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"Ocracoke in the Fifties - Photographs & Narrative by Dare Wright"


By George Olsen


"Ocracoke in the '50's" - Dare Wright

George Olsen

New Bern, NC – INTRO - A book by a noted children's author that pays tribute to the history and people of Ocracoke Island has just been released almost 50 years after the fact. George Olsen has more.

In 1957 Dare Wright broke into the consciousness of American readers with a popular children's book The Lonely Doll, which she followed up with 18 more pieces of children's literature before she died in 2001.

25:54 I have described her as almost not of this world, an ethereal sprite. She had a childlike nature not childlike in that she was not intelligent, but she always kept the childlike wonderment that always disappears from us at an early age, and she always had a belief that people were good, she trusted people, just like a child would, and most of the time that was re-paid. It was certainly paid in Ocracoke.

Wright was introduced to Ocracoke Island in the early 1950s by a friend, Donald Seawell, now 94 and living in Chapel Hill. Wright visited the island regularly for 30 years and even included photos of Ocracoke in a follow-up to The Lonely Doll called Holiday for Edith and the Bears. But another tribute to the island laid, for the most part, unseen for many years.

04:12 I wasn't aware that the manuscript for Ocracoke in the 50's existed until I was going through Dare's belongings after her death. I was her legal guardian and heir, and I came across this single bound volume she'd done and it was in the form of a mock-up or a dummy that would be presented to a publisher, although I don't think she'd ever shown it to a publisher, she'd taken the photographs, she'd work on the prints, then she typed and pasted in the narrative under the photographs the same way she'd done with her children's books, so it was almost ready to be shown to a publisher but since the prints had been sitting for 40 years they needed restoration and my husband John Ogilvie restored the photographs and we edited some of the text but its essentially the same volume that Dare created then put aside for 40+ years.

Brook Ashley, who with John Ogilvie edited the manuscript and photos that Dare Wright left behind and finally got them published in an edition by John Blair Publishing of Winston-Salem. The book, while intended for adult readership, in some ways is like her children's books long on photography, short on text though the text, written nearly 50 years ago, and viewed in that context, now appears very forward thinking.

19:42-20:58 Reads from page 59

21:44 When I was on Ocracoke this week, that's one of the things the people talked about, how there's nothing patronizing in this book, there isn't any of the flavor oh, aren't these people quaint, listen to their quaint colloquialisms, but rather that she appreciated the people for what they were, and the other thing that I was talking about with the people on Ocracoke was how prescient Dare was about, not only how the customs were changing, how the speech patterns were changing, but that so much was beginning to be lost, so much of the old customs, and that there were real ecological changes that were occurring, and that's not something people in the 1950's thought much about, so Dare was really ahead of the curve on that.

Days before our talk, Brook Ashley returned to Ocracoke for the first time in nearly 50 years. Her father is Donald Seawell the man who introduced Dare Wright to Ocracoke. Her return found many of the people photographed by Dare still part of the island's population.

08:02 There's a wonderful picture of a young girl named Sherry O'Neill and I loved Dare's text. She said Sherry O'Neill, a woman with the face of an 18th century sailing lad and Sherry came to the book signing on Ocracoke, she doesn't get out much anymore, and she came out to say how much Dare meant to her, how much knowing Dare meant to her. She even went to New York to see Dare one time, so Dare made an incredible impression on people who lived on Ocracoke in the same way they made the impression on her.

Sherry O'Neill was working two jobs at the time she met Dare a fisherwoman who also worked at the local motel much as most of the islanders worked multiple jobs in the isolated environment. So it's not too surprising that Dare Wright author, fashion photographer and model made a lasting impression on Ocracoke.

15:48 The photo is of Dare, who is strikingly tall, slender, tan, beautiful, blond and people kept saying yesterday how she would walk down the streets in Ocracoke and people would just stop and stare. There she is on the pile of timbers in a little striped t-shirt, white Capri pants, looking as if someone had posed a Barbie doll on a pile of driftwood. It is a striking contrast.

The shot, apparently taken with a timer, has Dare posed on top of wreckage from the Carroll A. Dearing the ghost ship of Diamond Shoals the famous, still unexplained shipwreck of 1921. As Brook just said, it is in fact a striking contrast, but if her physical appearance separated her from the island's natives, they still shared a common bond underneath.

25:54 The honesty of the people, the people who did not have a New York pretentious attitude which is where Dare lived when she wasn't visiting, must have been enormously appealing. People on Ocracoke are charming, they're witty, and they say what they mean. There was no side to them as there was no side to Dare. So I think she felt very much at home among the people of Ocracoke, and in turn they welcomed her. The love and affection that people had been telling me they feel and their parents and grandparents felt for Dare is really quite amazing because she was a very exotic creature to be plopped down on this island, but it worked. It worked for her and it worked for them, and I think that's why this story, this book Ocracoke in the 50's is timeless.

Brook Ashley, who, with John Ogilvie, edited Ocracoke in the Fifties - Photographs and Narrative by Dare Wright. The book is published by John Blair. I'm George Olsen.