New book examines disasters, heroics surrounding Graveyard of the Atlantic

A book signing for “Outer Banks Shipwrecks: Graveyard of the Atlantic,” the latest work by local author Mary Ellen Riddle, is from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, at Island Books in Duck.

The historical book, which is published by Arcadia Publishing, examines the stories of real life heroism, as well as the tragedies and atrocities that took place in the treacherous waters off the coast of the Outer Banks.

It covers 100 of the more than 2,000 shipwrecks that occurred in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, so named by the sheer number of vessels that went down to the sea due to either human error, piracy, Mother nature or war.

The 128-book contains 187 black and white photographs culled from private and public global collections, including those of the North Carolina Maritime Museum system.

The author researched the book for the better part of a year, scouring archives and conducting an exhaustive search” of relevant records, vintage photographs and personal accounts.

The result is a comprehensive look at one of the most dangerous places in the world to sail, and among the places with the most shipwrecks anywhere on earth.

From the days of the Roanoke Voyages in the 1580s to the 18th century’s Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, to the American Civil War and the assaults of German U-boats, the Graveyard of the Atlantic continues to test the mettle of the men and women who sail through its waters.

“Above all else, you gain an understanding of the heroism that underscores the maritime history of the Outer Banks,” says Riddle, education curator at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Hatteras Island.

The format is reader-friendly with easy to read snippets and incidents presented in alphabetical order, allowing the reader to peruse the book at his or her leisure and walk away with a clear understanding of what happened on any one of the 100 fateful voyages examined in the book.

Riddle — who has lived on Hatteras Island for more than four of the 31 years she’s called the Outer Banks homes — says she was inspired to write the book because of her lifelong “passion for the history of shipwrecks,” coupled with the local tales of human bravery and fortitude against unbeatable odds.

As education curator of a museum dedicated to the history on the subject, Riddle’s knowledge of the area is vast. But she said her research allowed her to better understand why Hatteras is a place unlike any other.

Many of its residents can trace their lineage back to the time of the shipwrecks, and they are understandably proud of the way their relatives exhibited strength in the face of adversity, imminent danger and personal peril.

It’s in the DNA of the island, in the sand, in the waves that crash on shore — and that kind of energy is passed on to others.

“[Hatteras] is incredibly beautiful, both physically and people-wise,” she says. “Everyone sticks together in times of joy and in times of woe.”

Mary Ellen Riddle is the education curator at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Her latest book is “Outer Banks Shipwrecks: Graveyard of the Atlantic,” published by Arcadia Publishing and released in April 2017.

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