Saturday, November 17, 2007

Author's Note and Prologue

Author's Note

The Civilian Conservation Corps work mentioned in this story actually took place. In the 1950's, this work was completed and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore opened to the public. Multitudes of people vacation along the Outer Banks of North Carolina each year.

The characteristics the Outer Banks make it difficult to protect the area from nature. They are basically a chain of sand bars along the east coast of North Carolina. The Atlantic Ocean lies on the east and Pamlico Sound lies to the west. At times the ocean water washes into the sound and back to the ocean. This makes the area very vulnerable to bad weather and hurricanes.

The beating surf and fierce undertow cause serious erosion which threatens the coastline. Local inlets shift from south to north with each passing season. Over the years, especially fierce hurricanes have closed some existing inlets while they create new inlets. Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet are the most notable examples.

People and events from real life and my imagination inhabit this story. It offers a glimpse into the rugged coastal experience people enjoy when they visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It also illustrates the changes in this stretch of coastline in the last fifty years.


Anyone who has read much non-fiction or history about the Outer Banks of North Carolina should be familiar with David Stick. He has written numerous books about the region. These books tell us why this stretch of the eastern seaboard is called the graveyard of the Atlantic. The reader learns about various events and people over several hundred years along with his personal experiences living in this picturesque area.

He is best known as an Outer Banks historian. Many documentary specials about the area contain at least one interview with David Stick. In addition to being a renowned historian, he was also the first licensed real estate broker on the Outer Banks. His company, Southern Shores Realty, was instrumental in developing the town of Southern Shores between 1956 and 1970. This is the same town where he served as mayor.

But, was David Stick the only person in his family to assist in the development of the Outer Banks? If we research back a little further we learn about his father. David Stick followed in the footsteps of his father Frank Stick. In 1929, Frank moved to the Outer Banks. He was an artist and became an entrepreneur on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In the 1930's Frank Stick knew Dare County was on the brink of bankruptcy. He wasn't the kind of man to stand back and watch the area go belly up. Love for the area prompted his desire to discover a way to regenerate the Outer Banks in addition to finding a way to protect and preserve the natural beauty of the area. Was there a way to bring in tourism revenue while still being able to preserve the things he loved about the area?

One of the biggest problems on the Outer Banks was transportation and the difficulty in getting from one area to another. To remedy this immediate problem, better roads and more bridges were needed. In truth, any paved roads would be a big improvement. Travelers were met by sandy paths which led in all directions and many went in circles. Many areas along the lower Outer Banks were isolated from the upper Outer Banks and the mainland. Bridges were a more effective way to connect the barrier islands which make up the Outer Banks. Sporadic and slow ferry service could only transport a limited number of people per day.

The barrier islands presented various difficulties. These flat and low-lying sandy islands had no protection from the rough surf that eroded the sand and would wash out any new roads.

Frank Stick worked with Washington Baum and they made some progress. Mr. Baum chaired the Dare County Commission and could help the project. In 1928 a toll bridge linked Manteo and Nags Head. This allowed people to travel from the mainland to the beach. Soon, a toll bridge connected lower Currituck County and Kitty Hawk. This provided two routes for tourist to reach the upper portions of the Outer Banks. Although, there was still no good way to access the lower section around Buxton, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

In 1933, Frank Stick unveiled his plan. Cape Hatteras would be the focal point of a National Seashore that would extend over 100 miles. It would begin just south of the Virginia state line and extend past Cape Lookout, NC. The small villages scattered along the coastline would remain separate from the National Seashore. Several wildlife refuges were located throughout the area.

The first paved highway would extend the full-length of the seashore and bridges would link the islands in order for tourists to experience everything the area had to offer. Large sand dunes could provide protection for a paved road and would be aesthetically pleasing. Bridges would provide a better way to link the islands. The plan offered a chance to increase tourism and provide thousands of jobs.

What better time to promote this idea, than in the middle of a nationwide economic depression? The government saw the plan as a wonderful way to provide employment for thousands and they bought existing bridges in the area and removed the tolls. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore Commission bought land needed for the project. There was some animosity about how this was handled by people who owned property in the area which would become the National Seashore.

Frank Stick headed various projects on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. One of the first priorities was to build 115 miles of sand dunes to protect the islands and future roads. The project required 600 miles of fence, 140 million square feet of grass, with two and a half million small bushes and shrubs to build the dunes and anchor them against the forces of nature that would assault them. When the dune line was complete, they built paved roads.

During this time, the United States was experiencing a major economic depression. Untold numbers of people were unemployed in 1932. The people of the United States were desperate for some relief and they needed to find work.

New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to protect the environment, by putting the masses of unemployed people to work. He called an emergency session of the 73rd Congress to announce his plan. Thousands of unemployed young men joined the peacetime army to fight the destruction of our natural treasures. Over three million men worked on the various projects.

Work camps were set up and myriads of young men traveled to areas of the country for specific types of work. The Civilian Conservation Corps were born. This story focuses on one project: the creation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.

I've been reading a lot about how the seashore came into being and it was a fascinating time with a wide variety of people who were involved. There were different reasons why these people worked to help the seashore be formed. But, I think that is a story for another time.

Before the project could be completed, World War II broke out in Europe. The war forced the United States government to shift its focus. One of the many projects they abandoned was the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The government workers returned to complete the project in the 1950's.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chapter 1 - August 31, 1954

Chapter 1

(August 31, 1954 _ Early Morning)

Sunshine glimmered across the top of the powerful waves that pounded the coastline. Storm clouds scattered across the rough sky. Lilah, my German shepherd and constant companion, accompanied me down my creaking steps which led to the beach. Patches of sea foam mingled with seaweed and crushed shells, collected along the surf line. Some broken branches littered the beach to the north and the south. Lilah raced along the ocean's edge and splashed in the churning water.

I jogged beside her, salt water soaking my legs. The stiff morning breeze was a contrast to the gale force winds from the night before. Hurricane Carol moved without hurry toward the North Carolina coast, then blasted past Cape Hatteras overnight. News reports earlier that morning stated the winds could top 100 miles per hour at the height of the storm when it reached New England.

Lilah stopped ahead of me and batted a sand crab with her paw. They danced along the water's edge and I lowered myself beside a piece of driftwood to watch them play. Lilah's tail whipped back and forth as she pranced in one direction and then the other. Her bark blended with the roar of the waves crashing onto the shore. The crab raced past her and disappeared into the sand. Terns and gulls performed their own dance overhead. The caw of the birds mixed with the pounding waves.

"Come on girl." I called to her, before I stood and resumed my jog.

Soon she splashed beside me and we journeyed closer to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. A man stood in the distance, but I couldn't see who it was. As we got closer, he bent over and poked around the base of a sand dune.

Lilah barked and ran toward him. He straightened and turned away. When we got closer, I recognized Ben Mallory from the Park Service project. He was probably checking the sheet pile groins and the dunes behind the lighthouse. The area was prone to erosion even though his crews worked to get it under control.

"Mr. Mallory." I called out, but his stocky body moved further away.

Lilah ran toward him and reached his side. She nudged his hand with her nose, but he ignored her. Lilah barked and continued her attempts to play.

"Leave me alone." His voice was impatient.

"Lilah, come." Patting my leg, I called to her. "Come." She returned to me and rubbed her cool nose on my hand. I turned my attention to Ben. "Mr. Mallory, how are you this morning?"

His shoulders sank and he stood still. "Morning, Miss Connelly."

"Did you have any damage at your camp?"

He looked toward the work camp and shook his head. "Our main concern was flooding."

"Was that what brought you to the dunes?" I reached for the branch Lilah carried in her mouth and tossed it toward the water.

"You're mistaken." His tone was gruff.

Maybe I'd been too far away to see what he was doing. "I'm sorry. I thought you were checking the dunes."

"We all make mistakes." He started to walk away.

"Mr. Mallory, it was good to see you."

He lowered his head and mumbled. "Good_bye, Miss Connelly."

Sunshine shone through the remaining gray storm clouds. An early morning news report said the storm was moving toward New England at forty miles an hour and would make landfall that evening. Damage around Hatteras was minimal, but the report predicted New England would have more damage.

Lilah dug furiously in the sand. "Lilah, what are you after?"

I didn't see anything at first, but then something caught my eye and a scream escaped from my throat. I regained my composure and shooed Lilah away with my hand.

I tugged at her collar. "Lilah, sit." She usually obeyed me, but not that time.

It would be accurate to say she was like a dog with a bone, but that was too literal for me. She held a long bone between her teeth.

Lilah lay in the sand and played with it. It would be good to mark the spot where she found the bone and run home to call the deputy. I tried to get the bone from her, but she held fast to it and ran down the beach. Her tail wagged from side to side and she ran back toward me. Lilah dropped the bone at my feet and started to run along the water's edge.

I latched a finger under Lilah's collar. "We need to go home." She tilted her head at me and I patted her head. "We'll come back, but you will have to stay out of the deputy's way." She hung her head and her big brown eyes drooped. Did everyone talk to their dogs like they were human?

We raced to the house and ran up the rickety steps with care. Lilah climbed through her doggie door before I reached the screen door. I went straight to the phone. One ring, two rings, three rings. Where was the deputy when I needed him? He could be checking for damage around the island after the storm. Four rings.

"Hatteras deputy's office." A familiar voice said.

"Morning Zeb, is the Deputy Basnett there?" I grabbed orange juice from the fridge.

"Morning, Kristie. Deputy Raymond Basnett headed to the mainland for a couple of weeks. But, Deputy Tucker is having breakfast in the back." He enjoyed putting me off.

"I wish Deputy Basnett was here, but I need to talk with Deputy Tucker." I gulped the juice, sat the glass in the sink and filled it with water.

"Hold on." That was all he said before the receiver hit the desk with a clatter.

Lilah stood by her bowl, tilted her head to one side and then the other. She made that familiar noise that was between a whimper and a growl to indicate she was hungry.

The phone cord kept me on the other side of the room. "In a minute, Lilah."

"What's important enough to disturb my breakfast, Kristie?" His words sounded abrupt, but his tone was playful.

"Sorry to interrupt, deputy. Lilah and I ran along the beach this morning and she found something."

"Was it something interesting?" He prompted.

"I'm not sure, but it may be a human femur." I twisted the phone cord around my finger.

"Are you sure it's a human femur?" He sounded intrigued but skeptical.

"That's what it looks like, but I'm not sure. I marked the spot where Lilah found the bone and called you."

"Where should I meet you?" The excitement in his voice was obvious.

"Meet me at the foot of the dunes behind the lighthouse."

"I'll be there. Don't let Lilah dig around the area." With that, the phone went dead and I placed the receiver in the cradle.

I grabbed Lilah's leash, walked behind her and attached it to her collar. She shook her head and clawed at the collar with her paw. "This is the only way you can go. You wear the leash or you stay home."

The struggling stopped and Lilah sat with her back straight and still. She craned her neck to peer out the door. People had started to mill around on the beach and she barked at them. Several neighbors glanced toward my door and waved.

"Come on, Lilah." I held my supply bag in one hand, shoved my floppy straw hat on my head and held her leash in the hand. I grabbed a small bag of dog food on my way out the door and shoved it into my bag along with a bowl.

We jogged up the beach until we reached the spot where Lilah found the bone. After we looked around, we might need to call Sheriff Frank Cahoon, but that was up to the deputy. Whenever Deputy Basnett took any time off, Deputy Tucker was sent to us. The Cape had very little crime so it wasn't a big deal, but I'm glad the deputy was around that morning.

While I waited for the deputy, I considered Lilah's discovery. The bone looked like a human femur. If I were right, a dead body might be buried in the sand. It could be the biggest news to hit Cape Hatteras and Buxton since the crews returned to finish the work they abandoned almost fifteen years ago.

It could be a victim from any of the 1,600 shipwrecks off the coast. The Graveyard of the Atlantic often washed parts of human skeletons onto our shores. It was more common up the coast in Salvo, but The Cape got some of the remains. But, I had a feeling this was different. What an exciting way to start my vacation.

There were also a lot of shallow graves on Hatteras Island. How many times had people found parts of skeletons in their garden or flower beds? It could be something totally innocent, or it could be a mystery. I'd read some books about identifying a person from their bones. This would be a wonderful chance to use that information. Was it a man or a woman? Was the person old or young when they died? The skeleton might be an Indian, or a foreigner. There were so many possibilities and hopefully we would know soon. But, first we had to find the skeleton _ if there was one.

The drone of the deputy's truck engine interrupted my thoughts. He drove along the sandy path that led to the lighthouse. His face reflected a determination born from years of driving along our horse and cart trails. These paths were usually no more than a set of ruts. People on the Outer Banks learned to drive with a purpose and not to slow down until you reached a safe spot. Deputy Tucker parked with his front tires on a grassy area near the lighthouse. He climbed down from the truck and sauntered toward us, the familiar weather_beaten hat perched atop his head.

"What do we have here?" He said in his no_nonsense way.

I lowered my voice because several people walked toward us when they saw Deputy Tucker arrive. "I think there's a body in the sand." Reaching into my satchel, I withdrew the bone. "This is what Lilah found."

At the sound of her name, my shepherd raised her head and barked. I smiled at her, but turned my attention back to the deputy.

He turned the bone over and rolled it between his hands. His brows furrowed. "Did you find anything else?"

I motioned to the marker. "This is the spot, but I wanted to wait for you." Should I mention that I wanted to help him? "I brought my supply kit to help you dig up the body, if there is one. I'm off from work at the restaurant this week and would like to help." I raised my eyes to his face. "Especially since Lilah and I found the body."

He chuckled and clapped my shoulder. "All right Kristie. We need to cordon off the area and start digging. Remember, that bone might be the only item we find."

I reminded him, "Or, there might be a body."