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Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks

Ray McAllister

John F. Blair, Publisher
$14.95 paperback
5 x 8    
256 pages
black-and-white photographs throughout
Published in April 2009

Hatteras Island is a barrier island, part of the famed Outer Banks that runs parallel to the North Carolina coast. But any map, let alone a satellite view from space, will show the island is not a part of North Carolina at all. Hatteras belongs to the Atlantic Ocean, as much a part of the sea as fish and waves, and as much at the sea's mercy as sandcastles on the beach. And it belongs to the heart.

In Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks, award-winning coastal writer Ray McAllister returns to the site of his family's annual vacations a quarter-century ago. Much has changed on Hatteras. But even more has not. Elsewhere, fast-food restaurants, strip malls, and beach-dominating duplexes have overcome resort islands. But the storm-buffeted Hatteras—as much as 30 miles from the mainland and largely protected against intruders by national seashore status—has kept its soul.

Hatteras has long been known as a world-class sport fishing and windsurfing spot. Its famed lighthouse, historic lifesaving stations, pristine beaches, and six small towns are magnets for tourists. But the Hatteras soul is also built on an extraordinary history: early Native Americans who glimpsed Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci in the 16th century, raids by Blackbeard and other cutthroat pirates, hurricanes that ripped apart the island, so many shipwrecks that its treacherous coastline earned the sobriquet "Graveyard of the Atlantic," Civil War battles, and even a coastal war with German U-boats. It was here that radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden in 1902 transmitted the first musical notes received by signal, that a heroic lifesaving crew saved 42 British seamen whose tanker was destroyed by a German submarine in 1918, and that General Billy Mitchell's 1923 demonstration of the effectiveness of air power helped lead the establishment of the U.S. Air Force.

Hatteras Island also includes the stories of fishermen, tourists, surfers, beachgoers, historians, and Hatteras families who have lived here for generations and others who hold dear this island constantly being redefined by wind and wave.




"Every line of this colorful, detailed, fluently written and thoroughly enjoyable portrait of Hatteras Island brings the place to vivid life. Ray McAllister transports the reader into a starkly beautiful landscape of sand, shaped by wind and pounded by tide. The scrappy islanders talk to the reader like old friends, and their history unravels as fascinating personal stories. As I read this book, I had to resist the urge to get in the car and drive until I came once again under the compass of that tall striped lighthouse and could commune with the ghosts of those old-time keepers."
Philip Gerard, author of Hatteras Light and Cape Fear Rising
"Pirates, hurricanes, endless summers, shipwrecks, U-boats, and the restless eternal sea. They're all here in this elegant meditation on Hatteras Island, its history, and its people. In the hands of a master storyteller, the allure of the Outer Banks comes palpably to life. Reading these pages, I would swear my heart rate slowed just as it does whenever I return to that timeless ribbon of sand that Ray McAllister captures in Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks."
Nelson D. Lankford, author of Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861
"Ray McAllister's Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks comes as close as any writer ever will to capturing the elusive soul of that intrepid ribbon of sand and its remarkable inhabitants at the edge of the Gulf Stream. These stories inspire daydreams of escaping with the family and their boogie boards, surf rods, sun screen, and sandals southbound over the Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet until the great lighthouse at Buxton looms on the horizon. Read this book now—and then take it to the beach as well, because Ray McAllister's Hatteras Island is a keeper."
Jon Kukla, author of Mr. Jefferson's Women and A Wilderness So Immense
"As a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Ray McAllister wrote with clarity and passion that made him one of the top writers in the state of Virginia. Now, McAllister has refocused his literary talents, and his ability as a wordsmith brings life to pirates, hurricanes, and the people of Hatteras Island, past and present. It's a must read for natives and visitors alike."
Larry Chowning, author of six books on the Chesapeake Bay and Civil War
"A dream book for beach buffs, especially anyone who knows—and therefore loves—the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Ray McAllister serves up all the colorful lore and the quaint appeal of historic Hatteras today with feeling, even a sense of reverence that is entirely appropriate."
C. Brian Kelly and Ingrid Smyer, authors of Best Little Stories from the Life and Times of Winston Churchill, with "His American Mother Jennie"