This is my tenth and last photo essay dedicated to Charles Farrell's photographs of fishing communities on the North Carolina coast in the 1930s and '40s. I think it's time to talk about what happened to him, and why he and his photographs were forgotten for so long.
When Charles Farrell took these photographs, Salter Path was the only settlement of any kind on the western two-thirds of Bogue Banks. Lights were few and far between and on clear nights you felt as if you could see every star in the heavens.
In the autumn of 1938, the photographer Charles Farrell visited a gang of mullet fishermen from Varnamtown while they hauled their nets on Bald Head Island, down in the far southeast corner of the North Carolina coast.
Through the eyes of Sneads Ferry's oldest residents, I came to see Charles Farrell's photographs as a window into a time when most of the village's people still made their livings from the sea.
When I was in Southport several years ago, I carried Charles Farrell's photographs to an old menhaden fisherman named Charles “Pete” Joyner. At the time, Mr. Joyner was 93 years old.
A few years ago, I carried a box of Charles Farrell's old photographs of the state's great herring fisheries back to one of the communities on the Chowan River where he took them. They are poignant and beautiful, and the herring workers in them are unforgettable, but I also find them a little haunting because they remind me of all that can be lost.
Today-- the conclusion to my special series '`The Shrimp Capital of the World'-- Charles Farrell's Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938" Charles Farrell’s photographs chronicled Southport’s shrimp industry in its heyday, but those days did not last forever. In fact, they came to an end suddenly, on the 15th of October 1954. On that autumn day, … Continue reading Hurricane Hazel: “Nothing left but piling”
A shrimp house in the 1930s was its own world. When the toil wasn't too wearing, some were almost festive. On some nights, in some shrimp houses, the women sang gospel hymns and popular songs to pass the time and to find the strength to keep going.
In those days many a shrimper led an itinerant life. When the season ended in Southport, they headed south to shrimp out of Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine, Key West, Everglades City, Punta Gorda and half a dozen other Florida fishing communities, often coming home on Christmas Eve with their arms full of gifts for their wives and sweethearts and children.
More than two decades ago, I interviewed Capt. Leslie Day’s brother, Gordon Day, for a research project on the Second World War. We mostly talked about the war, but he also had a great story about how the family earned enough money to build their shrimp boat, the Empress, in 1930.
This is Benjamin Howard Day, Capt. Leslie Day’s father, with his hand on the wheel of the shrimp trawler Empress in the fall of 1938. You can't see them in Charles Farrell's photograph, but his son and the mate are wrestling the trawl aboard on the other side of the boat. The three men made up the crew of the Empress while she was shrimping in Southport.
In the 1930s, coming to Southport was an autumn ritual for many of Carteret County’s shrimp crews: Capt. Leslie Day's drop-netter Empress was one of perhaps 50 or 60 boats that stayed in Southport for the fall shrimping season.
While documenting Southport's shrimp industry in 1938, Charles Farrell also visited Crattie Arnold. Crippled by spinal meningitis, Arnold had both of his legs amputated when he was 7 years old but still became a legendary fisherman and boat builder.
Today-- part 3 of my series "`The Shrimp Capital of the World:' Charles Farrell's Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938"
Today-- "`The Shrimp Capital of the World,'", part 2. I begin my look at Charles Farrell’s historical photographs of Southport's shrimp industry with a special pair of photographs that are full of youth and joy, beauty and innocence.
In today’s post I'm introducing a 10-part series looking at Charles A. Farrell’s historical photographs of shrimpers and shrimp house workers in Southport, a village at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, in Brunswick County, N.C. As a local woman named Leila Pigott told me years ago, “Southport used to be known as the shrimp capital of the world.”
On at least two trips to the North Carolina coast, a Greensboro photographer named Charles A. Farrell took photographs of the fishing villages near the mouth of the New River, in Onslow County. His first trip was in the fall of 1938, and he visited again sometime in the first half of 1941. On the first trip, he may only have visited Sneads Ferry, a fishing village on the west side of the river.
In the late winter or early spring of 1938, a photographer named Charles Farrell visited Colington, an old fishing village on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Today Colington is surrounded by condominiums and resorts, but at that time Farrell discovered only a quiet, out-of-the-way settlement with perhaps 200 or 300 residents divided between two small islands, Little Colington and Big Colington.
Our trio of hogs cleaning up after a fishermen’s oyster or clam dinner on the sound side of Brown's Island. The fishermen left a pair of oyster knives stuck in the benches. The white belted animal on the right is a Hampshire, while the other two are mixed breeds. Hampshires are one of the oldest hog breeds in the U.S., popular for their easy temperaments, hardiness and foraging ability, all of which suited them well to life on Brown’s Island.
A Sunday visitor. The nearest villages to the Brown's Island mullet camp both lay 12 miles west at the mouth of the New River, a long haul anyway you made it in that day. “Yet most Sundays the girls arrive,” the photographer, Charles A. Farrell, noted. This young fan of Mickey Mouse was Elizabeth Turner (later Taylor). She lived on her aunt’s farm on the other side of Browns Sound and often visited the fishermen with her aunt and sisters. “Every fishermen on the island wanted his picture made with this charming lass,” Farrell wrote on the back of the original print.
Mullet roe drying in the sun, Brown's Island, 1938. The salted and sun-dried egg sacs of jumping mullet were a local delicacy and at least occasionally brought high prices in the New York market. The big roe mullet usually began to appear in local waters in late October or early November. After slitting open the fish’s belly and removing the roe, the fishermen washed and salted the roe and let it soak in the salt for two or three hours.
Two fishermen, brothers Carroll Lawrence and Lloyd Lawrence, salting spots on the sound side of the mullet camp at Brown’s Island. Carroll is coating the fish in salt in the big tray, while Lloyd is packing the fish in kegs. Once packed in salt, the fish will keep throughout the winter and well beyond.
The Gillikins and Lawrences carrying their surfboat, loaded with the mullet seine, to its resting place above the high tide line. Two rows of fishermen lifted the boat holding strong beams across their shoulders fore and aft, secured to the boat by a pair of heavy lines that ran stem to stern.
Briant Gillikin leaning on a mullet boat by a dune on the ocean side of Brown’s Island.
An interior view of one of the mullet camp’s bunkhouses. Capt. Briant Gillikin, the number two man in the camp, rests in the bunk on the left. The man in the other bunk is unidentified. The pine board walls are reinforced with wooden crates, some of them probably containing canned goods.