Archives: Blog

A Tale of Blackbeard

by opsmuseum
                                                                               A Tale of Blackbeard, by Julie Howard, was presented for nine summer seasons between 1974 and 1994. In 2016, the show returns to the Ocracoke stage. A dedicated website to the history of A Tale of Blackbeard has been created by Stefen Howard A certain number of tickets may be reserved ahead of time online by clicking here or on the image above, or by calling 252-921-0260. In 2018, regular shows will be held at the Ocracoke Community Center on Mondays (June 11-25), and at the Ocracoke School Gym Auditorium, Monday, July 2 - Monday, August 13. Summer shows start at 8 PM with the door opening at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $15 Adults/$7 Kids. Performances at the Ocracoke School Gym have plenty of room for walk-ups, while the Ocracoke Community Center has limited seating. This show is great fun and it showcases the wonderful talent of Ocracoke. You don't want to miss it!                      Photo by Brenda Kremser                                                                                     

Island Critters

by opsmuseum
Black BearOne of the questions we get frequently is, “What types of animals live on Ocracoke?” Over the years, various types of domesticated livestock have been pastured here, but as far as wild animals, the selection generally is small and they tend to hide themselves away. We have plenty of turtles of all types and a variety of rodents ranging from the rather interesting looking mink to mice, rats, and the large nutria. We also have rabbits that live primarily out on the National Park Service lands, a few snake varieties and a lot of birds. It’s been only recently that squirrels have become commonplace on the island and, raccoons and opossums have occasionally been sighted. We have even had a few deer sightings. The biggest wildlife news that circulated the village was the day the bear swam to town. That got everyone talking! Luckily for us, he didn’t stick around too long on the island. When he was here and prowling the village, it made walking the island streets at night a little nerve wracking! *I have searched the internet for a photo of the real bear that visited Ocracoke in 2007, but apparently that was before the time when everyone carried their camera with them, and I can’t find a single picture of that momentous day. I do really believe it happened though.
Nutria raccoon snapping turtle
Our lovable nutria... Is that cat food I smell? Photo by Gene Ballance The prehistoric looking snapping turtle

Ocracoke’s Live Oaks

by opsmuseum
Old and new leavesIn most other towns in North Carolina, people realize when fall is coming without even looking at a calendar. The deciduous trees start changing colors, gradually at first and then in huge bursts, spreading from the mountains down through the foothills and coming to a complete and abrupt stop at the Outer Banks. All we have here on Ocracoke are evergreens, pines, cedars, bay, etc. The only hint of color is the bright red of poison ivy or Virginia creeper winding through the bushes. No one on Ocracoke ever has to worry about raking leaves in the fall. The only time we have to rake up leaves is in the spring, because the one tree that completely sheds its leaves is the contrary but beautiful live oak tree. It doesn’t shed in the fall like normal trees, it waits until spring. As the strings of pollen mature, last year’s leaves turn brown and drop off to make way for the new buds. So, when you visit Ocracoke in the spring, don’t be surprised to see people out raking leaves. The brown leaves scattered on the ground are offset by the delicate fresh green of the new leaves popping out of all the gnarled fingers of our majestic live oaks. Fiddler David Tweedie (my husband) of Molasses Creek poetically refers to this in his oft requested song, “Howard Street” with these lyrics: “We know the spring by turning leaves, the oaks they shed for joy and not for grieving.” You can listen to the song here (scroll down to Howard Street once you are on the page): To learn more about Ocracoke's beautiful live oaks, visit this site:
Azaleas among leaves Howard Street leaves
Live oaks shedding their leaves among the azaleas Howard Street littered with shed live oak leaves

A Journey to the Dentist

by opsmuseum
Hwy 12 Hatteras (768x1024)On Thursday I had a dentist appointment. Previous appointments had been cancelled due to scheduling difficulties and I was determined to make it this time. As Thursday drew near, I realized that forecast wind speeds for Thursday could very well cause interruptions in the ferry schedule leading to yet another missed appointment. Should I risk missing my appointment across the inlet, or should I leave the night before? I decided to leave the night before, drive to Kitty Hawk and stay with friends. I got on the 3:30 Hatteras ferry on Wednesday and got to Nags Head in time to have dinner and visit with friends. The next morning I headed south for Frisco (67 miles away), stopped and did a couple of errands, and got to my 11 am dentist appointment right on time. The winds were still high and nasty squalls were sweeping across the Outer Banks as forecast. The ferries did keep running on Thursday, but since I had been unsure and didn’t feel like dealing with the uncertainty, I had committed to staying another night in Kitty Hawk. So, after my successful and uneventful hour long appointment, I headed back north. On Friday the winds let up and I knew there would be no problems with the ferry schedule. I packed up the car and headed south. I got the 9 am ferry and was only a little late getting to work after a 300 mile round trip for a routine dentist appointment.  Am I complaining? Absolutely not! Scheduling difficulties can be issues when you live on Ocracoke, but the perks of living here out-weigh these occasional inconveniences. My trip to the dentist was more involved than I anticipated it would be when I scheduled it, but I got to run errands, visit friends, drive a beautiful National Scenic Byway and enjoy two relaxing ferry rides. Where else can you go to the dentist and experience all that?
Ocracoke Hatteras Ferry (1024x576) Oregon Inlet bridge Driftwood Ocracoke (1024x347)
Hatteras/Ocracoke Ferry Photo by Karen Rhodes Oregon Inlet Bridge Photo by Lachlan Howard Ocracoke: it takes all types of people to make it the special place it is!

Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department

by opsmuseum
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. The organization has changed dramatically in its short life span. It has needed to adapt to accommodate the dramatic increase in building and traffic on the island. Before the inception of the OVFD, if there was a fire on the island the neighbors came out with buckets in attempt to stop the flames. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Back then there were fewer houses and fewer trees which made containment of fires easier. Today the houses are much more tightly packed together and trees have grown up or been planted for shade and privacy. That makes the firefighter’s job more difficult these days. As a result, the OVFD must constantly upgrade their equipment, recruit new members and undergo training to keep up with the increase of houses, people, traffic and risks. A new fire house was completed in 2014 which allowed them to purchase a ladder truck. The former fire house was too small to accommodate such a large truck and the salty weather would have been too harsh on the equipment if it had been parked outdoors. Prior to the purchase of this ladder truck, the fire chief, Albert O’Neal once said something to the effect of, “If you are on the upper story of a house that’s on fire, you’d better start tying sheets together because that’s the only way you’ll get down.” A sobering thought if you are in one of the taller houses on the island. Today there is a better chance they’ll be able to rescue you (though I wouldn’t recommend testing it out), but there are a few roads that are too narrow for such a large vehicle. A few fires stand out as near misses for the village: Capt. Ben’s fire (look at our Facebook post from March 20th) in the 1970s, an Oyster Creek area fire when the water tower was empty (and the department was working with very little water pressure), the fireworks explosion in 2009, and a fire on British Cemetery Road on a cold winter night in 2010 to name a few. So, this Sunday, April 3rd from 2-4, join the OVFD for a 50th anniversary celebration and congratulate them on keeping Ocracoke standing after all these years!
Old Fire Dept. British Cemetery Fire, Philip Howard Fireworks Fire Joseph Chestnut
Previous Fire Department (photographer unknown) British Cemetery House Fire (photo by Philip Howard) Fireworks Tragedy (photo by Joseph Chestnut)

A Cup of Joe

by opsmuseum
Coffee by the Sea Yesterday I drank coffee…too many cups of coffee. As a result I lay in bed last night with my brain wide awake but my body desperately wanting to get some sleep. Luckily, as my brain buzzed and whirred thinking up lists of things to do the next day, it also clicked through bits of little known island history and came up with a story about coffee or “a cup of Joe,” more specifically. I’m sure you’ve heard that term for coffee before, but have you ever stopped to think about what it means or where the term came from? Why is “Joe” a synonym for coffee? I “Googled” “cup of Joe” recently and was very surprised when one of the first items that showed up was a newsletter written by Ocracoke’s own Philip Howard (full disclosure: he’s my father). Ocracoke’s supposed connection with the term is distant but still interesting. The short version of the story is that a young boy named Josephus Daniels, Jr. lived on Ocracoke for about a year between the spring of 1864 and the winter of 1865. During this time, his father traveled between the Confederate and Union occupied zones to conduct business. Not surprisingly, considering the tensions between the two groups, Mr. Daniels, Sr. (a Union sympathizer) was shot and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter while sailing between Washington, NC and Ocracoke . Shortly after that, his widow moved with her sons, including Josephus Daniels, Jr. to Wilson, NC. As Josephus Jr. grew, he augmented the family income with odd jobs including work at a print shop. This led to a 30 year career in the newspaper business. Eventually he even owned his own newspaper and used it to express his political views. He was a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential candidacy, and that loyalty started him on a new career path. In 1913, despite having very little experience with matters of the US Navy, President Wilson appointed Josephus Daniels, Jr. to the post of Secretary of the Navy. He held the post until 1921 and instituted a number of reforms. One of his (arguably) least popular reforms was to ban all alcoholic beverages from Navy installations and ships. Instead of offering spirits to sailors, they were offered coffee which came to be known as “a cup of Joe” in “honor” of Secretary Josephus Daniels, Jr. Even though today we refer to our coffee affectionately as “a cup of Joe,” I’m guessing the term was originally spat out instead of crooned over the way we do today. So, when you are on the island, visit one of our dedicated coffee shops, grab “a cup of Joe,” and toast the Secretary of the Navy whose young life was molded here on Ocracoke Island! To read the whole story of Josephus Daniels, Jr., visit the Village Craftsmen newsletter written by Philip Howard: ( And, while we would love to be convinced that Josephus Daniels, Jr. was the inspiration for “a cup of Joe,” says it isn’t so, though they don’t have a definitive explanation of how the term really came to be. So, until there is a final answer, we can claim it as our own!
Ocracoke Coffee Magic Bean Slushy
Ocracoke Coffee Co. on Back Rd. Magic Bean on School Rd. The Slushy Stand on Hwy 12

How do you get to the Lighthouse?

by opsmuseum
Ocracoke LighthouseKids growing up on Ocracoke tend to have more freedoms than kids in larger towns and cities. As a result, island children who are roaming the island, hanging out with friends, and working at family run businesses often have a fair number of interactions with visitors in the summer. One of the most common questions islanders (children and adults) get is, “Can you tell me how to get to the lighthouse?” I lived on Lighthouse Road as a child, so I was used to this question and could tell as someone was slowing down toward me what their question was going to be. After I grew up and went off to college, I found myself living for a short period of time on the West Coast. True to my island upbringing, I found a nice little rental on Lighthouse Ave. in Pacific Grove, CA. So, even though I lived on the other side of the U.S., I was still giving directions to a little white lighthouse. Eventually I moved to land-locked, Berlin, Germany. I learned the language, had the public transportation system figured out, and made good friends. One evening right at dusk as I was headed to the subway station, a car slowed down and pulled alongside of me. As they got right up to me, the passenger rolled her window down, leaned out and asked me, “Koennen Sie mir sagen wo Das Litehouse ist?” (basic translation: Can you tell me how to get to the lighthouse?) Needless to say, I was confused. This was one town I lived in where that was not a question I ever heard or expected to hear. So, in addition to the very puzzled look on my face, I looked more closely at the person asking the question. I thought surely it must be someone I knew playing a joke on me. It wasn’t. I also looked around to see if friends were hiding, giggling in the bushes having convinced strangers to play a joke on me. That wasn’t the case either. Finally, my brain processed the interaction enough for me to free myself from my puzzlement and think clearly about my surroundings. It was then I remembered that there was a cute café and coffee shop about two blocks away that served healthy fare with the Americanized name of “Das Litehouse.” Mystery solved, but it made me think I must have been born to direct people to lighthouses of all sorts. So, come in to the museum if you are on the island and can’t find the lighthouse. I’ve had lots of experience directing people there!
Ocracoke Lighthouse, Ocracoke, NC Point Pinos, Pacific Grove, CA Das Litehouse, Berlin, Germany
Ocracoke Lighthouse, Ocracoke, NC Point Pinos Lighthouse, Pacific Grove, CA Das Litehouse, Berlin, Germany


by opsmuseum
Biking on Ocracoke is one of the best ways to tour the village. On the narrow streets and dirt paths, bikes are the perfect way to take in the scenery, breathe the salt air and connect with your surroundings. When we think of biking on Ocracoke, it seems only natural that bikes would have dominated as the popular island form of transportation for a lot longer than cars. However, that is not the case. Even though bikes would have been much easier to transport to the island (especially before the advent of car ferries), it was the Navy that ultimately and unknowingly ushered in the age of bikes on Ocracoke. When the government built the U.S. Navy base here in 1942, they brought some of the first cars to the island. At this time, all the “roads” on the island were sand, not hard packed sand, but deep, soft ruts of sand. They were tricky for cars to navigate, and all but impossible for bikes to maneuver through. Since it’s easier to drive a car on pavement than in sand, the U.S. government built the first road on the island. And, in the subsequent years, more concrete roads were completed. The first Christmas after roads were paved on Ocracoke, many of the local children found bikes under their Christmas trees (think scraggly local cedar trees and not neatly trimmed, farm grown trees). From there the popularity of bikes skyrocketed. Now, kids, adults, visitors, and locals, are all attached to this two-wheeled mode of transportation.
2015.11.AKR.024 Road Paving Kids on Bikes,1955 bikes_at_porch_talk
Soft sand lanes, photo from the Alice Rondthaler collection Paving the road, photo from the Ocracoke Library collection School children with their new bikes, photo by Martha McMillan Roberts for the Standard Oil Co. OPS Museum today surrounded by bikes, photo from the Ocracoke Island Realty website

Shelling on Ocracoke

by opsmuseum
Everyone who visits Ocracoke has a favorite activity. For some it’s visiting our museum, for others it’s eating great food, riding the best wave, listening to local music, meeting interesting new people or just enjoying the soft sound of water lapping against the shoreline. I love all these Ocracoke activities, but my real love and obsession is shelling. It’s fun going out on the beach even if I don’t find anything, but discovering a treasure that has washed up from the ocean makes the visit even better! It’s not always shells that make my heart skip a beat. Occasionally exotic seedpods, shards of sea glass, chunks of coal and sticks of tumbled driftwood appear on the beach. When shelling, my hope is always to find the perfect Scotch bonnet, an elusive tun shell, or an imposing-looking helmet, but even broken pieces have their own beauty and artistic charm. When I find a perfectly whole shell I’m always struck by how amazing it is that it withstood the pounding of the ocean to come to rest fully intact on the sandy shoreline. Winter is the best time for shelling, but treasures can be found all year long, so when you are here next, take a moment to tear your eyes away from the mesmerizing waves to see what treasures the ocean may be leaving at your feet.
Shells Blog Collection Shells coal Shells on beach
Helmet, coral, Scotch bonnet, lightning whelk, sand dollar, driftwood, coal, glass, seedpod, lettered olive, channeled whelk Coal...from a long lost shipwreck? Knobbed Whelk and sand dollar can be found!

The Howard Bachelors Sign

by opsmuseum
Howard Bachelor SignWho remembers the “Howard Bachelors” sign that used to hang in a cedar tree on Howard Street? One of our Facebook fans asked about it recently, so I decided to track it down, not a hard task since my father (one of the bachelors) has it. The sign was created and installed as a prank by a family friend (Marty) in the early 1990s. At that time, my father (Philip), grandfather (Lawton) and brother (Stefen) all lived side by side on Howard Street. My brother was just out of college and had not yet gotten married, my divorced father was charming and now available, and my widowed grandfather always had a twinkle in his eye and a hug for the ladies. Marty conceived of the sign after realizing that the three Howard bachelors were a topic of many conversations. On an island where limited dating options exist, having three eligible bachelors was news to be shared! The sign was only up for a couple of years, but during that time, the bachelors enjoyed the notoriety of being the sign’s subjects. Many, many visitors would stroll down Howard Street to find it, and my grandfather was quick to sneak out of his house to photobomb their photos.  It was a quirky inside joke that everyone got to enjoy.
Howard Sign, Marty in Tree Howard Bachelors PhilipSign2016c
Marty hanging the bachelor sign Philip, Lawton and Stefen Howard The last Howard bachelor