Category Archives: People

Mirlo Commemoration

Cape Hatteras is well known for it’s proximity with the offshore waters known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Over the centuries there have been numerous documented shipwrecks and loss of life. Most of these have been weather related incidents, but some were a result of German U-Boat activity off our coast during both world wars.

One of the most notable was the daring rescue of 42 British sailors by personel from Chicamacomico Coast Guard Station in Rodanthe. On August 16, 1918, the tanker Mirlo, carrying a load of fuel for the war effort in Europe, was struck several miles offshore by a torpedo fired by the U-117. The explosion split the tanker in two, setting the sea aflame.

Hair-raising details of the event can be found at www.Chicamacomico.org

The Mirlo Rescue was led by Captain John Allen Midgett, the officer in charge at Chicamacomico. He was accompanied by 5 surfmen: Zion Midgett, Arthur Midgett, Prochorus O’Neal, Clarence Midgett and Leroy Midgett. They were all awarded Gold Lifesaving medals from the British Government and the American Grand Cross of Honor. It has gone down as one of the most heroic rescues in the history of the United States Coast Guard.

As a former president and board member of Chicamacomico Historical Association, I attended the recent centennial commemoration of the Mirlo Rescue.

The day began with the raising of colors of Britain and the United States.

Chicamacomico Station was all decked out.

Dignitaries representing the British Government, U.S.  Coast Guard and descendants of the rescuers and were on hand to pay their respects.

The newly restored Bebe-McClelland Surfboat used in the rescue was on display in the original 1874 station.

The event was culminated, as reenactment surfmen carried a wreath on the beach cart out toward the ocean.  At the same time the U.S. Coast Guard out of Elizabeth City Air Station conducted a flyover.

The wreath was then transferred to the Chicamacomico Water Rescue Team’s jet ski, and handed over to an awaiting Coast Guard vessel.

The Coast Guard then committed the commemorative wreath to the sea, miles offshore at the site of the famous Mirlo Rescue, a hundred years to the day.

In a final tribute: Left to right.                                                                                                               David Hallac, Superintendent Cape Hatteras National Seashore.                                                     Admiral Todd Sokalzuk, Deputy Commander U S Coast Guard Atlantic Area                         Colonel Laura Fogelsong, U S Air Force retired and great grand daughter of John Allen Midgett Commander Richard Underwood, British Royal Navy                                                               Matthew Shepard, Chaplain U S Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City

Fig Fest

This time of year local figs are ripening. They have long been a staple on the Outer Banks. Nearly all the old family homesteads have a fig tree or two growing in the yard. When the  US Lifesaving Stations were active, they almost always had a fig tree nearby. Sandy well-drained soil helps and they seem to thrive come hell or even high water. Originating in the middle eastern countries and Asia, figs must have been introduced here from early sailing ships.

The tree I planted in my yard 30 years ago is having a productive season.

A big ripe one is ready to pick, while new ones form.

I picked a bowl 2 days ago.

They’re best eaten soon after harvest. I love them raw or cooked stuffed in a baked chicken.

In August of 2015 I attended Ocracoke’s celebration of the Second Annual Fig Festival. Ocracoke is gifted with a wide variety of fig trees and islanders have nurtured them for generations. The festival ran for 2 days and featured presentations, entertainment and most of all, figs and fig related goodies.

A main event took place in the Community Square

Vendors were there with homemade preserves and potted plants.

Locally made fig cake was a delectable favorite, not to mention samples of freshly picked figs.

In 2015 I met Della Gaskill and bought some of her homemade preserves and a signed copy of her book, A Blessed Life, Growing Up on Ocracoke. To her right, son Monroe shared fig stories with Phillip Howard.

Ocracoker, Chester Lynn is the local go-to person on fig culture and lore. He’s spent a lifetime studying and propagating figs.

Go if you can!

Asa

I was originally attracted to Hatteras Island because of the pristine, uncrowded beaches. It was the perfect place for a young surfer. The locals had been here for generations and much of that in relative isolation. They were a unique self-supporting people. It took me a little time to assimilate into the community and I soon realized it was so much more than just about the beaches.

The people became a big factor in my love and appreciation for the island. Over the years, many of those folks have passed on and my feelings have evolved with those losses.

I first met Asa Gray in the early 70’s, out in the waves surfing. Everyone called him Buddy. At the time he must have been 14 or 15 years old. Long haired, lanky yet stout, his surfing was noted for its power and daring to take off on waves that didn’t seem makable.

Earlier this month, Buddy passed away at the age of 60. The realization of not seeing him again is unsettling. Even though I hadn’t seen him surf in years, only until recently I could drive down to the harbor in Rodanthe and see what fish he caught. He had commercial fishing in his psyche and an old-school Hatterasman attitude to go with it.

This scene of the Rodanthe Creek was taken during the passing of Hurricane Charley in 1986. It reminds me of the morning I went to the harbor to see if any fishermen went out to their nets. Northwest winds were gale force as I watched an incoming boat skipping over the tops of the foamy waves and getting blown sideways at the same time. It looked as if the vessel would flip over as gusts got up under the pounding hull. He had pulled all his nets in the boat and was loaded to the gunnels. I never saw such a harrowing approach from that channel. As the boat reached the shelter of the harbor and settled down, it was Buddy Gray, soaked and glad to be back ashore. I’ve never seen any thing like it since.

Buddy was pulling a rockfish onto the beach in Rodanthe when I took this shot in 2004.

Rest in peace my old friend. Things will just not be the same as they once were.

Graveyard Run

Much to the jubilation of local skateboarders, the Graveyard Run Skate Park officially opened on May 5th at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building. Two years in the making, the skate park was built with community funding and well received.

The interesting name recalls our rich island heritage of shipwrecks and rescues. Next to the park is the headstone of William D. Pugh born 200 years ago in 1818. Across the street is the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, this year celebrating the centennial of the famous Mirlo Rescue. The name also refers to the offshore waters as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

The inaugural was attended by enthusiastic skaters of varied ages and abilities. My participation was limited to showing support and snapping a few photos. The skate park is open for the public to enjoy with other planned improvements like a sheltered picnic area added in the near future.

So when planning the next vacation to Hatteras Island, you might pack a skateboard or two.

Nostalgia

The older one gets, the more nostalgic they become. I look back with a more appreciable perspective. My photographs shot years ago have a deeper meaning than when I first took them. Maybe that’s because the moments are gone and can never happen again. They become a window into the past.

Lately I’ve studied old photographs more than I’ve shot new ones. Some are technically flawed, but that doesn’t diminish the value much. I was young and learning the ropes of photography. Images and equipment improved over time, and subjects evolved.

When I moved here 45 years ago, I was the only photographer in town. That had results that I didn’t anticipate. Consequently, I shot nearly two hundred weddings, portrait sessions and other events. Yearning to be out in nature, it was work that I was never truly comfortable with.

In 1975 I was asked to take a picture of local women who worked at the restaurant at the Rodanthe Pier. It was the beginning of the tourist season and they were outfitted in their very best homemade dresses. As I recall, they are from left to right: Laura Scarborough, Thelma Midgett, Mellie Edwards, Wilma O’Neal and Elizabeth Gray. They all wanted to have me make prints for them.

Midgett Day was a local event begun in 1972 to celebrate the heroism and lifesaving of the Midgett family, so renown in the annals of Coast Guard history. It was culminated with a memorial wreath thrown into the sea from Rodanthe Pier. The man in the blue jacket is Don Edwards, and the woman in white Maggie Smith, both members of the Midgett family. This was taken July 1978, and I think it was the final celebration of Midgett Day.

Don Edwards incidentally, was the one arranging most of my wedding and social jobs. The striking aspect of this photograph is the lack of oceanfront development south of the pier.

The vehicle that brought me here was a 1964 VW Microbus. I paid $900 for it in 1968, and it took me on a number of trips, including several to the Outer Banks. I outfitted it to modestly accommodate one or two people on overnight sojourns. It was in constant need of maintenance and tune-ups. Whenever it broke down, I knew how to fix it, including rebuilding the engine 3 times. It originally had a 1500 cc engine and ended up with a peppier 1600 “pancake engine”. With the tires deflated to 15 pounds, I could go anywhere on the beach. I drove it 15 years until the corrosive salt air took its toll. Mac Midgett hauled it away to his junk yard and I replaced it with a Datsun pick-up truck that also rusted away to the same junk yard.