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hatteras island has a unique history and that our goal Is to preserve the history and to keep our reader's informed of the many changes occuring here on the Hatteras island.
Old Gray House Gifts and Shells

a reflection on the changing values of Hatteras and Ocracoke published in: June of 2002

by dewey parr

Hatteras Time - A reflection on the changing values on Hatteras and Ocracoke "What time is it?" "Do you have the time?'" These questions are asked over and over in many parts of the world. Yet, on Hatteras and Ocracoke they are seldom asked.

Why is there so little emphasis on time when you come to the Islands? Could it be that when you cross over Bonner Bridge or take the ferry to Ocracoke, you enter a new and different time zone in which the values of the past remain fixed in place. Values such as taking time to be nice to people, sharing a pleasant word, accepting people for what they are, or showing a genuine interest in their well-being. There are times, I will admit, when I feel like a stuck record, spinning in the same old place when I repeat over and over answers to the questions visitors ask me. "Where did the people come from who first inhabited these islands? What do people do who live here? What did people do to make a living in the past? What kind of schools do you have? What is the plant out back that has those strange-looking berries? Where is the best place to find shells? Why are all the turtles dying? How long does it take to get to Ocracoke? What is there for me to see?" Of course, the most important question of all that is usually asked is about the best place to eat. My wife, Mary, often chuckles about the question asked her by one visitor to the Old Gray House. The woman asked, "Do those steps go upstairs?"

As I recall, in 17 years of roaming the yard of the Old Gray House and answering thousands of questions, I never have been asked, "What time is it?" Why? Could it be that visitors realize I am on "Hatteras Time."

I have a mind-set similar to that of my ancestors, who had three major times they centered their lives around: the rising sun, the sun directly overhead, and the setting sun. Really, there wasn't much need for a clock. Our watches were not on our wrists. The sun and sea governed our lives. Day in and day out, our activities remained constant. The men worked the sea and the sound from sunrise until sundown. The women kept the home fires burning morning, noon, and night. Life was tranquil and full of family happiness. The evenings were full of entertainment as family and friends gathered to share the excitement of the day. Everyone helped one another and basked in the joy of watching and helping the island children grow.

Over the years, there has been a change in the meaning of the term "Hatteras time." It seems to me that it is no longer a time for one another or to enjoy the beauty of nature. It is now a term used to describe some trades people, the majority of whom have no ancestry on theses islands. When a person says to you, "You have to understand we do things differently here" or "We are on Hatteras time," you better beware.

Now is my time to tell you about a roofer. To appreciate this story you have to understand that in a hurricane prone area there are times when everyone is in need of a roofer at the same time. Hurricanes are what keep a lot of our independent local construction people going. At one time we had an Island roofer that would tell you that he would be there to get the job done for you as quickly as possible. What he would do is be there the first day as promised. Load your roof with shingles and have his crew tear off a small section and start the job. The next day he and his crew did not show up. They were down the road starting another job with the same vain promise. By doing this he would tie up ten jobs so others could not get them. I was one of those unfortunate people who had a stack of roofing sitting on top of my house for two months. During that time he would show up with a small crew and do a little more and then off he would go. This went on and on. You could have heard me a mile away when he said to me one day, "Now you have to understand we do things different here for we are on Hatteras Time. When I finally got through with him I doubt that he used the phrase Hatteras Time as his excuse for being dishonest anymore.

I have only heard two major criticisms about living on these islands other than hurricanes. Those are mosquitoes and workers who seem to be on "Hatteras time." I hear complaint after complaint from homeowners who have people tell them they will be there to do a job and never show up. The homeowner waits and waits, re-contacts the person, only to be told once again that the worker will be there tomorrow and yet never shows up.

When it came to keeping promises the old-timers on the islands had an entirely different concept than many today. If they said, "I will be there in the morning," you could count on it. They would be at your door ready to go to work at sunrise. If they couldn't make it, they sent the kids or someone to tell you why. A promise made by an islander was a promise kept. It was important to them to keep promises. It was a matter of personal integrity. We were taught in our early childhood, through the example of our parents, that the most important thing we had was our word. Our word was our bond. There was no need for written or binding contracts back then. Our word meant something. The greatest compliment you could receive was for someone to say, "He is a man of his word."

In some areas there might well have been a need for better records of promises made by the old-timers to one another. Many a land-battle between families on these islands has been the result of promises made by ancestors that were not recorded. A lot of land deals were done by a mere handshake. That handshake and verbal agreement were as solid as any written. You could stake your life on the word of an islander. Of course, our island forefathers, never envisioned a day when land would be as valuable as it is now and people would be fighting over every inch of it. They gave land to each other, swapped it, and sold it for a little bit of nothing.

When the old islanders did measure anything, it was in yards and they used a "pacer." A "pacer" was someone in the community known for his ability to step a yard. I can vividly recall my Uncle Kendrick Gray, the last of the Gray family to live in the Old Gray House, demonstrating to me that he could pace off a piece of land to the inch. He was short, and he would raise his arms up - one in front and the other in back - and step forward, swinging his arms dramatically, pacing, and counting out loud. Each step was an accurate yard. He was a "pacer" who married a "finder" from the Spencer family of Ocracoke. You probably are not aware, as I wasn't, of the special gift bestowed some islanders, known as the "finders." I once asked Uncle Ken why he called Aunt Helen a "finder." He said she had the gift from childhood of being able to use her toes to find the biggest and best clams buried in the sand or mud on the bottom of the sound.

Things really began to change during the formation of the Cape Hatteras National Park. Park Service officials met with the islanders and led them to believe they would now have a chance to become wealthy because of their land. They also warned them to be cautious of outsiders who would attempt to acquire their land. Land suddenly became valuable and Islanders were no longer letting it go as freely as they did before. Some Islanders who in times past trusted everyone they met now became a little leery of folks whom they did not know.

I well remember the many evening conversations in the Old Gray House after meetings with the Park Service. It was said to me many times, "Sonny, all of us now have a chance to be millionaires. We need to be on the lookout for those land grabbers they told us would be coming to the Island to trick us out of our land." Suddenly, land was valuable and verbal promises made by the old-timers had little or no meaning to some families. There was a mad rush by the younger generation and outsiders to grab what they could. The old island way of a promise and a handshake was gone.

The old ways the Islanders had of doing business became a serious problem for surveyors. Landmarks began to disappear or reappear in new locations. Old roads and access ways, and even unattended family cemeteries, became problems to be solved, either in the courts or the dark of night. The island code of honesty and integrity was now under scrutiny. Through it all, the majority of the islanders remained loyal to the practices of their forefathers and honored the promises they made.

Today, a majority of islanders still believe and practice the old-fashioned concept of keeping promises made and being truthful with others. They are the people who believe that Hatteras an Ocracoke time is a time for doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

A friend recently said to me, "It is a shame that a few rotten apples have spoil the barrel at Hatteras when it comes being true to keeping your word." I think it is shame, that there are those on the Island whose actions dishonor the memories of our honest and upright ancestors. Never forget, actions speak louder than words

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at OuterBanksShells.com

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what islanders did during medical emergencies published in: September of 1998


dewey parr

Oregon Inlet Ferry Schedule

Note:   This article was written September 1998 at the time Dare County was embroiled in a controversy over which hospital group would be granted the right to build the hospital in Nags Head.

The number one concern of those who live on Hatteras Island has always been proper medical care. There was a time when many did not survive on the island simply because they could not acquire medical attention in time. A connecting bridge to the Island, paved roads, medical centers, doctors and 911 were merely a figment of someone's imagination. Prior to the paving of Highway 12, it was a tremendous effort to get anyone off the island to a hospital. I recall medical emergencies in my family when this was a problem. When I was very little my father would have died of pneumonia if he had not been a military man. They landed a Navy pontoon plane in the sound. We watched as they put him on a boat to carry him out to the plane. He was then flown to the Naval Hospital. The Island's practitioner said he had "the sweats." Sweats was an island term for many illnesses. I don't recall too many people dying of things like heart attacks, cancer, or diabetes. The talk I heard was people died from other diagnoses, such as the time Riley died. They said he died from eating a pound of cheese before he went to bed. I love cheese and every time I eat a chunk at night I wonder if it will kill me like they said it did poor ole Riley. I will never forget his wake.

They had the wake in his house the night after he passed away. Back then they buried you the next day. They didn't keep your body on ice or take you away to embalm you. We had no funeral homes or undertakers on the Island. The night of his wake we kids were all watching the adults hovering around the casket. The casket then was a fancy wood box created by one of the Islanders. Brittania, or Miss Brett as she was affectionately called, was sitting in a rocking chair facing the casket dosing off from time to time, as was her habit. They said she was always the first to arrive at a wake, and the last to leave. It was a standing joke that she slept through most of the staying-ups. Now you have to understand that a good old-fashioned sitting-up was in many ways a part of the islands entertainment. When the concept of the wake began in it was not support for the family as much as it was for the protection of the body from insects, rodents and larger animals. Later on, the wake evolved into a time to meet and greet friends as well as show sympathy to the family of the deceased. For us kids it was a time for lots of good food. Everybody that attended the sitting-up brought something good to eat. Someone needs come out with a Hatteras Island wake recipe book. Now the reason I am telling you this is that I am preparing for Miss Brittania's sitting-up story. We kids all loved Miss Britt. She was always hugging and kissing us.

We were, wide-eyed, waiting and watching Riley's homemade casket. Miss Britt was sleeping in a rocking chair directly in front of the casket, probably dreaming about Riley. Suddenly she opened her eyes from her catnap and yelled out, "He is alive! He moved!" I will never know if Riley moved. I know we kids moved, fast as lightning, out the door. Another story that my dad and Lupton Gray used to love to tell was the time that Miss Brittania fell asleep at a sitting-up and they moved her and the chair out onto the front porch. Supposedly she remained there for a long period of time only to wake up with everyone peeping out the door at her. According to her granddaughter she used to laugh about that one herself.

Whenever I pass Mr. Johnny and Miss Britt's old home place, now owned by her granddaughter, I always think of the many stories they used to tell about her. It might be of an interest to you to know that her old home has a historical significane in that it originally was in Kinnakeet (Avon). In 1901 Mr. Johnny disassembled the house and floated it by boat to Buxton. They placed it on a cart and pulled it from the sound up the landing road to where it is now. Back then it was an allday effort to get off the island. In a medical emergency your choices were very limited. It was boat, plane, or a sand road. You could go by boat across the Palmico Sound, which didn't really mean much because when you got there major medical help was as limited as it was on the island. Of course to take off by boat you had to take into consideration there could be a sudden sound squall or the boat might stall. In fact it might have been better to take your chances of recovering from your illness on the island rather than sinking into the sound. I remember well one time when Mom and I were headed for Englehart on the mail boat. We got out into the middle of the sound and the boat stalled. We bobbed around like a cork for a long time until they repaired the engine. Picture yourself, very ill, in that circumstance.

The most used means of escape from the island was the treacherous drive up the beach. I realize it is hard to visualize today what a chore it was before we had a paved road. You planned your trip up the beach according to the tides. Sometimes you had to run the wash in the event that there had been an overwash. You rode awhile. Then you got out in sand and pushed. Hopefully if all worked well you made it to Toby Tillett's wood ferry before his last run to get across the inlet. Once across the inlet you were home free as you made your way to the hard road beginning at Whalebone Junction. It was there the rack of whalebones awaited you at the intersection.

The beach ride I remember the most was the time when I had appendicitis and had to have an immediate operation. We didn't have a doctor available on the Island to tend to my little tummy. They loaded me up in a wagon and headed up the beach for the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth Virginia. After a long hard drive up the beach, with my mother hovering over me, we made it across the wood ferry past the rack of bones at whalebone Junction. We reached the paved road and were well on our way until we came to the wood bridge at Southern Shores. A storm had passed through and cut out a section of the bridge. Some way, somehow, they went through the Duck area and got me to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital. By that time my appendix had ruptured and I was as a sick little boy for awhile.

Just recently I took another ride up the beach, but that ride was a lot different from the time I had appendicitis. In the middle of the night I began to feel pressure like someone was pressing down on my chest. My fingers in my left hand were numb and there was a numbing all round my lips and a funny feeling in my body that said "Hey! Old man things are not right with you. You'd better get help quick". I did by dialing 911. Now if this had been 1930 they would have been having a wake for me and they would have probably said he died of side pleurisy. Thank God this is a new Hatteras when it comes to medical attention. A Hatteras that has around the clock emergency service that is equal to any area. With the help of our (EMS) staff I was soon on the way, strapped onto a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, for a three-hour ride to the Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City. This time I didn't have my mother hovering over me. I had a trained technician by the name of Rita ready to administer whatever emergency measure needed to keep my heart ticking. Hope you never have to take this ride but I will tell you the EMS workers are probably the most pleasant and accommodating people you will ever meet.

In many case it is necessary to transport you by helicopter. Those who have had this experience tell me it is a much more pleasant ride than the ambulance. The people of Dare County need to consider themselves really fortunate. According to Skeeter, Dare County Public Safety Director, ambulance service is provided free for every resident of the county, and the helicopter is free to residents and nonresidents. You are asked to sign your name giving them the right to collect from whatever insurance you have and they will take what they can get and not bill you for the balance. This is a tremendous help to those who live on fixed incomes in this area. It might be of an interest to you to know that in the year 1997 Dare County provided 263 helicopter and 9558 ambulance rides.

Editors Note:   Things have changed since this article was written and published. . I now carry a transportation policy at a cost of $400.00 per year to avoid huge medical transportation bills. It has cost some of my friends as much as $8,000.00 to get off the Island during a medical emergency.

I love to remember the good old days and all the good times associated with the island. But when it comes to the area of medical attention, I am grateful for all the changes that have occurred and appear to be on the horizon. It is wonderful to know that no longer do we have to move our elderly citizens off the island to stay with other family members, as I did with my mother, so they can obtain immediate quality medical help. There is a possibility of an Outer Banks Hospital being built soon. That is if it doesn't get embroiled in politics and delays due to appeals. There was a time when doctors didn't want anything to do with the island because of the isolation and poor people. Now they are fighting over which group is going to be build the hospital to serve the county and the Island. I guess Hatteras has finally emerged as a part of the affluent society, whatever that is. It is strange to me that there is so much pressure being brought by two hospital groups who purport to be not for profit to influence the powers that be to certifiy them to build the hospital. From all appearances it looks like the Outer Banks Hospital Inc. group, associated with the Pitt County Memorial Hospital, in Greenville, NC has the politicians in their hip pocket. The other group connected with the Albermarle Hospital in Elizabreth City seems to be preferred by the general public. Will it be the public or the politicians? Hatteras Island along with the rest of the Outer Banks will definitely be watching and waiting to see if a decision based on the evidence of what is best for the citizens of Dare County rather than what will profit the hospitals or politicians.

I would like to leave you with a suggestion to prepare you for your unexpected emergency trip. I know help is as close as 911 but that doesn't mean much if they have trouble finding you. Be sure you have your emergency house number posted on your house. It is not something you do if you want too. Law carrying a penalty of $50 or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days mandates it.

Editors Note:   Permission to build the hospital was given to the Outer Banks Hospital group. The same group that now owns the Clinics on Hatteras Island.

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at OuterBanksShells.com

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Hatteras and Ocracoke eggs
the day that eggs closed cape point
published in: may of 1995

hatteras and Ocracoke Eggs

The Day That Eggs Closed Cape Point

dewey parr

Eggs have always played an important role in the lives of the people who live on the Islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke. Everyone who grew up on the Islands knew there would have been a void in our daily diets without eggs. Every morning it was my chore at my Buxton home to go out to cautiously check the chicken house to see if the old hens had blessed us with some eggs. I learned from experience I was not the only one that gathered eggs. Often I would encounter a snake, cat, coon, or fox that also was fond of eggs.

My mother would make good use of the fresh eggs by preparing a pan of cornbread or other goodies. If we had extra I would run them up to Grandmother Grays. Another event centered on eggs was the annual Easter celebration. We had fun coloring eggs. Every year at the Church there was an Easter Egg Hunt for the smaller children. It wasn't a big affair because there were not that many of us but it was always something to look forward too. As we got older we had the fun of helping to prepare the eggs and hiding them for the smaller children.

Just a second ago, without knowing I was reminiscing on my computer about my egg days, my wife was fussing at Buster, our domesticated wild cat, about sitting himself in an empty box she was getting ready to use. He loves boxes and curls up in everyone he can find. She told him he was a "rotten egg".

I am sorry to say we have a lot of rotten eggs visiting our Islands these days. These are the types of rotten eggs that are causing problems for the future enjoyment of the Islands. I am referring to people who have no respect for the protection of our wildlife and plant life. Many of them will plow right through a turtle nesting or bird enclosure area crushing the eggs. In recent years we have even had reports of individuals deliberately taking the turtle eggs from the nest. There was a rumor going around that it was the Mexican population doing it. It was said they ate them as an aphrodisiac. Of course this was not true. Our Mexican population are fine upright people who love these Islands as much as we do. Since the rumor that turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs I have had some doubts about some of the native Islanders. Can they be trusted around turtle eggs anymore? I have a couple friends who get a gleam in their eyes when you mention turtle eggs.

Sea Oats (Unila paniculata) help to maintain the dunes. They catch the wind blown sand. They have a very long root system which stablizes the sand. When you cut a sea oat you are helping to destroy the Island. Please Do Not Cut Sea Oats.

Destruction of turtle and bird nesting areas has nothing to whether or not the eggs are from an endangered species. An egg is the beginning of life and needs to be respected and protected from useless destruction. When you hold an egg in your hand you are holding the beginning of something's life. Children growing up on these Islands did not disturb a bird or turtle nest. There was an inherent respect for the egg. Before the Park Service came there was no need to rope off bird or turtle nesting areas. Islanders did not disturb them. I can recall that when we came upon a nest with eggs in it we did not touch it, but waited and watched to see the marvel of nature when a new life would emerge. I was told that if you touch a nest the momma bird would not come back to it and you would be the cause of some baby not being born. What fun it was to watch this great miracle and see new life emerge from eggs and begin to move about in the beautiful environment of these Islands.

I consider us to be fortunate on these Islands to have those dedicated in the National Park Service to protecting our wildlife so that future generations will have the same pleasure we had growing up on Hatteras. Everyone should thank the National Park Service for providing the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to bask in glories of nature as the result of a little egg. To see baby turtles peel back their eggshells and make their way to the ocean is an experience every child needs to witness. It is as exciting as any major sporting event. Our National Park Service needs to spend more time-sharing this type of experience with the public.

It seems the National Parks Program of sharing the Islanders unique way of life and the glories of the natural beauty of the Islands in their summer programs is gone. I remember well the many evenings we attended the open-air sessions out by the Cape Point Campground with the Rangers on the beach to listen to their talks about our beautiful Island. Many times they even had older locals telling their experiences. They shared with us things that we who lived here had not taken the time to appreciate or did not fully understand. They told my children, as did other Islanders, the importance of protecting the wildlife and their babies. We came away from those meetings feeling good about our Island and thankful we had a part in bringing the National Park Service to Hatteras Island. Somewhere, somehow the Park Service seemed to forget about these programs and began to move into more commercial adventures.

Eggs have always been an important part of our Island heritage. Little did we ever think that in later years it would be the egg that would be the cause of ill will between the National Park and the locals and the possible destruction of our Island economy? This came home to us in the summer of 2005 when the National Park threw up a barricade, with armed guards in front of it, blocking us from going to the famed Cape Hatteras Fishing Point because of the piping plover eggs.

I remember that day well for I had just returned from Nags Head. When I pulled into the Old Gray House there was a young reporter from the Virginia Pilot waiting to talk with me. About that time a friend pulled up and said, "Have you heard they closed down Cape Point. We are all going out to the beach to protest." I said to the young lady from the newspaper, " Come on let's go." When we got there what I saw was a shock to me. The Park Service had erected a barricade with armed guards and state and county troopers were there with them. It was if they thought the locals where going to storm the beach and destroy the piping plover eggs they where supposed to be protecting. There was no doubt in my mind that someone in the National Park Service overreacted. The only good thing I see that occurred that day was I gave a young reporter from the Virginia Pilot the opportunity to cover her first major story.

Not only where the local citizens outraged, but also the tourists where upset to the point that many resolved never to return to the Island. Things of this nature have a way of coming back to haunt an area for many years. This act by the Park Service only served to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the general public that far exceeded that of any rotten egg. To add insult to injury this was also the summer the National Park Service ected to not have lifeguards on the Island. It surely was not because of lack of money that ou visitors to the Island had no protected swimming area. The Park Service spent more money needlessly protecting eggs than they would have spent on lifeguards for the many years.

The solution would have been simple, as the new Park Superintendent has indicated. Provide a way to drive around the eggs. As you well know few people in our government think simple. It always requires wasting taxpayer's money.

Throughout history the egg has always been the symbol of a new beginning. Artists and crafters have used the egg to create elaborate works of art to adorn the homes of royalty. While during a tour in the Navy, as a corpsman assigned to a Naval Research Unit, I became aware of how important the egg could be in medical research. The egg is often the medium used to develop vaccines such as the flue vaccine, which we were working on at that time.

It was eggs that divided the locals and the national Park Service. Now let us use the egg symbol of a New Beginning to unite the National Park Service and the Islanders. From this point on there needs to be a concentrated effort on the part of those who were on both sides of the barricade to work together to not only protect the eggs, but return peace an quiet to our beautiful Islands.

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at OuterBanksShells.com

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garments of gray to garments of glory published on: January 19th, 2008

The Muricadae or Murex family of shells is not only the largest but composed of some of the most colorful and unique shells in the ocean. When you visit the Old Gray House this a few of the Murex shells you will see.


dewey parr

Do you remember a time when there was only black and white TV? Do you remember when there were limited numbers of colors available in fabrics? My wife and her friends love to quilt. Some of the old quilts had beautiful patterns, but not much color. Colorful materials just where not available. Today quilters are blessed with having to make decisions what hues of the primary colors to choose for their patterns.

I recall the days on Hatteras when most of the clothing worn was not very colorful. You did not see the beautiful colors in the rainbow being worn by people like you do today. Probably the most colorful items were the feed sacks the ladies used to make clothing. For a short period of about three years of my life I was deprived of the privilege of seeing colors due to a serious eye problem. Everything was Gray or Black with a little white. When I was fortunate enough to come back to the world of color I became more aware of how colorful our beautiful Island is. Nothing can compare with watching our sunrises and sunsets. Believe me it is no fun to have witnessed the colors of this world and then be deprived of it. That experience made me not only appreciative of colors but also more understanding what those who have limited vision are enduring. Take care of those eyes.

Murex Ramosus
Murex brassica. This colorful shell is found from Peru to the California. It is also called the Cabbage Murex. Look close and you will see that it has three brown bands

Imagine living in world of little or no color? What would it be like to live in a world where garments were drab and never seemed to be different from day to day? From what we can gleam from various history sources, people lived that way before a group of people in the village of Tyre, a Phoenician city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, found they could produce a dye from the animal in the Murex shell. Not only did this discovery revolutionize the garment industry but brought great fame and wealth to the Phoenicians. The only sad part about the discovery was that as usual it was the rich and powerful that benefited by it because it was so expensive. It also led to the over fishing of the Murex Shell. Mounds and mounds of crushed smelly Murex Shells dotted the horizon as the industry grew. It is said it took around 10,000 shells to produce the dye for one robe.

This discovery meant little to average people. Sensing the importance of the discovery the ultra rich and the royalty of that day seized the moment and capitalized on the industry. They immediately locked it up for themselves. The rulers of that day such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Nero reserved the color purple for themselves. Only those they permitted could wear Tyrian Purple, so named after the city of Tyre. Nero is supposed to have worn all purple robes and decreed that anyone else that did would be executed. Because of the Murex Shell the fashion shows began. Now at last the high and mighty all over the world could walk the streets of ancient Rome and say to the rest of the world, "Look at me, look at my clothes. I am different from the rest of you. Take note, I am rich and an important person and the purple stripes on my garments show it."

Murex Pecten

Murex Pectin
(Lightfoot 1786)
This strange looking member of the Murex family is also called Venus Comb or Mermaids Comb. Legend has it that it was used as a comb by mermaids and Venus the Goddest of Love . It is also called fish-bone because it resmebles the skelton of a fish.

Murex Alabaster

Murex Alabaster
Chicoreus (Siratus) alabaster, Reeve, L.A. 1845
This beautiful delicate Murex shell is listed as one of the 50 rarest shells in the World.

These are Some of the Many Different Species
of Murex or Rock Shells You Will Find At the Old Gray House

Even the hierarchy of the Church got into the act. Sacred Purple was reserved for the priests and parts of the temples. Among churchgoers the fringe of purple on a garment became a signal to all that the wearer had God's approval. Even to this day there is a quest to determine what species of the Muricidae family or Murex Shell was the one used to produce the sacred purple. I have a friend who told me when she went to visit the Holy Land that there was an aquarium in one temple with different species of live Murex Shells in it. She was told by one of the priests that they were used in experiments to determine which particular Murex Shell was the one that produced the Sacred Purple of the Bible.

After much research it has been determined that Royal Sacred Purple came from one of three species of Murex: Murex trunculus, Murex brandis, and Thais haemastoma. There is a company today that produces sacred strings dyed with extracts from the Murex shell that you can purchase to mark your Bible. I assume it is the fulfillment of the scriptures as well as showing your dedication to God.

Murex Ramosus For many years the Phoenicians had a monopoly on the production of Murex Purple. Their waters were full of Murex shells. As they worked and labored and perfected the art of producing the dye their market expanded. They found as time went on they could produce different hues of the color purple that approached red by controlling the amount of sunlight and adding other alkaline ingredients to the dye vats. When the fluid is first extracted from the shell it is clear with a yellowish tint but when it hits the sunlight it turns purple. The Phoenicians put the extracted solution in salt water not only preserve it, but to reduce the smell. They added other ingredients to control the density of color. They even were known to use urine of the workers in the vats. Can you imagine the pleasure some of the workers had knowing the rich and mighty were wearing garments saturated with their urine.

This domination of the dye market was soon to change. Others such as the Chinese found that their raw silk material adapted well to the dye, so they entered into the picture. Just as our local waters no longer provide us with the abundance of clams and oysters due to over harvesting so did the Mediterranean waters no longer yield less quantities of Murex Shells. This, along with the fact other color fast dyes from insects and chemicals began to come on the scene, the use of Royal Purple was no longer in demand.

Murex Ramosus Murex Ramosus Murex Ramosus Murex Ramosus

These are pictures of local Murex Shells that washed up on the beach with the animal inside. Notice the animal that has withrew inside and closed his trapdoor or operculumn for protection.

When I am walking our beach today it is seldom I find a Murex Shell anymore. When I do it is usually not in great shape. The major difference between our Murex and Mediterranean Murex is that the glands on the shell are near the surface and the fluid can be extracted from them without having to crush the shell. If you have ever held a Hatteras Island Murex Shell in your hand with a life animal inside you can attest the fact that the animal emits a huge amount of mucus or slime from its hypobranchial gland. This was not the case with the Phoenician shell so they crushed the smaller shells and separated the fluid from shell for their dyeing vats. In some cases they were able to extract the dye that produced fluid from the larger shells without crushing them. Can you imagine the smell that arose from piles of rotting shellfish along their shores? Occasionally Cape Point smells from all of the dead fish that line the beach, but nothing like people endured over there. It has been said that when ships used to pass Hatteras they could smell the difference. When Mary and I passed Hatteras coming out of Norfolk aboard ship on the way to the Caribbean we did not smell the difference, but we felt the difference from the rough seas.

When you visit the Old Gray House Shell Shack you will find a variety of Murex Shells available. They are beautiful to look at but in many areas they are not held in high esteem for the animal inside the shell is a predator that enjoys a good meal of clams and oysters. They have the ability to bore holes into the shells of their prey to gain entrance to the meaty delight. We do the same thing at Hatteras only we use a knife to pry the shell open. Should you decide to attempt to collect them all you will find it is an endless an expensive task.

Probably the showiest of all is the large Murex Ramosus which is becoming less and less available each year. I call it the Shell of Royalty. I keep one on display in my home all the time to remind me how the Murex Shell was used to bring our world from garments of gray to garments of glory.

Murex Ramosus - Front view

Murex Ramosus - Back view

Ramosus - The Shell of Royalty

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fish and people published on: december of 2007


dewey parr

Fish illustrations from the book Florida Fishes, copyright Great Outdoors Publishing Co. and used by permission.

When you live on Hatteras Island you cannot help but be aware of fish. Never a day goes by that the word fish is not a topic of discussion. No matter how old I get I will never cease to be amazed by the wonders of God’s creations. The Good Book states, “He gave us dominion over the fish of the sea.” In the Bible you find a lot of references to fish. It speaks of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, which most people just naturally assume is a whale. There are many other mentions of fish such as in the feeding of the five thousand, a coin obtained from the mouth of a fish, and the great catch of fish. It even tells of dietary laws that were enacted concerning fish that were considered unclean and unsafe for human consumption.

I recall the evangelist that used to come to our Buxton Church comparing how we humans in many ways, are like fish. We can be caught or hooked. They spoke of how the old devil would bait his hook with the glitter of the world and dangle it in front of us. Because of weakness or greed we would swallow the hook. Seems like each evangelist had a different version of what kind of bait the old devil used. They all had one thing in common. They concluded that Adam and Eve demonstrated in the Garden of Eden the weakness we humans have in common with fish.



Over the years I have heard Islanders use the word fish to designate the actions of particular people. They would say of a person who doesn’t seem to be able to help himself, “Poor Fish”. I also heard it said of some who couldn’t handle their liquor, “He drinks like a fish”. They also had a saying about company coming. They are like fish. After three days they begin to smell.

When I look at the world of fish I can see in the names applied to them as well as their looks and actions that remind me of people. Together, let us look under the waters of our beautiful ocean and cite a few examples of how some fish remind us of our own actions as well as those of some people we know.

There are two particular fish, that when you look at them, remind you of people with poor attitudes. I am sure when you look closely at these two pictures you will be reminded of someone you know.


Common Or White Grunt

Common or White Grunt


The Goat Fish

The Grunt Family of fish gets its name from the way they make a deep muffled grunting sound that can be heard below and above the water. Do you know some people that when you speak to them all you get out of them is a grunt? They act like they are mad at the world and everybody in it. I have a met a few like this. You say hello and they grunt turn their head away and hurriedly rush out.

Look at the Goatfish. This fish reminds you of people who always have a scowl on their face and never smile or seem to be happy about anything. I heard a lady refer to her husband as the Old Goat. I feel sorry for those with this type of attitude. There is so much in life to be joyous about. We have a little lady that comes into the Old Gray House that seems to light up the whole place with her joyous attitude. It such a joy to see people like her who find something beautiful to talk about and be thankful for all the time. I love those types of people. When you are around them everyday seems special.

This next fish I am sure will bring to mind someone you know. He displays, out in the open, his feelings for all to see. At a moments notice, when provoked, he will swell up and let you know his feelings.


Puffer:also known as swellfish

Puffer or Swellfish

When you are around this type of person it seems when you least expect it they swell up and blast off at anyone around them. They are always ready to spew out their wrath on anyone that near them. It seems like such a shame to waste all that energy on trivial matters. They definitely need to heed the admonition to be “slow to wrath.”

There are three close-knit buddies that roam the ocean waters that keep up on everything that is going on. They flit here and there and never seem to miss a trick. Look closely at these fish and see if you are familiar with the traits they possess.




Longnose Gar

Longnose Gar


Large Mouthed Jawfish

Large-Mouthed Jawfish


Are you familiar with people who take it on themselves to judge others? Some people try to find out everything they can about another person, or stick their nose in other peoples business. It has never bothered me for a person to be like the big eye and find out about my personal business, but it does bother me when they are like the large mouth jaw fish and blab it all over the neighborhood. I think the looks of these three friends of the sea are enough to tell us we need to avoid looking like them. We all need to be reminded that the Good Book says, “Judge Not”.

Since we started our shop I have encountered a lot of married men in particular who have the traits of this next fish. They seem to want everything for themselves and nothing for their wives. They think nothing of purchasing an expensive rod and reel, golf clubs or whatever they want. Often they will tell their wives they cannot have an inexpensive item they want to purchase for themselves. Only one time, in the seventeen years we have been open, have I heard a woman tell a man he could not have something he wanted.



Do you know anybody that is so selfish that they want to hog it all for themself?

This next little guy gets his name from his slick body that just seems to skip through the water.




I guess in many ways we all tend to possess this trait. We skip this and that intentionally or otherwise. Most of us have the philosophy to never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I remember one time I forgot or skipped remembering to get something for our anniversary. It was a costly lesson for me. It cost me $500.00 to get out of the doghouse. My advice is don’t skip doing what you know you should be doing.

See if this next fish reminds you of someone you know.


Bighead Sea Robin

Bighead Sea Robin

Have you ever met anyone that had the big head or was so conceited it was ridiculous? I have. I met a person one time when I was in the Navy that thought he was God’s gift to the world. He only talked about himself and how smart he was. He constantly spent his time in front of the mirror flexing his muscles and primping. Little did he know that the other sailors where always behind his back laughing and mimicking him. When it came time for us to leave the ship to go ashore he would douse himself with cologne so strong that you could smell him a mile away. I guess his philosophy was he didn’t just want people to look at him, but smell him coming. There is nothing wrong about thinking highly of yourself. When it becomes an obsession it needs to be controlled.

Now this last fish has the distinction of being considered as one of the world’s most desirable fish. It is admired for its beautiful colors as well as the gentle way it glides through the waters.


Paradise Fish

Paradise Fish

The Paradise fish is symbolic of the attitude we should possess. In the many years Mary and I have been dealing with the public we have learned that true beauty comes from within and not without when it comes to people. People come in all colors, sizes and shapes. The only real difference between them is how they perceive themselves and the other people around them. It is our hope that we, along with others we meet will acquire the true Hatteras Spirit of being a joy to all.

As you can see fish in many ways resemble people. A fish for many years was a symbol for those who followed the Great Fisherman. During the persecution of the Church if someone drew half of a fish in the sand you would draw the other half to let them know you were a follower of The Great Fisherman. When you draw the symbol of the fish you are also revealing that you cherish the things of God above the things of the world. Here is my half. Can you draw the other?

Picture Of The Drawing Of Half A Fish.

Here is the one half of the fish, can you draw the other half?

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fifty years of clashing currents published on: July of 2003


dewey parr

Cape Point Have you ever stood, on a stormy day, at Cape Point on Hatteras Island and watched the clashing of the currents. It is a breath-taking scene to behold. The waves clash together, sending water twenty feet or higher that fan out in the air like an umbrella. One after another they come together leaving the watcher in a state of awe at the majesty and strength of the mighty ocean. I have been watching this magnificent miracle of nature since my childhood on the Island and I find it as refreshing in the new millennium as I did back then.

Once you behold this phenomenon of the sea you can readily understand why the Outer Banks is known as the land of shipwrecks, wind, and mighty waves. Off the coast of Hatteras two currents come together, one from the north called the Labrador Current, and the other one from the south known as the Gulf Stream. These clashing hot and cold currents along with the air currents make the Outer Banks area a fascinating place to work and play. On some days the currents bless us with mild tropical weather and other days they become violent and provide us with an angry ocean that spews forth its wrath upon all that gets in its way. It is often said by those who live on the islands if you don't like our weather just wait twenty minutes and it will change. The Islanders have learned over the years to respect and admire the ever changing currents. One might say the people of Hatteras and Ocracoke have learned to live in harmony with the ocean. There is a mutual understanding between the two. Each knows their limits and boundaries.

Often, as I stand looking at the clashing currents, I cannot help but think how wonderful it would be if the National Park Service and the Islanders could also learn to live in harmony with each other. Ever since the beginning of the Park Service in 1953 it seems like all I can remember is the constant clashing of the currents between the locals and National Park Service Personnel. Things go along smoothly just as it does with the ocean and then suddenly there seems to be a shift in the wind and you can see the water begin to churn and the currents spewing forth its wrath. The shift in the wind is often caused by some member of the park service team making rash statements or judgments without any consideration of how it might affect the lives of those who lived on these islands long before there ever was a park service.

Cape Point I recall, evening after evening at the family gatherings in the Old Gray House listening to stories of how the park service betrayed the Islanders by not keeping the promises they made in the beginning in the meetings with the locals. When the park service first began they had meetings with the locals and made promises that they would not ever interfere with the Islanders access to the beach. The beaches would always be open and free to the public. They definitely stated, according to my family who was present at the meeting that they would not in any way stop them from hunting in the woods or fishing. They were also were led to believe they would get rich, because they would become the custodians of the many tourists who would come to the Islands. At the meetings they where warned to be on the look out for wolves in sheep's clothing who would be trying to acquire their land. Many Islanders still have copies of the letter that was sent to them by Conrad L. Wirth, the National Park Service Director at that time. Not long ago when the park service superintendent, was questioned at the Anglers Club about these written promises he made it clear past park services promises were no longer valid.

At first everything went along fine. In fact many of the Islanders, being the generous people they are, even provided land to the park service in exchange for what was to be a fair price. A member of my own family, who had beach property, soon learned that there seemed to be little that was fair in dealing with the National Park Service. To put it bluntly the feeling of many locals is that when it came to acquiring land it was the Park Service that was the wolf in sheep's clothing. Little by little the Park Service and its personnel began to take the attitude that they were much smarter than the Islanders and they needed to begin to establish rules and regulations to keep the Islanders in check. Many Islanders tell tales about employees hounding them. They tell how they were followed watched. It became a game between the Park Service and Islanders to see who could outsmart the other. It was a little like the adventures of the roadrunner cartoon. Granted often it is true. The locals needed to be reminded that the land owned, or taken, by the park service, as some would say, was no longer theirs to use as they well pleased, but now belonged to the entire nation. But on the other hand it was not proper for the Park Service Employees to act so high and mighty and flaunt their education. Their, "we no what's best for you", attitude not only showed their lack of a proper education, but led to a constant clashing of the waves. To put it in the local's language, "they had book learning but no common sense".

Cape Point on Hatteras Island Even to this day after fifty years, the gap between the park service and the locals continues to widen. The currents run hot and cold clashing furiously together causing some locals to froth at the mouth at the mere mention of the Park Service. Recent events with the moving of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse showed what some called the insensitivity of the Park Service in their approach to what should have been a mutual agreement by all parties concerned. Everyone had the same goal of saving the lighthouse. There was no avenue provided to communicate those feeling with each other. The appearance the Park Service gave, whether it was a deserved one or not, was we are in control and we will do what we want and we don't care what you think. Granted many of the locals jumped to their feet in a rage just like the waves clashing at the point and began to question the validity of moving the lighthouse without considering other less costly alternatives. Without any hesitation the public perception that seemed to permeate the air from the Park Service personnel towards the locals was, if you question or don't do it our way you are either a selfish business person or a would be self appointed historian, who has little or no knowledge of what is best for these Islands. Rumors began to fly and brash moves by some Park personnel who appeared to be disseminating their own form of propaganda began to infuriate the locals even more.

One incident in particular that bothered me was when an uniformed park service person stopped an elderly lady coming out of a local grocery store and scolded her for wearing a, Don't Move The Lighthouse Button. Others began to report that they were told to remove, Don't Move Stickers, from their vehicles or face possible prosecution for driving across park service land. Tourists came into our shop sharing with us statements made to them by park rangers about the locals who opposed the moving of the lighthouse. As is the case in most controversial issues, I am sure there where gross exaggerations on both sides, but nevertheless in my estimation the Park Service Administration did a poor job in controlling their troops and communicating with the public. Probably the best thing the Park Superintendent could have done for public relations at that time would have been to put a sock in the mouth of some of his employees who felt it was their job to straighten out the locals.

During this time period as many of you well remember many expressed their concerns not so much about moving the lighthouse but the future erosion problem that would occur at the entrance way to Buxton. They felt it would imperil their homes and the entire village of Buxton, if the Park Service continued with its philosophy of not replenishing or maintaining the dunes and the existing groins. Predictions were made that the moving of the lighthouse without a beach nourishment program would be the beginning of an inlet above Buxton. It was also predicted that the moving of the lighthouse would be the beginning of a fee system and limited access to the beaches.

As I now look through the mist, at the clashing currents, I see in the future that the lack of continual beach nourishment, and the rising oceans due to global warming, will result in Hatteras and Ocracoke no longer being single islands but a series of small islands that are cut asunder by the clashing currents and waves. For Hatteras Island I can see five islands with Rodanthe and Avon being the largest one. Buxton and Frisco will be a single island, and poor little Hatteras village will be all alone. I am not sure what Ocracoke will be like but I think there will two or three separate islands.

It is true that when I asked the question of our new Superintendent at the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, "Can you envision a time when we will no longer be able to drive the beach?" he answered. "No." A further question that I feel I should have asked is do you ever envision a time when only a limited number will be allowed to drive the beach at a time. I think an honest answer from the Park Service would be, YES.

A good example of improper communication between the park service and the locals is the problem shared with me by a local commercial fisherman. When they pull in their nets on the beach if they are caught with illegal fish in their trucks or nets they can be fined. They are not allowed to take illegal fish off the beach by the marine enforcement agency and the park service will not allow them to leave them on the beach or to put them back in the water. Sounds impossible to me that some local commercial fishermen feel that the National Park is deliberately doing everything they can to hurt them.

Hatter Island Lighthouse The other morning as I drove past the area where the lighthouse used to be. I accepted the fact no longer would I ever see the lighthouse with the ocean and the sunrise behind it again. Now I cannot change the fact the lighthouse has been moved. I have learned to cheerfully accept and adjust to the changes in my health and I will do the same thing about the lighthouse and the fee system that is being instituted to climb it and eventually a fee to drive the beach. Admittedly I will probably pay the fee only one time to go to the top of the lighthouse. That will be out of curiosity to see if I can see my house from the top. My wife says I need to be careful when I do so because the Lighthouse might throw piece of the steps down on my head.

The many tourists who visit our beautiful islands for the first time every year will not pay any attention to the location of the lighthouse. They will pay the fee, climb the lighthouse, and go home singing the praises of the Park Service who saved the mighty tower. The only people that the fee might bother are people like a friend of mine who comes to the island every year and climbs the lighthouse twice a day. He had always been in the habit of giving a dollar donation every time he climbed it. He will not pay a fee twice a day. It could also bother families with lots of children. On the other hand, they might do like my wife and I used to do when we didn't have the money to spare. We did not go ourselves but let the kids go.

I think it is time for the Islanders to swallow our bitter pills about moving the lighthouse, land deals, and past comments by Park Service Personnel. We need to hope that as time goes on that the Cape Hatteras National Park Service and the Locals will be able to work closer together to implement plans to preserve what will be left of the island after nature whittles it down. As I see it the goals of the locals and the park service are basically the same. The problem seems to be there is not an avenue of communication between the two.

It seems to me it would behoove the new park service superintendent to set up a standing committee composed of locals, business, and community leaders to discuss the issues that are confronting the Islands. Prior to implementation of something as drastic as a fee to use or drive the beach, definitely needs to have community evolvement. It could devastate the economy of the entire region. Somewhere along the way we need to keep the currents from clashing.

We have a new Park Superintendent. He seems to be diligently working hard to mend fences and work closer with the Islanders. This is a refreshing change from what we have had in the past. There are many things that have happened in the past and those things need to be put on the back burner and we need to work with our Superintendent rather than create more clashing of the currents. It is time we put ourselves in his shoes and come to realize his is not an easy task trying to juggle what is in the best interest of the Islanders and the Park.

My Island Mom also added another little statement to her saying when you had to accept something you didn't like. "It is a bitter pill to swallow" and, "it is stuck in my craw". The younger generation, who has never had to kill, pluck and clean a chicken, might not understand the saying, so I will translate it for them in Island terms. Islanders will have to accept the fact the Park Service is here. The lighthouse has been moved. A fee will be charged to climb it. Eventually they will be paying a fee to use or drive the beach, and there will be a limited number of vehicles on the beach. This we must accept. But that doesn't mean we will ever like it.

There is no denying that there are many negative aspects one might have about the attitudes of the National Park Service But there are also many positive. In my estimation the positives outweighs the negatives. Just because we speak out about the things we dislike does not mean we do not appreciate and approve of having a National Park on Cape Hatteras Island. We only speak out because we want what we feel is best for all those who lives on these Islands as well as those who come to visit us.

Fifty Years of Clashing Currents
Fifty Years of Clashing Currents

Recently while watching the clashing currents at Cape Point I asked myself the question, What would Hatteras Island be like without the National Park? It is doubtful if it where not for our Park Service that we would be able to enjoy our wide open beaches. Can you imagine what the real-estate developers would do with the present Park Service land if they had it? Million dollar houses would line the beach with little or no public access to the beach. Even though North Carolina law states the people own the beaches that would mean nothing if you where not allowed to cross over a persons property to get to the beach. There is no law on the books that says a property owner must allow you to cross over their property to get to the beach. Imagine miles and miles of no public access to a beautiful beach that sits there primarily for those who are wealthy enough to own beachfront property. I call it government-financed beaches for the rich. Fuss as we may about this and that about the Park Service, they have provided, not only we who live here, but all who come to these Islands the opportunity to share in the joys of the ocean and the natural beauties of nature.

I wish everyone in the whole world could have the same privilege we have each day of our lives to bask in the sun on a beautiful untouched beach. We can fish, surf, swim, collect shells, sun bathe or whatever turns our crank. The National Park Service is responsible for preserving and protecting our Island Paradise. We need to count our blessings and come to realize just how important the Cape Hatteras National Park Service is to maintaining our personal happiness. It is rather nice to have a beautiful park as it where in your back yard

This old world is full of turmoil and unrest, but thanks to National Park Service Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands are places of peace and tranquility. Our former Island ways have been maintained as a result of the Park Service. The many history and nature walks and talks they offer will tell future generations of the natural beauty and cultural aspects of these Islands.

My wife and I have a lot in common with the Park Service for we are both celebrating our fiftieth this year. Mary and I will be married fifty years this year and our Park is fifty years old. WE SAY, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAPE HATTERAS NATIONAL PARK .....WE LOVE YOU."

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