By James D. Charlet
When the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island was constructed, it was built on land that USLSS Keeper Richard Etheridge had purchased in 1873 for his new homestead. Later, his existing family cemetery was honored and celebrated.
The Aquarium made the cemetery freely accessible by the public for the first time in three generations. It dignified the site with its own fence and uplit the live oaks planted there over 45 years ago. It moved a U.S. Coast Guard monument to a more prominent spot flanked by four new interpretive panels. The panels seek to draw attention without sacrilege, to treat emotional subjects such as slavery without sensationalism, and to address stakeholders’ concerns with compromising accuracy.1
Another tribute to Etheridge there was created by OBX resident James Melvin. The ten 24-inch x 36-inch oil paintings are displayed on their own wall in the building.
An even more ambitious tribute was the relocation of the 1931 Pea Island Cookhouse to Manteo. It became a small museum to honor the crew and keeper of the Station. It has already expanded to include a stunning life-size statue of Etheridge and a reconstructed boat house. A replica of the Station itself is the ultimate plan. More info at www.townofmanteo.com/ then tab “Attractions.”
Why to Manteo?
The USLSS stations were traditionally placed in remote coastal locations, usually near a small village. It would be from there that the station would draw most of its crew. However, there was no village at Pea Island. When it became by default an all-black crew, most of the black population on the Outer Banks was from Manteo and the Roanoke Island area because of the former Freemans Colony located there following the Civil War.
1 From official NC Aquarium release