Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fun At The North Carolina Aquarium.

Mr. Hawthorne and I traveled to Manteo last Tuesday for our first class in a seafood series at the North Carolina Aquarium.
This is where Andy Griffith lives - beyond the gates at the end of the crape myrtle-lined drive.
We got to the aquarium a bit early, so I had a chance to wonder through and shoot some more pictures. I've never posted about the Heroes of the Outer Banks - The Pea Island Lifesavers.
My regular readers may recall a post I did about the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony. And also here. Back in the late 1800's, some of Roanoke Island's black army veterans - men whose families had lived in the Freedmen's Colony - found jobs as surfmen in the United States Life Saving Service. The Pea Island Station was one of seven stations along North Carolina's coast. Up until 1880, the black men served along side whites at various stations along the coast in integrated or "checkerboard" crews. In 1880, the general superintendent of the US Life Saving Service, Sumner Kimball, appointed Richard Etheridge keeper of the Pea Island Station. The Pea Island crew soon gained a reputation for being the bravest life-saving crew on the Carolina coast. Richard Etheridge was born a slave on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, property of John B. Etheridge. Due to the non-existence of large plantations on the Outer Banks, blacks were relatively few and slavery limited. Like most Outer Bankers, Etheridge learned to work the sea, fishing, piloting boats, and combing the beach for refuse from wrecks. His master also taught him to read and right, even though it was illegal to do so. After fighting began between the states in 1861, the Outer Banks was the site of one of the first Northern invasions in February 1862 under General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside, the Union commander, used black labor to build fortifications for his armies and Roanoke Island soon became a refugee camp for fugitive slaves. The Union recognized the potential that the active recruitment of Southern blacks offered their forces - not only by bolstering Union ranks but simultaneously diminishing the labor supply of the opposition. Black troops started enlisting in the summer of 1863 and Richard Etheridge joined the 36th United States Colored Troops. The 36th distinguished itself in the 1864 Battle of New Market Heights, Va., overrunning Lee's position and securing an important victory on the road to taking the Confederate capital at Richmond. Two days after the battle, Etheridge was promoted to sergeant. Etheridge was also active in the behind-the-lines struggle to end the mistreatment of blacks. In 1865, Etheridge and William Benson drafted the following letter to General Oliver Howard, the Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, protesting the treatment the blacks were suffering from at the hands of the Union army: "The white soldiers break into our houses act as they please steal our chickens rob our gardens and if any one defends their-Selves against them they are taken to the gard house for it. so our familys have no protection when Mr. Streeter is here to protect them and will not do it... General we the soldiers of the 36th U.S. Co Troops having familys at Roanoke Island humbly petition you to favour us by removeing Mr Streeter the present Asst Supt at Roanoke Island under Captn James." Etheridge signed the letter, "in behalf of humanity." In 1866, Etheridge left the service and returned to the Outer Banks, making his living fishing and serving in the newly-formed Life Saving Service, first at Oregon Inlet in 1875, then at Bodie Island. The U.S. Life Saving Service was formed in 1871 to assure safe passage of Americans and international shipping interests and to save both lives and cargo. Stations were located along the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, later known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." In the early years of the Life Saving Service, many appointments were tainted by cronyism and nepotism. In 1879, the keeper of Pea Island was a white man who had a crew of both white and black men. A series of highly publicized maritime disasters occured off the North Carolina coast. In two months, 188 lives and more than half a million dollars in property was lost off the Outer Banks, within sight of and with little assistance from the lifesavers on the shore. It was reported in the New York World, "It begins to be painfully clear that the terrible loss of Human life on the North Carolina coast ... must be attributed directly to the inefficiency of the Life Saving Service." In November 1879, a rescue effort was bungled, and the keeper and some of the crew were held responsible. And investigation was conducted by the Revenue Cutter Service, the white keeper was fired, and Richard Etheridge, one of the best surfmen on the North Carolina coast, was appointed keeper. Etheridge was one of only eight blacks in the Life Saving Service and he was promoted from the lowest ranking surfman at Bodie Island station to take over the incompetently run station at Pea Island. The Life Saving Service recommended Etheridge to the position, despite warnings from locals, writing: "Richard Etheridge is 38 years of age, has the reputation of being as good a surfman as there is on this coast, black or white, can read and write intelligently, and bears a good name as a man among the men with whom he has associated during his life. I am fully convinced that the interests of the Life Saving Service here, in point of efficiency, will be greatly advanced by the appointment of this man to the Keepership of Station No. 17." Richard Etheridge was the first African American to hold the rank of keeper of a life saving station. Under the racial standards of the times, this meant the entire crew under his command would have to be black.
Etheridge recruited, trained, and led a crew of African Americans at Station 17, the only all-black station in the nation. Though civilian attitudes towards Etheridge and his men ranged from curiosity to outrage, the Pea Island crew figured among the most courageous surfmen in the service, performing many daring rescues from 1880 to the closing of the station in 1947. The accomplishments of these brave men, and others like them, led to the formation of the United States Coast Guard. Within 5 months after Etheridge took charge, arsonists burned the station to the ground. Knowing the scrutiny he was under and that the slightest error could result in his or one of his crewmen's dismissal and reinstatement of a white keeper and crew, Etheridge ran the station with exacting preparation and military ardor. Etheridge's exceptional leadership skills, vigorous efforts, rigorous training drills, and the crew's strong work ethic paid off the night of October 11, 1896, during a hurricane, when the schooner "E. S. Newman" grounded south of the station. The captain of the vessel had his wife and three-year old child on board when it was driven ashore. Beach patrols had been suspended due to the ferocity of the storm, but Theodore Meekins, a surfman, thought he saw a distress signal. Meekins fired off a Coston flare and as Etheridge and Meekins carefully watched, the schooner acknowledged with a flare of its own. With the help of a mule team, the Pea Island crew pulled the wagon with rescue equipment and surfboat towards where the distress signal had been seen, the huge waves making this especially difficult. Arriving at the scene of the wreck, the wave conditions were so great that the surfboat could not be launched. A breaches buoy could not be used either because an anchor for the buoy line could not be placed in the sand due to the relentless inundation of waves. Two of the surfman volunteered to swim out in an attempt to reach the wreck. They eventually accomplished this and managed to heave a line aboard. Nine times the surfmen went into the water, and starting with the captain's child, each and every passenger was rescued. According to local lore, Meekins was reputedly the best swimmer of the group and made every voyage out to the Newman. The Newman's captain searched for days for the piece of the side which held the vessel's name. He finally found it and donated it to the crew as an offering of this thanks. For 100 years, this would be the only award the Pea Island crew would receive for their efforts. The crew voted to give the wooden sideboard to Theodore Meekins, the young surfman who first spotted the distress signal and who swam out numerous times to the vessel during the rescue. Meekins nailed the board at the top of his barn on his farm on Roanoke Island. He served at Pea Island for 21 more years until his death in 1917. While boating home on leave, a storm came up at Oregon Inlet, and, ironically, Meekins drowned trying to swim to shore. Etheridge served as Pea Island Keeper for twenty years. At age 58, he fell ill and died at the station. Pea Island continued to be manned by an all-black crew through World War II. After the war, in 1946, the station was decommissioned . Its crews had saved more than 600 lives and outperformed all other lifesaving stations. In 1996, the Coast Guard awarded the Gold Life-Saving Medal, the services highest peacetime honor, posthumously to the keeper and crew of the Pea Island Station for the rescue of the people of the E. S. Newman. It is interesting to note that it took the tenacity of a 15 year-old middle school student from Washington, N.C. to shed light on the heroism and brave efforts of the surfmen. Kate Burkhart wrote an award-winning essay about the Pea Island lifesavers, then wrote to Senator Jesse Helms to request they be honored. She lobbied members of Congress and President Clinton in a process that culminated in the members of the Pea Island station receiving their long-overdue gold medal at a March 1996 Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Family members of the crew received certificates and the last surviving surfman of the Pea Island crew, 82 year old William Bowser was present, in addition to the Commander of the Coast Guard and Kate Burkhart. Etheridge and his family are buried at the Pea Island Life Saving Station memorial on the grounds of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Here's an interesting trailer from a documentary made about the Rescue Men of Pea Island. This documentary is actually debuting tonight at Roanoke Island Festival Park. Now, I need to go to the Museum in Manteo honoring the Pea Island lifesavers. And here's the N C Aquarium's display about the Lifesavers of Pea Island.
Now let's take a stroll through the aquarium. Enjoy.
I love this part of the aquarium.
Sleeping otter.
Enjoy the videos.
Little Miss Myrtle the Turtle.
The otters recognized Myrtle's voice and got all excited.
Shark tank:

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