Category Archives: history

Les and Elsie’s Place

The May 15 edition of Island Free Press reported a whale skull washing up on the beach in Salvo. It reminded me of a home there years ago, with a similar find decorating the front yard.

Leslie and Elsie Hooper’s home was perhaps a hundred feet off of Highway 12. I didn’t know what the unusual yard ornament was until being told by their son Jimmy, with whom I worked on John Luke’s crew, building cottages. The sun-bleached whale skull was huge and must have taken the village to remove it from the beach.

In 1975 something about it appealed to me, enough to stop and take a picture. I adored the simplicity of the house, the yard with a fenced in garden, the old wagon wheels and fig trees. I also adored the family living there. The village had more of a rural feel back then. 

Les and Elsie were active in the community, involved in church, the volunteer fire department, fish fries and bake sales. She made the best pineapple upside down cake, and  Les was a ferry boat captain for NCDOT. To say the family had deep roots here is an understatement. 

The house built from the timbers of shipwrecks was destroyed when Hurricane Irene damaged it beyond repair. For details see the link below.

Miss Elsie’s Place



I D’s Island

Just a few hundred yards offshore of my property, sits a low marshy island in Pamlico Sound. On navigational maps it’s called Great Island, but I’ve always known it as I D’s Island, named for my late neighbor Mr. I D Midgett. I D’s Island has likely been owned by that same family since first settling on Hatteras a few hundred years ago.

Mapping surveys from the 1880’s by Lt. Francis Winslow showed Great Island to be considerably larger in those days, perhaps 2 or 3 times bigger. Today it’s not only smaller, but has been cut into segments. Wave action and rising waters continue to erode this pristine salt marsh. Once upon a time it must have been connected to the main body of Hatteras Island.

Sometimes I D would perform prescribed burns on the island. Burning off vegetation is said to improve plant and wildlife habitat. With a State permit in hand, he had to wait for certain conditions after a dry spell accompanied by a light northeasterly breeze.

On a September evening in 1991, I D Midgett with sons Dale and I D jr. began burning the island.

Fanned by an ocean breeze, flames spread with a setting sun backdrop.

Burning continued well in to the night.

I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like that again.



Relocating here some fifty years ago, there were not many businesses where to find necessities. The general store at North Beach Campground was an exception, and I became a frequent customer. Locally operated, the O’Neal family was warm, accommodating and we became great friends. 

A decade or so later, Justin was born to Joey and Virginia O’Neal. I watched the toddler grow in to a lovely boy, then to a man. Rodanthe was his “oyster”, where he worked and played. He developed a keen appreciation for his island heritage and was eager to pass it on.

Justin with son Owen at Chicamacomico in 2018.

I relish my interaction with him at Old Christmas celebrations where he was a caretaker to Old Buck, a role that has been passed down for generations.

Justin was perfectly suited for the task and took pride in it.

Justin recently passed away unexpectedly at the age of 39.

I’ll forever hold him, and the extended O’Neal clan in my heart.


Beatlemania came December of 1963 when I heard I Wanna Hold Your Hand on an AM radio station in Northern Virginia. On a snowy evening my dad was selling Christmas trees to help raise funds for our Little League as my brother and I sat in a ’58 Volkswagen beetle, radio blaring… waiting for him to close down for the night. I was 14 and unbeknownst to us, a new era in popular music was beginning. The Beatles were taking America by storm.

Paul McCartney used a Pentax to document events that would unfold as his band toured, playing for frantic fans. The film he shot was stored away and forgotten until recently.

The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia is featuring McCartney’s 1963-1964 archives for the first time ever in America. Opened December 5, the exhibit runs through April 7.

There are 250 prints on display throughout several rooms.

Living through this era, the photographs evoked fond memories from my teens.

Could Paul McCartney have become a great photojournalist? Probably, but I’m glad he chose music.

The spacious exhibit area leaves one in a print wonderland. Once you take in certain rooms, it’s easy returning to another.

I liked the mural-sized contact sheet showing Paul’s take on The Ed Sullivan Show.

My favorite was a small 2-frame section made directly from a 35mm paper contact sheet. The original negatives were lost. His intimate portrait of John Lennon blew me away.

Most of the exhibit was richly printed in black and white.

A number of images were made from color transparencies.

Also on display are documents, including hand-written lyrics of the song that started it all.

To learn more about this outstanding exhibit go to:

Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm


Endangered Species

November of 1986, I covered the first introduction of red wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. As I recall, two pair of wolves were flown in by a US Coast Guard helicopter to Dare County Airport. I was shooting as a freelancer for Newsweek while my friend and author, Jan DeBlieu was writing their story. There must have been 50 photographers and journalists present, something for which I was not accustomed. Nevertheless as Sue Behrns attached a radio-tracking collar, I made the most published photograph I have ever shot. It was reproduced in Newsweek, Weekly Reader and Newsweek Japan for millions to see. The wolves were kept in holding pens and officially released a few months later.