Outer Banks storytelling traditions and digital technology have joined together in Coastal Voices: Linking Generations, a collaborative project that has transformed access to interviews with Hatteras and Ocracoke residents.
Linking Generations is an online collection of 49 oral history interviews conducted between 1978 and 2004 for the Southern Oral History and the National Park Service Cape Hatteras National Seashore Ethnohistory Project. The exhibit includes audio recordings and written transcriptions.
Coastal Voices, a regional oral history program of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, provided digitization of the interview recordings on loan from the Outer Banks History Center and developed the online exhibit. The Outer Banks Community Foundation funded the project.
The transcriptions are popular with researchers interested in specific places, people or events described in the interviews, but the voice inflections and pauses heard in the recordings convey emotion and meaning. Listeners also hear local dialects that have largely disappeared.
Linking Generations is a rich source of first-hand accounts of events and experiences that aren’t recorded in official documents. Narrators tell their stories in their own words, generously sharing deeply personal accounts that build a powerful picture of community life, as evident in the following edited interview excerpts.
Margaret Willis, Frisco:
“My dad sent us upstairs with my mom. And then the sound tide started coming. And it got so bad that the waves were breaking on the back of our house and spattering in the upstairs window. It washed everything out of the house. And Ronald Stowe’s party boat went through our yard. Looking out the window, you couldn’t see anything but water. I was so scared, I thought we had washed out into the sound. Our house washed off its blocks and the Red Cross came and put it back for us.”
David “Lance” Midgett, Waves:
“In the old days, the doctor would come down from Manteo. He’d fly down. There was an old landing strip and cow pen between here and Salvo. The cow pen had fifteen cows. It was fenced off on three sides and then the water. The piper cub landed in that. The pilot stayed to keep the cows from licking it to death while the doctor made calls.”
Gibb Gray, Avon:
“I saw one big explosion in the middle of the night. The house shook bad and my dad said a ship had been hit. I could see the red glow. We learned later it was the City of Atlanta. Another time the school got lashed with another violent explosion and looking down towards the lighthouse, we saw the smoke, the black smoke boiling up. That was the Dixie Arrow. It was an exciting time that happened all of a sudden, with the war right at our doorstep. The Army cavalry on horses was here for patrol duty between the stations. That was the last time the cavalry horses were used. They’d come on train from Little Washington and they’d put the horses on a barge when they got to the Pamlico.”
Douglas “Chubby” Dorris, Frisco:
“One thing that sticks out in my mind was Monday, regardless of the weather, was always wash day and bean day. Grandmamma didn’t have the scrub board no more, she had the wringer washing machine. That wasn’t only at our house, that was the whole neighborhood. Monday was washday, it was like a tradition. You didn’t do nothing on Sunday. If you wanted a blouse or a shirt ironed, you better have it done Saturday. Granddaddy hardly ever raised his voice, but he’d better not catch you plugging the iron in on a Sunday and he wasn’t a real religious, church-going man. Now you couldn’t plug the iron in, but he always had a poker game every Sunday afternoon at his fish camp where he kept his nets stored.”
Lucy Stowe, Hatteras:
“Instead of getting to Atlanta, Georgia, they put me right on the weather station here at Hatteras. Gave me about a week’s training. This is a thermometer and that’s a barometer and this is a barograph. The next year we put in pilot balloons that we tracked with a theodolite, getting wind direction and velocity aloft. Then maybe the next year they put in the radiosonde. Then after World War II when radar became available, that really changed the ways of reporting weather.”
Elizabeth O’Neal Howard, Ocracoke:
“My grandfather was an old sea captain. He was in Charleston, South Carolina, in the very beginning of the Civil War and he decided that he was going to make a run for it. The port captain told him that he didn’t have a chance, that he’d never make it. But he got on the boat and snuck out of Charleston during the heaviest of the bombardment. Came to this inlet and went on up to the Roanoke River and sunk the boat. Only the top of the mast was sticking out, and he took the sails ashore and buried them. He said no damn Yankee was going to get that boat. Then he came home and the boat rested there until the Civil War was over. Then he took barrels and pontooned it. I guess that’s the right word, but that’s how he got it out.”