Customers often come into the bookstore where I work asking for a history book on Ocean Isle Beach—so many over the last few years that it seemed a shame that there was no longer one in print. Judging by all the history books major publishers are churning out, and their popularity with the masses, readers throughout the country are experiencing a thirst for knowledge about times past. It seemed like a good time to provide a much-needed local history book. Miller Pope, my partner in non-fiction historicals, and I started to plan what kind of book we wanted this to be.
I wanted to tell the story of the everyday working people, not necessarily the lives of the chief developers and movers and shakers, but those of the subsistence farmers and fishermen, the ferry tenders, the storekeepers, the people who ran the motels and restaurants. And I wanted it to encompass the early years, prior to development. To do that, I needed to search out people who lived during those times. Soon, we were contacting people, begging for pictures, and making appointments with those who knew the history.
Bill Benton was the first one to agree to an interview. So I put fresh batteries in my recorder and with notebook in hand (a déjà-vu feeling from the Sunset Beach History book), I went to learn what things were like on O.I.B. when things were just getting started on the island. Over the course of a year, I interviewed everybody we could pin down. When it seemed I didn’t have enough material, I went to talks at the Coastal Museum of North Carolina where twice, we had informal gatherings that included many of the old-timers. I loved the fascinating stories they told and met several people later on for a one-on-one.
I have to say that the hard part of writing a history book like this, one where I can’t really contribute anything myself, but have to rely on others, is finding the path to the people. Not being local myself, and not having lived on Ocean Isle, meant seeking out who to talk to and then convincing them they could trust me with their stories.
Once the interviews were done, it took weeks to transcribe the tapes and compile my notes. Then even longer to glean out the best parts and polish them so the stories flowed. Each story had to be re-read and re-written until I was happy with it, then passed around to proofers who would note mistakes, question parts they didn’t understand, and spot inaccuracies. After I made the necessary corrections I re-read everything again before sending it out to another proofer. By the time I did the final read before printing, I had actually memorized good chunks of the book.
We relied on my daughter and Miller’s son for securing old pictures and Miller was doing his best to make them publishable. In the last weeks before the book went to print, Miller and I worked together tirelessly in front of his computer tweaking things to structure the book the best way possible.
It was exciting when it was all done and ready to be uploaded to the printer, and a huge year-and-a-half long weight lifted off my shoulders. Within a week, it was here and it was no longer just a compilation of endless interview and research—it was a book!
We are proud to offer Ocean Isle Beach: A History and A Remembrance for all those who have been looking for a history book to showcase the stories and the memories of what it was like to live and to grow alongside paradise.
About Ocean Isle Beach: A History and A Remembrance:
This book is about an eight-mile barrier island on the Atlantic coast. It faces due south, on the same latitude as Los Angeles, California. The island enjoys a mild climate and its oceanfront consists entirely of sandy beach. It wasn’t an island until 1934 when it was severed from the mainland by the construction of a section of the Intracoastal Waterway.
What is now Ocean Isle, slept in solitude for hundreds of years, disturbed only by a visit in 1791 of George Washington on his Southern Tour and by the U.S. Coast Guard’s mounted sailors who patrolled the island’s beach in WWll. In the 1920s, the long repose ended with an awakening by prohibition and the jazz age. Young flappers expended energy dancing the Charleston and imbibing bootlegged gin in Ocean Isle’s first commercial structure, a honky-tonk on the island’s welcoming beach.