Cape Lookout National Seashore Historic Resource Study By

Cultural Survival and Revival: An Endangered Dialect

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Cultural Survival and Revival: An Endangered Dialect

Wolfram’s analysis of the Carolina brogue brought him at length to a contradiction. "For two and a half centuries,” he insisted near the end of his book, “Ocracoke was isolated geographically, economically, and socially." But now, oddly enough, it was suddenly an “endangered dialect” – beset by social and cultural changes on every hand. How could this be? Had these change factors been belatedly and suddenly introduced?

Wolfram had linked the Outer Banks to Appalachia partly through what he took to be their shared isolation/exceptionalism. But his own examination of language in West Virginia’s Mercer County had revealed that notion to be groundless. More careful attention to coastal North Carolina history would have shown to be equally so for the Outer Banks. Whether framing his study of the brogue within the broader history of the change-infused social, economic, cultural, and political systems of which the Banks were perennially a part would have led to a substantially different linguistic analysis cannot be known. But it would at least have made the brogue’s endangered status in the 1990s less paradoxical.

To his credit, Wolfram responded to the fact of that change and endangerment in a socially sensitive and imaginative way by engaging the complex issues of the survival and revival of endangered language in other settings (Hebrew in Israel and Irish in Ireland, for example) and by working with local teachers and students to examine and engage issues of language change, survival and revival. Not overlooking the difficulties of such revival, Wolfram and his colleagues for several years taught week-long courses on the dialect in schools as part of the social studies curriculum, and also produced a short video on the brogue. In his concluding discussion, he explored the complicated examples of Ocracokers who migrated out, experienced a variety of changes through education, travel, and employment, and then returned to the Banks, some becoming “more . . . islander than ever” and stronger users of the brogue.47

Wolfram’s hopes were modest, however. He admitted that if the brogue was to be revived, it had to arise from within the community; that it could in any case hardly be expected to recover its former vitality, since most young people were not embracing it; and that what linguists themselves could do to encourage revival was limited.48 “It may be ebb tide for the hoi toide dialect,” Wolfram cautioned, “but its legacy deserves to be indelibly preserved . . . .”49

In what appropriate and effective ways Cape Lookout National Seashore might involve itself in this discourse and issue deserves thoughtful and extended consideration. At the very least, it should be careful that its interpretation of life and culture on the Banks does not reinforce or legitmize further the analytical confusions of the past.

Chapter 9: Outer Banks Tourism and the Coming of Cape Lookout National Seashore

People who accept the expense and physical challenges of travel are motivated by widely varied factors: the spiritual significance of revered sites, the restorative power of baths and springs and mountain air, the habitats of rare and beautiful creatures, the magnificence of monumental landscapes, structures or great art, or the hallowed ground of heroic battles.

From such places travelers seek spiritual enlightenment or forgiveness, treasured objects, historical understanding, physical or emotional healing, sensual satisfaction, enhanced social standing, or behind-the-scenes views of authentic cultural practices.1

Language used to describe such sought-after sites and their boons tends to be essentializing, romanticizing, and extravagant in its promises – promises that may be only loosely (if at all) related to fact. But at one level that is not a problem, since the main task of the language is to locate human needs and desires, and to promise to satisfy them through some particular travel experience.

Language deployed in this way inevitably contributes to the (frequently unverified) core of popular discourse – about “the South” or Appalachia, the Catskills, the Alps, the Rhine valley, or the Pampas. Or the Outer Banks.

Travelers who have come to the Banks for pleasure and recreation (in evidence as early as the 1790s but in growing numbers since World War II), have been attracted above all by both the spectacular maritime environment and what they understand to be the uniquely compelling features of local culture.

Areas that have attracted tourists over long periods of time have distinctive life histories. North Carolina’s two most developed and visited areas – the Outer Banks and coast to the east and the mountains to the west – have both been attractive tourist destinations since the late eighteenth century. But travelers to the mountains and the coast have sought very different experiences, distributed themselves very differently, and shifted their preferences over time in distinctive ways.2

Early nineteenth century western North Carolina travelers and tourists clambered out of stage coaches into tiny inns, but their numbers grew with the opening of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1828, and accommodations improved.3 Wealthy lowland families came every summer – many believing that hot springs, sulphur springs, and mountain air had curative properties, and some built lavish summer houses.4 Small inns and hotels proliferated in the antebellum period. Buncombe County’s Sherrill’s Inn opened in 1834, .Walker’s Inn in Andrews in the 1840s, Flat Rock’s Woodfield Inn, opened a decade later, Haywood County’s Battle House before 1850, and Blowing Rock’s Watauga Inn in 1888. Later hotels became grander. The sumptuous White Sulphur Springs Hotel in Waynesville (1878, 1893), the Green Park Hotel in Blowing Rock (1891), the Eseeola Inn in Linville (1892), Asheville’s massive stone Grove Park Inn (1913), and Blowing Rock’s Mayview Manor (1922) drew thousands year after year.5

The railroad punched through the Swannanoa Tunnel into Asheville in 1880, and electric trolleys arrived in 1889.6 From then until the Depression, the city witnessed boom development, much of it linked to tourism, some to its growing reputation as a health center for tubercular patients.7 [ILLUSTRATION: Mountain Sanitarium for Pulmonary Diseases 1870.jpg. CAPTION: Fig. 9-1: Mountain Sanatarium for Pulmonary Diseases. Asheville, NC, 1870s. Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill].

Asheville experienced more of such growth than anywhere else in the North Carolina mountains, but other areas became tourist magnets as well – especially those along the Blue Ridge Parkway that linked the new Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks in the late 1930s.8 After World War II came strings of new motels in places like Maggie Valley, followed by ski resorts (Cataloochee was first in 1961) and posh gated communities such as Hound Ears and Invershiel, some of them developed by multinational corporations.

Four hundred miles to the east, on the Outer Banks, distinctive geography, climate and other factors configured tourism very differently. Visitors were drawn to the bathing beaches of Ocracoke as early as the 1750s, and to Nags Head by the 1830s. By1853, wealthy yacht owners had already formed an exclusive club.9 During the last half of the century, tourist accommodations were springing up from Currituck to Calabash. In the mid-1870s, Dr. G. K. Bagby bought and renovated Brunswick’s Atlantic Hotel, and beguiled guests with promises of A BAND OF MUSIC, FAST SAILING BOATS, BATH HOUSES, SURF BATHING, TEN PINS, and a dining table supplied “with all the luxuries from land and water.” [ILLUSTRATION: 1877 Atlantic Hotel Kell CarteretCoCivilWar_16. CAPTION: Fig. 9-2: Advertisement for Brunswick’s Atlantic Hotel, July 1877. Kell, North Carolina’s Coastal Carteret County During the Civil War (1976), 16.]

The closing years of the century witnessed the proliferation of hunting lodges on the sounds. Around Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, trolley and railroad lines were soon carrying throngs to brightly lit music and dance pavilions and elegant hotels. [ILLUSTRATION: Through train to Wrightsville beach 1912. CAPTION: Fig. 9-3: Train bringing beach goers from Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach, ca. 1912. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library.] From the 1920s onward, highways, bridges and ferries brought ever larger streams of tourists, and hard-surfaced roads relieved the challenge of driving in the sand.

After the Depression and World War II, boom times returned. Beach resorts for people of modest means multiplied up and down the coast, and vacation homes and cabins stretched row on row behind (and sometimes on) the dunes. Legendary Outer Banks photographer Aycock Brown began his publicity blitz in 1952, and Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashores followed in 1958 and 1966.10 Within a few years, subdivisions for beach homes stretched north toward the Virginia border, matched by gated inland golf communities. Sport fishermen began competing for water and fish with commercial fishermen. Taking advantage of new technologies, kite boarders now maneuver across the waves and hang gliders soar over the dunes.

Thus, despite the fact that tourism appeared at about the same time on both ends of the state, and has developed steadily since, it was configured in each place by particularities of terrain, climate, flora and fauna, public policy, and entrepreneurial and corporate activity. In this chapter we explore the eastern sector of this history – one of the most important contexts for the establishment, development and operation of Cape Lookout National Seashore.

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