Steve Pfaff, Seneca Guns – April Meeting

NOAA

Monday, April 18, 2016  7:30 PM

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, April 18, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Steve Pfaff of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who will speak to us about the mysterious phenomena called the Seneca Guns.  What are Seneca Guns?  That’s the question.

Now and then, often on a beautiful, clear and sunny day, people in Southeastern North Carolina hear/feel strange booming noises. Some people report them as earthquakes others claim they are hearing something like cannon fire. Others swear they are hearing sonic booms from aircraft.  However, upon investigation none of these things are happening.

Steve Pfaff serves as the Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Wilmington, NC.  At the WCM since 2008, he is responsible for promoting weather safety outreach and awareness to the public. Steve is also responsible for providing emergency and decision support services to Emergency Management as well as a Seneca gunsmultitude of local, state, and federal partners.

He first arrived at NWS Wilmington, NC as a Senior Forecaster in 1998 where he served as the Marine Program Leader. Prior to his NWS career, he worked at WNBC-TV in New York where he prepared the forecast and graphics for Al Roker. Steve received his degree in Meteorology from Kean University in Union, NJ in 1994.

“The name Seneca Guns seems to come from Seneca Lake in upstate New York, where the sounds are often heard. In 1850, James Fenimore Cooper (author of “Last of the Mohicans”) wrote a story, “The Lake Gun,” describing the phenomenon, which seems to have popularized the term.

The sounds are heard in coastal areas; observers insist they are never heard at sea. In 2005 and 2008, residents in Brunswick County reported they were loud enough to rattle windows and shake houses.

In December 2001, a Seneca gun event prompted more than 100 calls to New Hanover County authorities. No serious damage, however, has ever been attributed to a Seneca gun.” – Wilmington StarNews, My Reporter column.

Road Trip!

Elaine, Darlene, Demetria, and Rebecca’s Excellent Adventuremissles and more

Just imagine. Two days in a car with the four of us.  On February 17th and 18th we set out to visit a number of small, non-profit museums. The goal: look at their current exhibits, and talk to them about how they fund, produce, and publicize their displays.

We started off at the Missiles and More Museum on Topsail Island.  Rose Peters was gracious enough to come in for a morning, even though they aren’t open to the public this time of year. She shared a whole bunch of ideas with us and several of the businesses she uses for exhibits are actually in Wilmington. The best ideas: use carpeting to back exhibits, then put Velcro on the back of the graphics and just stick them on.  Also useful to us was the idea of using simple hollow core doors to mount exhibits on.  We thought that might work well for us since we could fold them back to the wall when we have meetings.

Swansboro was next, for a great (and huge) lunch at Yana’s.  A real “hometown” treasure, with decor devoted to Elvis and the 50’s and onion rings to die for.

history placeOur next stop was The History Place, in Morehead City. It’s run by the Carteret County Historical Society and features not only exhibits, but also a large research library.  There we talked to Director Steve Anderson who spent a long time talking to us about fundraising, as well as giving us a tour of their new (as in still under construction) exhibit on Pine Knoll Shores.

We then drove up US 17 past New Bern to Plymouth, NC. And where is Plymouth? It’s on the south side of the Chowan River, across the Albemarle Sound from Edenton. It’s actually a very small town, with two small private museums, one on each end of town, about 6 blocks apart. We spent the night in a very nice Holiday Inn Express, though finding dinner was something of an adventure.  The only two local restaurants downtown were closed on a Wednesday night in the middle of winter, but we found the police station and asked for a recommendation.  A very nice young officer sent us back to the “highway” where we found Mama’s Pizza in the only shopping center with lights on.  It turned out to have a nice salad bar and their pizza wasn’t bad either.

The next morning we stopped first at the Port o’ Plymouth Museum.  It is mostly devoted to the Civil War and the battles that Port of Plymouthtook place for the domination of this important shipping harbor. David (sorry I’ve forgotten his last name) met us at the door and showed us around. We were particularly interested in a new display he had just put up on World War I.  While we were there, an older man, a member of their Board, came through and we talked to him for quite awhile. As it turned out, he knew Leslie Bright from his archaeology days.  They do one big fundraiser a year and pretty much exist on the proceeds from that.  One neat idea was the “sandbox” outside where kids could “dig for sharks’ teeth.”  We had also seen a special corner for kids at Topsail and Rebecca wants to work on making our place more “kid friendly.”

After an hour or so we went down the street to the Roanoke River Maritime Museum, where Brenda Roanoke MaritimeConklin greeted us warmly. It turns out she is the sister of the older man we talked to at the Port-o-Plymouth. They had some great exhibits devoted to boats large and small, as well as a replica of the Roanoke River lighthouse. We even found a canoe on display that Leslie had excavated from Lake Phelps and preserved years ago.

By late morning, we were ready to turn south. After a Wendy’s lunch in Greenville we made it to the Wayne County Historical Society museum in Goldsboro right on time.  Chris Lawson welcomed us warmly and talked to us about their displays and programs. One fascinating exhibit is a diorama of the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge, a Civil War battle, waged in 1862 for control of the railroad hub.

Roanoke Maritime exibit #2Our last stop was Liberty Hall in Kenansville but they were just about to close and we only had time to look at the exhibits in the modern building where tickets are sold.  The guided tour of the house and grounds takes as much as 90 minutes, so we hope to go back another day.

A huge thanks to Demetria who did all the driving.  We certainly learned a lot. Some things to do, and some very definitely NOT to do.  We’re working now on a proposal to take to the Board, for creating some seasonal exhibits and for refurbishing the display cases one at a time.

 

Society Notes – January 2016

Darlene Bright, History Center Director

  • The History Center recorded 40 visitors in December.
  • We had 41 in attendance at the wonderful Christmas potluck.
  • The gift shop took in $43.96 in December.
  • The History Center was used by Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club and the UDC for their monthly meetings.

 

  • Don’t forget! If you take a trip with Wilmington Water Tours, please tell them you are a member of FPHPS! If you do, we get a portion of your ticket price. Call us 910-458-0502 or them 910-338-3134. wilmingtonwatertours.net

 

  • The Carolina Beach Walk of Fame Committee has selected 4 people to be inducted on January 30, 2016. The unveiling ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at Carolina Beach Lake. This program recognizes people who have made a tangible and lasting contribution to the Town of Carolina Beach through their outstanding leadership and service.

 

Holiday Potluck – December 14, 2015

Remember. We start the potluck at 6:30 PMPOTLUCK LOGO

One week early due to Christmas, one hour early, too!

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its annual holiday potluck on Monday, December 14 at 6:30 pm. This year we will be back at the History Center as it’s a lot easier for the hospitality committee. Please join us for food, fun and festivities.

Joining the festivities will be John Golden and his magic guitar as well as Jay and Deborah Hockenbury. Please feel free to bring family and friends to this cozy community get-together.

 

Brooks Newton Preik: River Pilots of the Cape Fear River

by Nancy Gadzuk

Brooks Newton Preik 11-16-15Brooks Newton Preik spoke on River Pilots of the Cape Fear River at the monthly open meeting of the History Center on Monday, November 16, 2015.

Two of Brooks’ great-grandfathers were river pilots, one operating out of Southport and one out of Federal Point.

By the time Brooks was born, though, the family seafaring bent was gone. Her father was an accountant, and his closest encounter with the sea was walking along the water in Charleston to get to his office at the end of the dock.

Haunted WilmingtonThen Brooks heard a ghost story that piqued her interest in her great-grandfathers and the other river pilots. It was “a dark and stormy night” when the little open dory went out to sea, and Mary Stuart kept the fire going all night in Southport, hoping her son would soon be home safe.

Finally she heard footsteps coming up the front walk and she saw her son walk in, soaking wet. He walked to the fireplace and she heard the sizzle as he spit his tobacco wad into the fire. She walked over to hug him. But as she reached out her arms to him, he vanished into thin air. She knew then that the ship had gone down and her son, Thomas Bensel, was dead. Thomas Bensel was Brooks’ great-grandfather.

What would possess a man to take a small boat with four men out on a stormy night in hopes of catching the job of river pilot? It was dangerous: the only way to get from the small craft into the larger vessel was by climbing a tall, swinging ladder up to the ship’s deck. And on a dark and stormy night… Why would anyone do that?

Money. River pilots were paid very well—$200 a trip to guide a ship up the treacherous Cape Fear River to Wilmington, which had the rail lines Southport lacked to transport goods inland.

In Charge - River PilotsThe rule of the sea was this: the first river pilot to board a ship got the job. In 1860, there were 24 active pilots in Southport with its population of 700. Competition was stiff and river pilots would go far out to sea in search of a ship to pilot up the Cape Fear River.

Brooks Preik - TitleDuring the Civil War, river pilots became the last lifeline of the Confederacy, serving as blockade runners and carrying needed supplies.

These pilots influenced the design of new ships, since the blockade runners needed to be fast, low in the water, and impenetrable to outrun the Union navy.

The blockade runners carried cotton to Nassau and returned with arms and guns, and were often paid as much as $5000 for a run.

The success of these blockade runners to bring supplies enabled the Confederacy to hold their ground and thus prolong the course of the war.

The sea did not become less dangerous after the war ended. Thomas Bensel’s boat went down in 1872, and the Mary K. Sprunt sank in 1877. The Pilots’ Memorial in Southport is dedicated to the ten pilots of the two boats, “who in the faithful discharge of their duty were suddenly called to meet their God.”

The wind and the sea sing their requiem and shall forevermore.

 

Pilots of the Cape Fear River – Brooks Newton Preik

brooks Newton Preik #2

Brooks Newton Preik

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, November 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Author and historian Brooks Newton Preik is our November speaker. Her topic will be the River Pilots of the Cape Fear River.

From the plight of the European explorers of the 1600’s whose ships foundered on Frying Pan Shoals, to the Union naval officers outsmarted by the elusiveness of the Confederate Blockade Runners, to present-day seamen with their sophisticated, electronic, navigational equipment, one truth has remained the same: no ship’s captain with any sense at all would risk taking his ship through the treacherous waters of Cape Fear without the aid of an experienced local pilot to guide it.

Southport Pilot Station

Southport Pilot Station

The history of this always small group of talented, intrepid men who braved the shifting shoals and shallows of Cape Fear to guide ships safely through its waters is the stuff of legends.

Descended from a host of these courageous pilots, Brooks Preik will share with us some of the tales of their exploits, the dangers they faced and their unique legacy which has shaped the history of this region. Stories of shipwrecks, pirates, adventurers and even a few ghosts are among the stories Brooks will tell.

Born and raised in Southport, Brooks Preik has been a resident of Wilmington for more than 40 years. Some of her earliest ancestors are buried in the Newton Cemetery at Federal Point. She is a graduate of St. Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. For 10 years she was an elementary school teacher and following that, for the next 35 years, she was a real estate broker.

Brooks began her writing career in 1993 when she co-authored a guidebook to the area entitled What Locals Know about Wilmington and Its Beaches. Her collection of “true” ghost stories, Haunted Wilmington and the Cape Fear Coast, published in 1995 by Banks Channel Books, is now in its sixth printing and she has published more than 80 freelance articles in regional magazines since that time.

She has shared her love of local history and her stories with countless numbers of area school groups, civic clubs, UNCW sponsored events, and various community organizations.

Back in March 1998, Brooks did a presentation about John W. Harper at a monthly meeting at the Federal Point History Center.

Copies of Haunted Wilmington will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

 

Tales of Old Wilmington – John Hirchak

John Hirchek

John Hirchak

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, October 19, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be writer John Hirchak, whose two books, Ghosts of Old Wilmington and Legends of Old Wilmington and Cape Fear present stories, legends and tales of our area’s “shadow” past.

Writing with wit and style, John calls upon years of experience as the owner and lead guide for the “Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington” to lead his readers on a journey down back alleys and docksides, stopping at various points along the way to listen to the lingering whispers of generations long-dead.

HircGhosts of Old Wilmington - John Hirchakhak’s experience adds a refreshingly unique twist to his writing. Through his words readers will not only feel the hairs rising on their necks, but can also enjoy a laugh as Hirchak reveals some comical reactions many of his guests have had.

When asked how the Ghost Walk began, John says, “It was the beach that first brought my wife, Kim Hirchak, to Wilmington in 1978. But it was her interest in the paranormal that led her to the banks of the Cape Fear River into the heart of the Historic District.

Since then she has amassed a heap of notes on the various ghosts that haunt the Port City. So in 1996, when she first brought up the idea of starting a Ghost Walk, it seemed like the logical progression to one of her driving passions. Apparently, I responded with an encouraging word.

My function was to do historical research (though I want to stress, I am no historian), to write the scripts and to market the tour. She was to do all the rest. As fate would have it, she broke her Legends of Old Wilmington - John Hirchakleg the first week into the tour, and turned to me. After a day of pleading, she convinced me that after 300 rewrites I knew the material well enough to do the tour and I relented. But only until her bones healed!”

“And so over the years I have become the face of the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington and the Haunted Pub Crawl. Kim recognized that the day to day tedium of the business better suited my strengths than hers, and that sums up the business acumen of my wife. She knows how to make things work and is willing to give up control to get things done. But in the end, this is her baby! It always has been and always will be.”

“My follow up book, Legends of Old Wilmington & Cape Fear, was published in 2014. The book is a collection of stories from our since retired Unusual Tales of Old Wilmington walking tour, and The Pirates of the Cape Fear tour.”

 

 

 

Special Event “Memories of Old Fort Fisher”

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

– with Howard Hewett and Friends

Monday,  November 2, 7:30 pm

Mark your calendar now! Howard Hewett will be visiting from Texas and will present a program on his memories of Federal Point on Monday November 2, here at the History Center at 7:30 pm.

We’ve been featuring his stories in past Newsletters and all his writings can be read on our website  – Click here

Now you get to ask him questions, or to elaborate about things he’s written.

This is going to be a very special program which is, of course, free and open to the general public so bring the whole family.


 

John Moseley – Presents Fort Fisher in World War II

John Moseley - Sept-21-2015John Moseley, Assistant Site Manager at the Fort Fisher Historic Site and History Center Board member, spoke on World War II and Fort Fisher at the regular monthly meeting of the History Center on Monday, September 21, 2015.

He started by explaining how Fort Fisher came to be a World War II base. President Roosevelt wanted military installations built where artillery shells could be fired and no one would hear them or be injured by a bad aim. Eastern North Carolina was determined to be the promised land, or at least sufficiently in the middle of nowhere, for such installations.

World War II - Fort FisherSo in 1940, Holly Ridge, with 7 houses and a population of 28, was transformed from a fuel stop for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad into Camp Davis, an anti-aircraft artillery training center that would house 110,000 people by 1943, at the cost of $40 million.

Fort Fisher, 50 miles to the south, became the primary firing range for Camp Davis. Because of the distance between the two, Fort Fisher had to be a self-sufficient base. Although Fort Fisher was critical historically because of its role in the Civil War, in 1940 national defense took precedence over historic preservation.

Building the 'New' Fort FisherFort Fisher was transformed into a tent city, with over 300 tent frames, 48 buildings, mess halls, showers, infirmary, photo lab, radio and meteorological stations, as well as an airstrip running through the middle of the Fort.

Many of the soldiers arriving at Fort Fisher for their weapons training rotations came from the Midwest, and they had to adjust to a new and challenging environment: the barracks were very small, and the mosquitoes were very large.

One soldier described Fort Fisher as “a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand.” Some complained about the unfamiliar food: clams, fried shrimp, oyster stew.

Fort Fisher Morale BoostersStill, many men enjoyed the beach and ocean, with reports of sunburn and even surfing attempts using government-issued mattresses. There were sports teams, and Fort Fisher had a canine camp mascot named Queenie.

Eventually an indoor movie theater was built for the troops, to the dismay of the local mosquitoes which had enjoyed the original outdoor theater far more than the soldiers had.

Artillery training took place along and above the beaches, much as it had during the Civil War.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) became a critical part of the weapons training as they piloted planes towing aerial target sleeves for the artillery trainees to shoot at. WASPs had to fly every type of aircraft in this role, and also conduct radar deception and tracking missions.

At least 43 anti-aircraft battalions trained at Fort Fisher before heading to battle in Europe and the Pacific.

Before they left, many of those men sent home sweetheart pillows like the beet red satin pillow John shared with the audience near the end of his presentation.

These pillows were popular during World War II, sent to loved ones by young men as a remembrance, along with the fervent hope they would eventually return home safe and reasonably sound.

Fort Fisher Sweetheart Pillow

Fort Fisher Sweetheart Pillow

Sweetheart:
That someone’s thoughts go where you go
That someone never can forget
The hours we spent since first we met
That life is richer sweeter far
For such a sweetheart as you are
And now my constant prayer will be
That God may keep you safe for me.

~ United States Army, Fort Fisher, North Carolina

 

 

Fort Fisher in World War II – John Moseley

john moseleyThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, September 21, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be John Moseley, Assistant Site Manager of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. John’s talk will be on the role Fort Fisher played during World War II.

Though most locals have a general idea of just how important Fort Fisher was to the Confederacy, few know how vital the site was in training men for anti-aircraft artillery.

Original specifications called for a host of features that would make the remote firing range a self-contained post.

These included 48 frame buildings, 316 tent frames, showers and latrines, mess halls, warehouses, radio and meteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, recreation hall, outdoor theater, guardhouse, infirmary, and an administration building.

In addition to these facilities, the site featured a 10,000-gallon water storage tank, a motor pool, a large parade ground, and three steel observation towers along the beach.

The main highway in the area, U.S. 421, bisected the sandy ruins of the land in front of historic Fort Fisher. New firing ww2-machineguninstallations were erected along the beach between the highway and the Atlantic Ocean — not unlike Fort Fisher’s ocean-side batteries during the Civil War. These included, among others, batteries of 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns.

In addition, the site’s utilities, living quarters, and other features sprang up west of the shore installations between the highway and the Cape Fear River.

The area surrounding the old Civil War fort was soon dotted with the trappings of a modern military facility and expansion would continue throughout its tenure as a firing range.

Fort Fisher lacked the elaborate recreational facilities found at Camp Davis, but by the Spring of 1943 it boasted a full schedule of activities.

Fort Fisher- WWIIIn August, 1943 the new post theater opened with a screening of Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne. There were also plays and musical variety shows, most of which were performed by the soldiers themselves.

Professional performances sponsored by the United Services Organization (USO) were an added treat, and were often joined by “home grown” talent — including the Fort Fisher Swing Band and other groups.

Many of the post’s trainees were from interior regions of the United States and had never before seen a beach — let alone tried to live near one.

The adjustment was difficult and more than a few soldiers balked at the notion of dining on fried clams and oysters.

To acclimate the men to their new environment, the post offered swimming lessons, advice on how to avoid sunburn, and beach safety instructions.