Sunset Beach: A History
The Kindred Spirit Mailbox
The weathered “post office” by the sea has been operating for almost thirty years now. What started as a tribute to the beauty and solitude of Bird Island is now an established landmark that thousands of nature lovers visit annually. Hundreds of photographers and artists have trudged to the west end of the island to capture the essence of the mysterious mailbox tucked high in a sand dune, and many a beach walker has rested on the roughhewn driftwood bench. Yours truly has even penned a romantic murder mystery centered around the Kindred Spirit Mailbox.
Before a sand-shifting storm in late 1997 filled in Mad Inlet, you had to use caution when venturing to the spit of land known as Bird Island. Beachcombers have been stranded by the tide because they were drawn to the mailbox and the wonderful letters left inside, begging to be read.
Notebooks, pens and pencils are kept in the mailbox, replenished by a team of secret volunteers, so that visitors can leave messages while they sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. It is an unlikely post box, but over the years the exchange of thoughts and ideas has filled hundreds of notebooks.
The messages often express the writer’s utter contentment with the paradise found here, with the serene beauty of the place, and with the unspoiled wilderness they can count on finding, year after year. Others delve deep into feelings, sharing emotions that run from overwhelming grief to young, exuberant love. It is a favorite place for men to kneel to present their sweethearts with rings. It is a cathartic place to search your soul and purge your thoughts.
Folklore has it that a woman from western North Carolina came up with the idea of the mailbox. Others argue it was someone from New Hope, or possibly a lady from the Sandhills or Lake Waccamaw region. Over the years, the mailbox and its upkeep have been credited to many people; Frank Nesmith being the one most locals favor as he helped plant the first Kindred Spirit Mailbox (it’s had to be replaced a few times) in 1981. But it’s fitting that the “Kindred Spirit” be a mysterious someone who diligently collects the books, then lovingly pores over each one before saving it as a valued treasure from the sea. The anonymity going both ways makes it particularly nice and lends to the mystique.
People have asked what has become of the notebooks that have been collected throughout the years. Several have expressed the desire to own a collection of the poignant notes and ramblings. I can tell you that, having read through many of the notebooks over the years, it would be an awesome task to catalogue even a small percentage of the messages. They are written by different hands, some barely legible due to handwriting and humidity, and they are written in a vast array of languages. And of course, there is no continuity as each missive is either a letter of gratitude, a plea of surrender, a heartfelt prayer, a poem of love, thoughts of desolation, a tribute to a loved one, plaguing inner thoughts, or full blown stories that span page after page after page . . .
How do you get to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox? Due to the acceding nature of the beach and some recent storms, the mailbox is now located in the dunes about a mile and a quarter past the last public beach access at 40th Street. It is close to a pole, but not the tall flagpole you’ll come to first (remember, things are constantly changing at the beach, and the pole as well as the mailbox could be a victim of the next hurricane). It is about an hour walk. So put on your Nikes and Just do it!