it “George & Jule” and present it here for your amusement.

George and Jule
(As told to Philip Howard by George Guthrie Jackson)

The year was 1942. World War II had reached our shores. The country was gripped with patriotic fervor and a spirit of national responsibility. Ocracoke Island was no exception. Two local boys, Jule Garrish and George Guthrie Jackson, were among those called up for military service.

By the summer of 1941 several singers, including Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers, Texas Jim Robertson, and Gene Autry, had performed and/or recorded a popular song that captured the prevailing mood. “I’ll Be Back in a Year, Little Darlin'” spoke for many a young man who faced the prospect of extended time away from loved ones.

Jule and George often played guitar for the local square dances that were held regularly on Saturday nights at Stanley Wahab’s dance hall, “The Spanish Casino.” They had played their last gig. In the morning Jule was to board the mail boat on his way to serve in the Navy; George was bound for service in the Army . It was almost midnight when they left the dance hall.

Through the deep, soft sand they trudged, carrying their instruments. Once on the road towards the old Howard cemetery, and not too far from their homes, Jule and George stopped. Jule had written new introductory verses (and slightly adapted the words) to “I’ll Be Back in a Year, Little Darlin’.” The boys decided this would be as good a place as any to try them out. Standing in the middle of the lane, with guitars in hand, they struck up the tune and sang out loud and clear:

“There were two little boys used to go to school,

One was named George, and the other was named Jule.

Jule said to George, ‘Get up and put your brogans on,

And then let’s sing this farewell song;

And this is the way it goes:’

We’ll be back in a year little darlin’,

Uncle Sam has called us both and we must go,

We’ll be back, don’t you fear, little darlin’

You’ll be proud of your soldier boys we know.

We’ll do our best each day for the good old U.S.A.

And we’ll keep old glory waving high.

We’ll be back in a year little darlin’,

Don’t you worry darlin’, don’t you cry.”

According to George, Jule would “bear down on it” and stomp his foot in time to the music.

Nancy Williams, who was accustomed to retiring early in the evening, lived not a stone’s throw from where Jule and George stopped to sing and play. Just as the performance was ending she raised her window and, nightgown fluttering in the wind, called out for anyone to hear, “The only damn thing I hope is that it’ll be longer than a year.”


Welcome to yet another Ocracoke Newsletter from Village Craftsmen.  The weather is warming up and we are looking forward to the beginning of a new season here on the island.

As folks return to Ocracoke or start planning their Spring and Summer vacations, we thought you might be interested in news of several upcoming events.

The Fourth Annual Ocrafolk Music and Storytelling Festival is scheduled for June 7 & 8, 2003.  The Festival has been a huge success every year, and 2003 is shaping up to be no exception.  As usual, this year the Festival will feature an outstanding selection of artisans, musicians, and storytellers from the coastal region of North Carolina.  We thought some of you might want to consider planning your next trip to the island to coincide with this event.

As many of you know, music has been an important part of Ocracoke’s history for generations.  In the 1920’s two Ocracoke brothers, Walter and Edgar Howard, were popular performers in cities along the East Coast.

Edgar played banjo in vaudeville, sometimes on the same stage with the likes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and even Al Jolson.  Edgar returned home after retirement and continued to entertain islanders with his music and stories.

Edgar died in 1990 and is buried across the street from Village Craftsmen.  His grave marker has a banjo carved on it and the words “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet.”

Edgar Howard’s Grave on Howard Street
graves on howard st Edgar's gravestone

Even if you do not remember Edgar or Walter you may have the good fortune of hearing Molasses Creek play a tune written by Walter and made popular on the island by Edgar, “Paddy’s Holler.”  Paddy’s Holler is a small area of Ocracoke that lies behind the Ocracoke Health Center, near the schoolhouse and Methodist Church,  and extends to Fig Tree Lane, near the “Island Girl” gift shop.  Named in the 1800’s after a tavern up north, Paddy’s Holler, as a distinct community, was altered permanently when the Navy paved the “Back Road” during World War II.
Paddy’s Holler
Written by Walter Howard

Many years ago I can truly tell you so
There was a spot that wasn’t worth a dollar
Where the folks were gay, so the people say
Everybody called it Paddy’s Holler.

‘Twould put us all to shame how the holler got its name
Legends have been told by the millions
But the one that I like best was no doubt told in jest
Told by ol’ fiddlin’ Wid Williams

Wid was on a spree; he had fiddled all night free
And they had to hold him up by the collar
But like a knight of old he grew mighty bold,
And hollered out “Hooray for Paddy’s Holler!”

Now in the olden days nobody offered praise
For anybody livin’ up the holler
As the years rolled by , moved in on the sly
Now it’s “Mrs. Jones” of Paddy’s Holler.

Paddy’s Holler, Paddy’s Holler
Why, they come from near and far to Paddy’s Holler
And the town was in a lurch, ’cause when they’d go to church
They’d all have to pass through Paddy’s Holler

The Howards, the O’Neals, the Burruses, the Peales
Why they’ve all found their way to Paddy’s Holler
Choicest spot in town, nobody seems to frown
When someone hollers, “Let’s go up the holler!”

They built a naval base just to give the subs a chase
So everybody there could earn a dollar
When Uncle Sammy came he put ’em all to shame
Paved the only road through Paddy’s Holler.

Paddy’s Holler! Paddy’s Holler
They come from near and far to Paddy’s Holler
It’s the choicest spot in town, nobody seems to frown
When someone hollers, “Let’s go up the holler!”

Now folks down there were kind to the sick and blind
So everybody ponied up a dollar
To build a little home for Maggie all alone
Livin’ on a hill in Paddy’s Holler.

But one was mighty bold, his heart set on gold
His mind was on the almighty dollar
Some said “listen here, don’t put that line post there!
‘Cause that’s the choicest spot in Paddy’s Holler!”
Edgar’s brother, Walter, was also an accomplished musician.  Walter’s jug band had quite a few chart topping hits in the 1920’s, including “Sadie Green” and “What Makes My Baby Cry.”

Walter’s son, Walter Howard, Jr., alerted me to a web site where you can listen to selections from 1926.  These sound files require the “Real Audio” plug-in available free of charge at www.realaudio.com.  Once you have the plug-in just click on the links below to listen to one of Ocracoke’s old-time musicians.

“Sadie Green”

“What Makes My Baby Cry”

In other news, Island Path, an Ocracoke venture offering creative workshops has scheduled a number of events for 2003 that we thought might appeal to our readers.  Workshops will be offered in watercolor painting, writing, and pottery, as well as retreats and creativity camps.

Ken DeBarth & Ruth Fordon of Island Path:
Ken DeBarth & Ruth Fordon of Island Path

Some of their offerings are listed below:

Join Kathleen Brehony and Ruth Fordon for a weekend residential camp.  It’s time to craft the dreams you have not yet lived.

LEARN TO WATERCOLOR   May 11-17 and Sept 21-27
Mel Stanforth will guide you gently into this wonderful medium.  All your supplies are provided, as well as food and lodging in this weeklong residential camp

THE COMPLETE WRITER  April 27-May 3 ; June 1-8 ; Oct 19 – 25
Change your life as a writer!  Karen Jones and Kathleen Brehony are back for their third year in this weeklong residential camp.  3  weeklong camps this year

Here’s a weekend opportunity to focus on being a published writer.  Karen Jones and Kathleen Brehony know how and will teach you the strategies for success.

Ocracoke Beach Birds:

Work with clay and primitive firing techniques at the beach with our instructor Delores Coan.

Just for graduates of the “Complete Writer”.  This weekend residential camp was extremely popular in 2002.  Don’t miss it.

Some of Island Path’s other programs are listed below:

ISLAND PATH is a journey!
Learning how to live your dreams starts right here on Ocracoke Island.  Retreat to our beautiful beaches, explore new ideas and discover the magic your life has to offer!

When what we do in the world is not connected with our inner self, we risk feeling empty and one dimensional.  A Personal Path Retreat will give you time to reflect on your life, to address life changes and transitions, to create, or to recuperate.

We hire personal trainers to get our bodies in shape.  Do the same for your personal life or your business.  Whether you need a hand to hold or someone to “kick your ‘but’…” Coaching offers a chance to take inventory and create workable action steps to craft the life and future you desire.

Ocracoke Sunset:
orange sunset

Week long residential camps combine fun, creativity, learning, and lots of TLC.  Includes lodging, meals, lectures, T’ai Chi, massage, and plenty of time to explore the island.

Island Path is not affiliated with Village Craftsmen.  We are providing this information because we thought some of you might be interested in their programs.  For futher details, brochures, and costs please contact Island Path directly:

Island Path
Box 878
Ocracoke, NC 27960
1-877-708-7284 (toll free)


We are looking forward to another wonderful season on Ocracoke.  Please stop by Village Craftsmen and say hello on your next visit to the island.

All the best to you from,

Philip, Dallie, Jude, Amy, Mary, and Leon