Images of America: Ocracoke

Sundae Horn
The newest addition to my Island Bookshelf
The newest addition to my Island Bookshelf

Ms. Jeanie's book has dropped!

A brand new book about Ocracoke is hot off the presses, and it was written by Ocracoke School's 5th grade teacher, Jeanie Owens. 

On my island bookshelf, I have a several books from the Images of America series including Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and Maryland's Skipjacks. I love vintage photographs and this book series always catches my eye wherever I'm traveling. There are Images of America books about historic places all over the country – over 250 titles about North Carolina alone. I've been waiting for someone to do an Ocracoke version.

Jeanie didn't wait – she made it happen. Being an author had been on her "bucket list" for years, so in January 2017, as a 47th birthday present to herself, she contacted Arcadia Publishing and by March she was working on Images of America: Ocracoke. "Researching and writing about the history of Ocracoke, a place I am now lucky enough to call home, made writing a book even more meaningful." she said.

This is Jeanie's third year of teaching at Ocracoke School. She taught 4th grade for two years, before switching to 5th grade. Her interest in Ocracoke history grew out of her job. "As a new teacher at Ocracoke School, I wanted to learn about and understand the rich history and culture of my students and their families," she said. 

Ms. Jeanie with her class on their epic field trip!
Ms. Jeanie with her class on their epic field trip!

She did most of the work – hunting down old photos and writing the captions and text – during her summer break from school. She spent long hours in the archives at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. "I love the little library at the museum," she said. "Immersing myself in old photographs and Ocracoke lore was my summer adventure."

The manuscript's deadline was in August, but a power outage and the subsequent school supplies drive she organized set it back a few weeks. "Scout and I finished the book in September a week before he died," she said of her loyal canine companion. 

Jeanie will donate her proceeds from the book to her classroom's annual field trip. This year, she took the 5th graders to New Bern, Raleigh, Colonial Williamsburg, and Jamestown. "I'm always thinking about the kiddos," she said. "I am most excited to share this book with my students. Ocracoke children are in my soul, along with their families. I am excited to explore Ocracoke through images and teach them their own history that must not be forgotten, or taken for granted."

Jeanie got permission to use photos from OPS and also from sources off the island such as the Maritime Museum in Newport News, The Outer Banks History Center, and the North Carolina State Archives.

"Along with the photographs, I researched by reading all of the wonderful sources I could get my hands on," she said. "I read Jenny Scarborough’s book that highlights a walking tour of Ocracoke, Alton Ballance’s book that is a formidable history of the island, Della Gaskill’s sweet story of her life on Ocracoke, and Jack Dudley’s book of photographs. I wrote the text as I learned Ocracoke history and put it together for myself."

She also spent time with Ocracoke residents Philip Howard, Vince O’Neal, and Chester Lynn exploring the stories behind the history.

Ms Jeanie among her 5th graders
Ms Jeanie among her 5th graders

"Vince and Philip were my proofreaders, and made corrections on the content," she said. "Chester sat with me for hours. I could not have completed this book without their input and guidance."  

Jeanie chose carefully what she would include in the 127-page book, which is, as its title suggests, focused on the pictures. The supporting text, in the form of long captions, includes history and anecdotes about island life. Organized chronologically and by subject matter (e.g., "Getting There" or "Lessons Learned and Hymns Sung"), the books provides an overview of Ocracoke history from pirates to pony pennings.  

"With my book, I wanted to tell the story of the island through images. While I know I have left out many beautiful Ocracoke moments and people, I hope that this book highlights the essence of Ocracoke’s tight-knit community, sense of independence, and the focus on friends and family," she explained. "I experienced these cultural qualities growing up in the Appalachian Mountains in southwest Virginia and I see these so evident in Ocracoke’s past and present."

Jeanie saved her favorite caption for the last page of the book, where she includes the inscription on Mariah Styron Bragg's grave marker: "She hath done what she could." 

Indisputable evidence that moms have been posing photo ops at Springer's Point as long as there've been cameras.
Indisputable evidence that moms have been posing photo ops at Springer's Point as long as there've been cameras.

"When I first read that, it gave me chills," she said. "I thought, 'That's it. thats's the one caption that brings it all full circle.' Ocracoke has always had such strong women."

On that last page, she writes, "Hardworking and devoted, the men and women of Ocracoke have lived their lives with dignity."

"This book was written out of a love for the island, its people, and its heritage. I'm honored to be a part of the Images of America Project on Ocracoke and I'm grateful to the Ocracoke community for allowing me to become a part of such a special place," Jeanie said.

You can find Images of America: Ocracoke on island bookshelves at Books to Be Red and the OPS Museum Gift Shop. Books to Be Red will host a book signing and Jeanie will present a Porch Talk at OPS sometime this summer.



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