By Gael Hawkins
Much has been written about the multitude of private family cemeteries on Ocracoke. In fact, visitors would be hard-pressed not to notice the graves scattered throughout the village. Prior to the establishment of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in January, 1953, most of the island was owned by local residents. However, once the federal government carved out the land desired for the Park, the remaining village consisted of approximately 1,000 acres. With this in mind, the village residents prepared for the future needs of the community. On the 14th of September, 1953, a deed for approximately 5 acres of land was executed by members of the Garrish family for the sum of $1.00 for the purpose of forming a Cemetery Association for the Community of Ocracoke. According to the deed, it was for purposes consistent “ to the end that the convenience, and general security of the survivors of the dead may be best served and their relatives relieved of anxiety and suspense”. The property deeded by the Gaskill family is located off of Old Ammunition Dump Road (now Sunset Road) and contained the old Navy Ammunition Mound and the old Navy road leading to it. A large portion of the land that contained the Gaskill graveyard was carved out rendering the configuration of a somewhat stout U-shape. The northeast border of the cemetery property was, at that time, marshland that ran to the Sound.. It was approximately 500 feet from the existing road with no deeded right-of-way to enter. An informal right-of-way was established across the old Balance property. At that time, the cost per burial site was $5.00. On November 21, 1953, the newly designated Ocracoke Community Cemetery received its first permanent residents. According to Hyde County records, and confirmed by island natives, Benjamin D. Gaskill, age 82, and Robert B. O’Neal, age 66, died on the same day and were buried on the same day.
In 1966, the Cemetery Association agreed that in order to provide means for the upkeep of the cemetery, it would be necessary to raise the price of a burial lot to $10.00. The following year, the Association was able to acquire enough land on each side of the new cemetery road deeded by Mr. R. L. Harcum to conform to the N.C State Highway Commission requirements for paving. Actual paving did not occur until sometime later due to further confusion regarding who owned some of the land previously deeded by Mr. Harcum. In 1969, the Association agreed to deed a 15ft. strip of land on the north side of the cemetery for a public road, now Cutting Sage Road. This was done at the request of Mr. Doward Brugh, who needed access to his lands – later to become modern day Oyster Creek. It is interesting to note that at the same meeting, the possibility of a new road through park and other lands to the Cedar Island ferry dock was discussed in order to avoid heavy traffic in the village. Could they foresee the future? By 1971, the price for a burial plot had risen to $15.00. In recent years, the Cemetery Association has added a lovely Memorial Wall since cremation has become more common. The cemetery is a quiet, serene spot to visit. The grounds are meticulously maintained by Chester Lynn, the current Vice President of the Cemetery Association. When we met to discuss the formation of the cemetery, he reminded me of an endearing island tradition associated with but not officially a part of the Cemetery Association. It is the Ocracoke Burial Dues Association. When an Ocracoke resident dies, members of this association donate $.50 to the family of the deceased. When my mom died, the dues were $.25 and Lawrence Ballance delivered an envelope to me full of quarters, nickels and dimes that his wife had collected. It still brings a smile to my face and reminds me of the generosity of the people of Ocracoke.