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Recap of OBLHS Keepers' Weekend Oct. 12-13, 2007
by Bob DaVia, Membership Chair
Photos contributed by OBLHS Members
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There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your hard work come to fruition. That was evident at our recent annual Keeper’s Weekend when we visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Saturday.  More on that later.Bett Padgett said that the weekend was heralded by many as being the ‘best ever!’  Each year they are the ‘best ever!’ There were nearly 75 members present for Saturday’s events and for the awards in the Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo Community Center. We had members from as far away as Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and Illinois.  Baxter Jones traveled with his family from Mississippi to join us despite his family’s having lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. Baxter is the great grandson of Cape Hatteras Keeper C.C. Miller. This was followed by the giving of awards to members of OBLHS and the community who have helped OBLHS and the lighthouses of North Carolina. These awards are our way of saying ‘thank you’ to individuals who have done extraordinary work within the lighthouse community and have shown great support for OBLHS.Our lively auction is always a highlight of the weekend. Auctioneer Richard Meissner kept the evening flowing and with the additional surprise presentation of a hand-made quilt with individual panels of OBLHS logo and NC lighthouses from Theresa and Rick Ward to Cheryl and Bruce Roberts, this was a memorable event as well as a success. To accomplish such a wonderful weekend takes the help of many volunteers and for them we are grateful. Cheryl said of her quilt gift, “What an honor to receive such a thoughtful gift from Rick and Theresa, both extremely talented in handwork. It is on my bed and I awake each morning to the warmth of their generosity with panels of NC lights and the OBLHS logo near my heart. So genuine.”Many of this year’s participants arrived Thursday night, which gave us the opportunity to explore Ocracoke. As many previous attendees know, our weekends are jam-packed with activities.  Some of our members leisurely walked the beautiful Ocracoke beaches while others visited the quaint shops that lined the village’s main path.  Friday at 3pm, we met Earl O’Neal at the Williams House, home of the Ocracoke Preservation Society. He spoke of the history of Ocracoke and we toured the house to view the displays, including the maritime room, the parlor, gift shop and Civil War Exhibit and artifacts. More information on the Williams House can be viewed on line at their website: http://www.ocracokepreservation.org/  Earl is the revered historian of the island and a walking encyclopedia of its history and culture from wild horses to coastguardsmen. It is truly an honor to sit in his presence and listen to his well researched stories.Next, we met at a Civil War Marker, honoring the men from Ocracoke and Portsmouth that served on both sides of the Civil War. The monument features a picture of Fort Ocracoke and the names of those that served.From the Civil War to the World War II, our next stop took us to the British Cemetery.  During WWII, Britain loaned ships to the United States to help protect American shipping lanes from prowling German submarines. In May of 1942, the HMS Bedfordshire was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat with all hands lost. In following days, several bodies washed ashore and were buried on Ocracoke. Each year, on the Friday closest to May 11th, a memorial service is held at the cemetery, and is attended by the U.S. Coast Guard, the British Royal Navy, and members of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.Our next stop was a visit to the Ocracoke Lighthouse.  A marker at the lighthouse readsThe first lighthouse at Ocracoke Inlet was the 1798 Shell Castle Rock Lighthouse located on an island in the inlet. In such a location - defenseless against storms, tides, and winds - the lighthouse was often inoperative when needed most. Thus, in 1823, it was replaced by this light, the Nation's second oldest still in use. The non-rotating light is 75 feet above sea level and can be seen a full 360 degrees to a distance of fourteen miles. The walls are five feet thick at the base and are made of brick with a mortar surface.Most visitors to the lighthouse are relegated to views of this tower from outside the white picket fence. But we had Earl, and Earl had the keys to the lighthouse! Although we were unable to climb the 86 stairs to the top, it was quite an honor to be able to step inside.  While Earl talked inside the light, others took this time to explore the grounds, a rare opportunity. From inside the grounds, we were able to view the light from many angles. The Double-Keepers Quarters was also opened for us to walk through.After visiting the lighthouse, we all met at the Ocracoke Community Center where Mr. O’Neal gave a PowerPoint presentation of the island’s history. Several memorable slides included the old, primitive car-passenger ferry of the 1940s when several men were needed to manhandle a car onto the boat and float it across water.Next, dinner at Howard’s Pub. Even this late in the season, Howard’s was busy, but everyone relaxed and went on “island time” and chatted as members trickled in at various times. Most of us are old friends but it didn’t take long for new-comers to fit right in. It was so great to see Judy Moon and Cheyenne (Dalmatian), but we missed her best friend and late husband, Leslie “Moonpie.” Many of us finished up our Friday with a Ghost Walk. Phillip Howard and his daughter, Amy, led two groups of OBLHS members, and a couple of stragglers, through the streets of Ocracoke, recounting stories of the supernatural. No doubt this island is haunted! Saturday morning found everyone right back into the thick of things. The 8:00 and 8:30 ferries were busy as we had to travel the sound to get to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Our tour guide, Joe Schwarzer, led us through the displays, the highlight for many of us being the Cape Hatteras Fresnel Lens and pedestal, on display in the museum. If you remember, back in March 2005, the Society donated money, and several members spent nearly a month working with the museum to restore the lens. It is a splendid example of the fine work our society does!This past year, the pedestal was removed from the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and re-united with the lens. Although the project is far from complete, the museum has done an extraordinary job of positioning the prisms that have been located into the new framework. During a behind-the-scenes tour, Joe showed us several artifacts they have recently acquired, including a ship’s flag, a U.S. Lighthouse Establishment blanket, and several more prisms for the lens that have been returned by those who found them decades ago when the lens had been vandalized and visitors took prisms as souvenirs. Some of these priceless prisms are finding their way home to rejoin the lens.  After touring the museum, it was north to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and lunch.  While some of the group ate, many took an opportunity to climb the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. It was a beautiful day to be two hundred feet in the air, looking out over the vastness of the area. Because climbing season had ended the week before, Society members were the only ones allowed to climb, and we were the envy of other visitors to the park. Our President, Bett, handed out many OBLHS business cards to jealous onlookers relegated to terra firma.  Our next stop took us further north to Rodanthe and the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. The most complete U.S. Life-Saving Station in the country; it was built and manned in 1874, becoming the first USLSS in North Carolina. Our hosts that afternoon, James Charlet and Linda Malloy, had us entranced as they recounted what life was like for a surfman at this station. James took us into the boat house and told the story of the British Tanker, Mirlo. In 1918, the Mirlo was sunk by a German submarine and the subsequent rescue of 42 of 51 British sailors is considered one of the greatest rescues of early Coast Guard history. Inside the 1874 Station is the actual lifeboat used to make the rescue. James also told of the unfortunate damage the station received during a lightning strike in August. Temporary repairs, for which the Society donated funds, are in place while additional funding is raised to complete repairs. This is another example of how OBLHS is saving history, this time it is for our sister service, the USLHS.Afterward, Linda—a gentle and humorous character–spoke about what life was like in the Midgett household. She gave us a brief overview of the brogue used in the area, gave us a pop-quiz on some everyday words, and then opened the house for touring.It is a shame that most people in the country will never know the great sacrifice that the families of the Life-Saving Service made. Thanks to the work of James and Linda, and the other volunteers at Chicamacomico, the word is getting out.  At this point, we went across the street to Rodanthe Community Center, for our annual meeting, award ceremony, auction and raffle. The Rodanthe Community Center is housed in the former North River Lighthouse. (For more information on the North River Lighthouse, visit http://www.lhdepot.com/digest/StoryPage.cfm?StoryKey=2621 for a story by James Charlet.)Willard Forbes recounted the history of the building (formerly the North River Lighthouse) which was most fitting as he is the grandson of the last Keeper there. Mr. Forbes brought with him not only a personal scrapbook of vintage stories from various sources about the lighthouse but also a replica of the Wade’s Point Screw-pile Lighthouse that he meticulously made to exact scale from original wood salvaged from the lighthouse after it was destroyed. After an introduction of attending OBLHS board of directors, Keepers and descendants of N.C. lighthouse Keepers, we were given an update by Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray on upcoming projects.Saturday night wrapped up back at Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station for a weenie roast on the beach. About three dozen hearty souls showed up to be under the stars by the beach. We all felt like kids again and got down in the sand by the bonfire and roasted our hot dogs as best we could. Marybruce Dowd, Joan Austin Davis, and Murray Goodwin, all grandchildren of Keepers (Gaskill of Bodie Island and Casey of Cape Hatteras) told us that as kids they always had a roast by a bonfire. Marybruce told us “If you don’t eat a little sand with your hotdog, you haven’t lived!” It was like a night out of the past with these great people. (Note to self: next weenie roast, bring wire coat hangers to do the cooking.)  With everyone reminiscing about the weekend, someone started talking about a recent Hollywood production that took place in and around Rodanthe. The movie is based on a book by Nicolas Sparks, Nights in Rodanthe, and tells of a doctor (Richard Gere) who is traveling to see his estranged son. During his travel, he sparked with an unhappily married woman (Diane Lane) at a North Carolina inn. Come to find out, our hosts for the day, James Charlet and Linda Malloy, have parts in the film. Linda gave a humorous account of how they both became a part of the film due to hit theaters June 2008.Sunday morning found everyone heading home after breakfast. It was hard to believe, but the Keeper’s Weekend had come to an end. We left with fond memories and are looking forward to an even better event next year! Check the 'events link' to find out more!!!

Historian Earl O'Neal gives a walking tour of Ocracoke Island
We are all amazed at the size and the beauty of the restored Cape Hatteras 1854 Fresnel lens in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum!
Dawn Darby, Chris and Henry Gonzalez (of the Chesapeake Chapter USLHS and Janice Thomas gloat in the feat of climbing 268 steps to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse!

James Charlet gives a talk about the rescue of the Mirlo at Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Willard Forbes, grandson of a lighthouse keeper at North River Screwpile Lighthouse, the location of our auction and awards, now the Rodanthe Community Center, gives a history of the building. Doug Stover, Cultural Resource Manager for NPS at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, receives his President's Award

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