By Connie Leinbach
Fair weather brought thousands to Ocracoke Halloween weekend to bask in Blackbeard’s wake.
The third annual Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree in honor of the infamous pirate was the reason.
“This fun event comes at a time when business has slowed down,” said Daphne Bennink, one of the event organizers and owner of The Back Porch Restaurant. “The Jamboree made this weekend not just a decent weekend, but a great one.”
Owing to great weather, this was the first year organizers had a true benchmark of what the event can be, she said.
“The conditions lived up perfectly for a best-case scenario.”
Most lodging establishments on the island were sold out of rooms. Sara Clark of Edward’s of Ocracoke said all of their rooms were booked. “We had a fair amount of folks here specifically for the festival and they all enjoyed it,” she said.
The event is hosted by the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association which formed the organizing committee.
This year should have been the “fifth annual” jamboree, but the first year had to be canceled due to Hurricane Irene and the second year by Superstorm Sandy. The first jamboree finally got launched in 2013 to an enthusiastic turnout and response, and last year’s event, though it occurred, was hampered late Saturday afternoon with the arrival of a strong nor’easter.
Among the attractions was Kevin Duffus, awarded the 2014 Historian of the Year by the North Carolina Society of Historians. Duffus dispelled many of the myths about Blackbeard in presentations he gave in the Community Center and Community Square.
Laura Noel, also known as Madame Grace, master gunner with Blackbeard’s Pirate Crew of Hampton, Va., the living-history group that recreates Blackbeard’s time in history, noted that they had more visitors in the camp on the Berkley Manor grounds than ever before. She said one of her friends had been on the island, but left Saturday (before the event) and could not find a room up the beach until she got to Nags Head.
“The event is all about igniting peoples’ imaginations,” Noel said.
Her partner, John Collamore, who portrayed Lt. Robert Maynard, Blackbeard’s nemesis, this weekend, said the mystique of portraying the pirate era is that it blends many different types of individuals.
“We have sailors, coopers, blacksmiths and others,” he said.
All of the reenactors in the encampment teach about the history of the time, from navigation, weaving and cooking to medicine and hygiene.
Along with Blackbeard’s Crew, several other pirate crews and players descended on the island, such as the Shadow Players Stage Combat Group, the Motley Tones, the Ada Mae and Capt. Ben Bunn, Capt. Horatio Sinbad of the Meka II, the Beaufort Oars and The King’s Rangers (a Sea Scouts group).
One couple, Jo and Carl Cannon of Beaufort, were the only players to actually camp in the encampment in their hand-made tent and period accoutrements.
The couple has been doing living history for 25 years, Jo said, and was invited by Blackbeard’s Crew to join the Ocracoke event.
Corey Aiken, Lisa Wrightson and Tim Aiken, all of Gloucester, Va., attended the event to discover parts of their own history.
One of the pirate crews is Captain Ben Bunn and the skipjack Ada Mae, which doubles as Lt. Robert Maynard’s boat during the “Battle of Ocracoke” in Silver Lake.
“The thing that brings us here (for this weekend) is the history,” Wrightson said. “The Ada Mae was named for my great grandmother by my great uncle Ralph Hodges who built it.”
Tim Aiken, whose costume was “the ghost of Blackbeard,” learned that he and Chip Stevens, one of the event organizers, were distantly related through their ancestor-in-common, John Williams, who was here on the island in 1750.
As Lt. Maynard while on the skipjack Ada Mae and who captured Blackbeard during Saturday’s ship battle in the harbor, Collamore said he saw more people on the docks watching than in previous years.
Corky Pentz, owner of the Harborside Motel, said there were three times as many people on the street as last year.
“The motel was sold out three months in advance,” he said.
Amy Perrin of Pittsburgh, Pa., came to the island especially for the jamboree.
“This is amazing,” she said Saturday afternoon as she watched the Motley Tones minstrels perform in Community Square.
Since the day was warm, Perrin made a bright spectacle in her parrot costume—a sleeveless, red sequined dress and rainbow-colored, full-length wings. “I’m a Pittsburgh Pirate parrot,” she quipped about her costume.
Natasha Jackson of Cary, N.C., was researching and filming the reenactors.
“I’ve been following them around and doing research on the pirate subculture,” she said.
Later on Saturday, visitors and their kids participated in trick-or-treating along Lighthouse Road.
A mix-up with the stated timing for trick-or-treating brought more visitors than locals to the houses on Lighthouse Road so that some places ran out of candy early despite the fact that the Jamboree committee purchased extra candy and handed it out to the residences along the road.
“We ran out of candy by 4:30,” said Trudy Austin. “But it’s a learning curve. We’ll be a little more prepared next time.”
Austin, who works at the Variety Store, shared a booth with John Simpson for her photography and fig preserves and John’s painting and decoys at the Brigands’ Bazaar on the Wahab House property.
“We did well,” she continued. “Everyone I talked to was busy,” she said about the local merchants. Business was definitely up. We were busy at the Variety Store.”
Kim Meacham, one of the committee organizers and a vendor of her hand-crafted soaps at Brigands Bazaar said the vendors did well with a constant stream of visitors.
“I did well,” added Beth Fleishaker of Kill Devil Hills, who sells her hand-crafted wares called Seacatchers. “I couldn’t get away from my booth to see the rest of the festival.”
The event concluded Sunday morning with the March to Springer’s Point for a memorial for the fallen Blackbeard, his crew and the sailors of the British Navy on Nov. 22, 1718.