Category Archives: history

A Legacy of Bravery

Moving to Rodanthe decades ago, I noticed how common the name Midgett was. Businesses were owned by Midgetts or their descendants. My first 3 landlords were Midgetts, and ultimately the property that I bought to build my house, was purchased from the Clarence Midgett family. Many of my friends have had, or descended from families with, that same last name. It’s believed that the first Midgett to arrive here in the 1600’s was likely a shipwreck survivor.

The family is engrained in local history. Many enlisted in the early US Lifesaving Service, and later the Coast Guard. Heroic deeds of the Midgetts on the Outer Banks have been well- documented. Most renowned is the Mirlo Rescue of 1918 led by John Allen Midgett, Jr. from Chicamacomico Station.  For this act of valor, Midgett and his 5-man crew were awarded prestigious Gold Lifesaving Medals and Grand Crosses of the American Cross of Honor. In 1921, the British government bestowed Gold Lifesaving Medals to the men as well as a silver cup to Keeper Midgett from the Board of Trade.

In 1971, to honor the former keeper at Chicamacomico, a 378-foot Hero-class Coast Guard Cutter was launched, named John Allen Midgett, Jr. Since then it has served the varied missions of the modern day Coast Guard. It continues to do so, currently using the name,  John Midgett.

Earlier this month a new US Coast Guard Cutter was docked at Nauticus in Norfolk for a pre- commissioning ceremony. Midgett descendants and friends were invited to tour the newly christened John Allen Midgett, Jr. At 418 feet, it’s a Legend-class cutter whose mission is maritime homeland security, law enforcement, marine safety, environmental protection and national defense. It is the successor to the first Midgett Cutter and is to be based in Honolulu where it will be commissioned next month.

Everything about the John Allen Midgett, Jr. is strictly business.

A 57 millimeter gun turret sits on the foredeck.

Gunner’s Mate Patrick Reinholz displayed a mounted machine gun and took questions on the port side.

Maritime Enforcement Specialists Francisco Rubio (in front) and Michael Midgette explained their roles and weaponry. Midgette, originally from Manteo, is a descendent. There have been several spelling variations of the Midgett name going back to common ancestry.

The stern launch held one of two cutter boats. This is the 35-foot Long Range Interceptor.

A state-of-the-art control panel on the bridge reminded me of a powerfully sophisticated video game.

Captain Alan McCabe addressed visiting guests and crew on the ship’s helicopter pad.

The ship’s Sponsor is Jazania O’Neal, granddaughter of Captain John Allen Midgett, Jr. She initialed the keel plate as the  John Allen Midgett, Jr. was being built. Jonna Midgette is Jazania’s daughter and Matron of Honor. They will travel to Hawaii for the commissioning.

From the bridge, I photographed the assembled family descendants and crew. At 98 years old, the eldest was Lovie Midgett of Rodanthe. She attended the commissioning of the original Cutter in 1972.

Despite the new Cutter’s actual namesake, it is a tribute to all Midgetts with connections to the Coast Guard, as well as all Outer Bankers who take pride in local history and lifesaving.

Touring the ship was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

 

Belle Swell

The first week of August 1976, as a tropical system was approaching Hatteras, I was living in a flimsy mobile home behind the dunes in Salvo. By the 8th, the storm had developed into a major hurricane with winds peaking at 120 mph. Hurricane Belle was the first storm, since I’d moved to Hatteras Island, that had people suddenly evacuating.

My neighbors, Johnny and Linda Hooper, welcomed me into their brick home where I spent the night as the center passed within 60 miles offshore. The next day as Belle sped northward, winds shifted more westerly as huge swells poured ashore. Conditions were favorable for some great surf.

With a board and photography equipment in the microbus, I headed to the lighthouse, the only spot to handle such radical conditions. It was tumultuous and defied my skill as a surfer. Not many were able to paddle out past the giant breaking waves. Discouraged surfers washed in on the beach and only watched. Not many were successful in making waves at all.

From the dunes I took a few pictures with a 650mm Century lens attached to a tripod-mounted Nikon.  The best ride I saw was when Terry Metts of Frisco, dropped in on, what some would call, a solid ten-footer. Tall and lanky, he was barely halfway down the face and it was still well over his head. He had the skill, stamina and the board to pull it off. Brian Jones also a Frisco surfer, lay prone on the face of the wave, hoping for the best, while another paddler punched through the cresting lip. It was chaotic with constant, relentless swells. By the end of the day, Belle swells were pretty much gone.

Hunting Guides I Knew

Life has had a funny way of taking me to unexpected experiences. Back in the 70’s I was drifting from one job to another. They were diverse and interesting. So when my landlady’s husband, Raymond, asked me to help out at Gull Island Gunning Club, I signed on.

Over the years, quite a few locals had worked at the lodge, and Raymond Midgett was one of them. The club was owned by Norfolk businessman Alex Kotarides and operated out of Salvo. The island is about 5 miles to the southeast in Pamlico Sound and is a unique spot on the edge of a reef that drops off into deeper water. It was and still is a haven for all kinds of waterfowl.

For $5.25 I bought a hunting guide’s license at Charles Williams Store in Avon and became an official waterfowl hunting guide. Up to that point, my only hunting experience was stalking birds on Pea Island with my camera.

I had heard stories about the good old days of waterfowl hunting on Gull Island when Ed Hooper was the head guide. I never met Ed but knew his sons well. Burt Hooper was the eldest and took over guiding after his dad passed away. Burt’s next door neighbor was Raymond who helped with the chores of running the club. For about 5 years I learned the ropes from Burt and Raymond and developed a common bond with them.

This beautiful day in 1977, I rode Falcon, a Willy Austin built boat, with Burt on the engine box and Raymond at the helm. We were on our way to Gull Island with two brush-laden skiffs to build some shore blinds on the island.

Burt Hooper showed me the art of concealment in blind construction.

I rode with Raymond to and from the island countless times. We performed maintenance and stockpiled supplies for hunting trips lasting 3 to 4 days.

In 1979, Alex asked me to restore his decoys with new paint jobs. There were hundreds of them and it took me about 8 months to complete. The Herters decoys were made of balsa with pine heads. It was then that Burt showed me how to tie a bowline knot. There were two knots per decoy, one knot on the decoy end and another on the anchored end. After a few hundred decoys, I could do it without even looking.

For me it was gratifying to watch waterfowl pitch in to my paint jobs, especially around the sink box blinds. It was an effective combination.

Picking up all the decoys after a day’s hunt was done in orderly fashion. It took a while, especially in adverse conditions. Here Mark McCracken hands canvas goose decoys to Burt stacking them in the skiff. Beyond is a 24-foot workboat called the Anytime. It was built in Avon by Willy Austin and featured an air-cooled 4-cylinder Wisconsin engine. It’s flat bottom had a tunnel astern to tuck the prop neatly underneath. It could run in a foot of water, and had a beautifully shaped sheer profile!

Cap’m Raymond, as I affectionately called him, was a consummate story teller and loved to play his electric guitar. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 69.

Burt Hooper was a pillar in the Salvo community and passed away this year on March 7. He was 85. Burt and Raymond both had a lasting effect on my life and helped steer me where I am today.

 

 

 

Bridging the Gap

No matter how you look at it, the new bridge over Oregon Inlet is an engineering marvel. For the past few years, driving over the old Bonner Bridge, we witnessed the construction progress, going together like a humongous tinker toy.

Last Saturday, NCDOT opened the new thoroughfare just for pedestrian and bike traffic. It happened to coincide with 40° weather and a northeaster, making it somewhat more challenging.

The Bonner Bridge is well past it’s life span, so it’s out with the old, in with the new.

At 10:15 we began our walk on the north side, heading south, downwind. Dozens of folks had already begun the 2.8 mile trek.

With a 30 mile an hour breeze at their backs, bikers hardly even needed to peddle.

Everyone was bundled up.

Equipment was still in place.

Following a curve, the new road rises to the peak about 90 feet above the water.

The high point of the old Bonner Bridge is about 70 feet.

Hitting the uphill grade, I felt the wind intensify as if the bridge created a Venturi effect.

Facing into the wind from the rise, I saw more approaching troops braving the elements.

On top the wind seemed to accelerate even more, as tide boiled through the inlet.

Photo ops were everywhere and everyone became photographers.

This crew got the shot and then in a gust…

… almost got blown away.

Three quarters into the walk, the south end of the new bridge converges back toward the old bridge landing.

Looking back I could see hundreds of people still underway.

A cyclist coasted to the end of his downhill run.

Welcome to Hatteras Island, home of Highway 12, probably the most expensive road to maintain in the entire state.

 

 

 

 

The Liberty Memorial

Last year when Denise and I visited relatives in Kansas City, Missouri, we were treated with a great tour of downtown. There were so many interesting things to do and see.

One of the finest museums that I’ve ever visited is prominent in the landscape. The National World War I Museum was opened in 1926 and features a 265 foot stone spire as a tribute to those that served in the First World War.

One can spend days, weeks or longer going through the complex. Our second day visit was on a rainy morning and as we went in, I was attracted by the glass ceiling over the lobby entrance, so I went back out in the drizzle and made two exposures over the wet glass panels. One was vertical and another horizontal. They were quick, handheld shots with my current camera of choice, a Lumix mirrorless body with interchangeable lenses.

One of the most prestigious local art shows here is the annual Frank Stick Memorial Art Show hosted by the Dare County Arts Council. It began 41 years ago and I’ve entered a piece in nearly every one.

This year I decided to print the above mentioned photograph and apply an age old photo technique. I remembered experimenting with solarized prints in my darkroom around 1980 and the results were usually surreal and unpredictable.

Tones are often reversed resembling a negative. Photoshop made this easy to accomplish and turned a drab day into one looming and dramatic. I entered a 16×20 print and was given an Excellence Award. There were over a hundred entries and ribbons for me have been rare in this venue.

This year’s show was poignant in that it was dedicated to my friend and prolific Nags Head artist Glenn Eure who passed away last September at the age of 86. He was a well-known and gifted artist. A Purple Heart recipient, he served combat tours in Korea and Viet Nam. I think he would have liked my print entitled TRIBUTE IN KC.

The inscription on the monument reads: IN HONOR OF THOSE THAT SERVED IN THE WORLD WAR IN DEFENSE OF LIBERTY AND OUR COUNTRY