National Geographic : 1958 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine miles of Virginia and North Carolina. Today drainage and a falling water table have shrunk it to an estimated 385 square miles, and hunt ers and school nature-study groups roam the game-rich swamp. To the east only a narrow strip of tree grown shoreline separated us from the Ocean Highway (U. S. 17), alive with rushing traffic and studded with filling stations, motels, res taurants, and drive-in theaters. We exchanged greetings with picnic parties and straw-hatted, middle-aged ladies who relaxed in comfortable chairs while they angled for catfish. At Arbuckle Landing, midway between the north and south locks, a man-made feeder ditch joins the canal. Through it flows water from a spillway at Lake Drummond, in the heart of the Dismal Swamp, which keeps the canal at navigable depth. When we docked at the landing, head dam operator Benjamin McCoy was waiting with an outboard-powered skiff to take us to see the lake. An ingenious power-driven marine railway lifted the boat six feet to the level of the lake. Lake Inspired an Irish Poet Half a mile beyond the spillway we passed into Drummond itself, a great circle of brown water ringed in green. Only the buzz of our outboard broke the stillness, and the eerie atmosphere was accented by the tortured shapes of cypress stumps. McCoy, a veteran of 15 years on the canal, was proud of his domain. "It's a good life here," he told us, "except for the black bears that steal the honey right out of my beehives. And sometimes we hear strange noises in our houses-the sound of somebody walking, or eerie crackings and creakings. We've never been able to track 'em down. But it makes a person think that maybe all these stories he hears about Dismal Swamp aren't just myths." Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, visited Drummond in 1803 and captured its spirit in "The Lake of the Dismal Swamp," a gloomy ballad about a young man seeking his dead sweetheart and imagining that ... all night long, by a firefly lamp, She paddles her white canoe. Some say that Drummond's water derives its strong-tea hue from juniper trees; others credit the leachings of juniper, gum, and cy press. In any case, old-time sailing masters prized the water for its "keeping" qualities, and watering parties went to the swamp to fill casks for long voyages. Outer Banks: Birthplace of Flight Back on the canal, we soon passed the Virginia-North Carolina border. At South Mills we were lowered back to sea level. The long straightaway of Turners Cut and then the winding Pasquotank River led us to Eliza beth City, near the head of Albemarle Sound. There we temporarily abandoned Trade winds to make an automobile tour of the Outer Banks, the 320-mile chain of elongated barrier islands that guard North Carolina's coast from the surging Atlantic.* The dominant landmark in all that expanse of billowing dunes is a granite monument; like the brothers whose memory it honors, it reaches for the sky from the top of Kill Devil Hill. Near this spot on a windy December day in 1903, two bicycle mechanics from Day ton, Ohio-Orville and Wilbur Wright-sent a powered aircraft aloft for 59 seconds with Orville at the controls. Here, amid these lonely sands, they blazed a path that has al ready led man to the threshold of space and promises to take him to the moon. At the famous old resort of Nags Head we met Julian Oneto, resident manager of the Carolinian Hotel and a font of Outer Banks lore. "Long ago," he told us, "some Bankers went in for a form of piracy. They hung false (Continued on page 25) * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "October Holiday on the Outer Banks," by Nike Anderson, October, 1955; and "Exploring America's Great Sand Barrier Reef," by Capt. Eugene R. Guild, September, 1947. Relics of the Sea Crowd the Mariners Museum, Newport News Massive figureheads standing in this Virginia exhibit hall once graced the prows of history-making vessels. Ship models illustrating man's conquest of the sea range from primitive Indian dugouts to the liner United States. Other treasures are an old Yankee whaleboat, Chesapeake Bay log canoe, Tahitian pirogue, and two-man Japanese submarine. Carved angels at top decorated the stern of the British man-of-war Fame. Two wooden figures carrying boat hooks depict United States sailors of the late 19th century. Steering wheel came from the steam yacht Comfort. Window, which gives the illusion of a picture, looks out upon a bronze statue of Viking seaman Leif Ericson. Kodachrome by National Geographic Photographer B. Anthony Stewart © N.G .S .