By Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich
The Ocracoke community and visitors were overwhelmingly impressed with the fireworks show Sunday night that was part of July 4 holiday events.
“They were awesome,” was the comment most frequently heard on peoples’ lips following the show and two days later.
“They were perfect,” said Judy Eifert, co-owner of Dajio Restaurant.
Trudy Austin, a Variety Store cashier and member of the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board who granted the funds to make it happen, said Monday that she had heard nothing but great comments from visitors.
“It was a fun night,” added Variety Store owner Tommy Hutcherson, who provided deejay services and music for an hour prior to the 9:15 p.m. launch. “I got a lot of positive feedback. I think everyone appreciated and loved it.”
However, at least one islander, who had watched them up close, commented that they were rather scary because of the proximity.
The display, put on by Pyrotecnico of Columbia, S.C., featured 18 minutes of a variety of rockets, which ended with a huge finale of smoke and fire that had the crowd roaring. An extended applause and hooting followed the last spark.
About a half hour later, islanders were treated to a few more bursts of flaming color as the fireworks crew shot off 33 rockets that did not ignite during the main show, according to Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Company officials.
“I’m so proud of Ocracoke,” said Mickey Baker, co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly. “We got over the trauma.”
She was referring to the accident on July 4, 2009, when the fireworks truck while being unpacked detonated in an explosion that was heard and felt all over the island, and in which four of the fireworks company workers were killed.
Since then, the community had no fireworks until in the last few years it began to explore the idea once again.
Last year, the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board agreed to grant the money needed to put on a show, and while it was not on the actual holiday, which was a Monday, the day before (Sunday) was close enough.
“The community is very happy,” said islander Kenny Ballance, who was the chief NPS ranger on Ocracoke in 2009 and helped with the emergency response. “They did an excellent job. A lot of people from up the beach came down for it.”
Some came especially for the fireworks.
Andrea and Eric St.-Cyr of Cornelius, NC, dashed back to Ocracoke two weeks after they’d just been here just to see the professional fireworks Saturday night.
Shortly after they arrived, the couple placed their two beach chairs on the NPS dock sidewalk facing the end of the NPS parking lot where the fireworks were to be launched.
“Ours were the first chairs here,” Andrea said.
David E. Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, who was instrumental in finding a launch site, attended along with Boone Vandzura, CHNS chief ranger and many other NPS staffers.
“What a joyful crowd,” he said as hundreds of spectators found places to sit or stand in the grassy area near the ferry landing. “It was our pleasure to be a partner in the celebration of Independence day on Ocracoke Island. What a show” he noted as the evening’s activities concluded.
Islander Mitzi Krall noted that while the island has had a long sabbatical from fireworks, it’s nice to have them back.
“Fireworks are an integral part of the Fourth of July celebration,” she said.
Darlene Styron, owner of the Sweet Tooth, and who with Teresa O’Neal and Sundae Horn spearheaded getting the fireworks, said Tuesday she’d never seen so many people coming down the road from the village toward the Hatteras ferry as she did Sunday night after the fireworks.
Planning a fireworks show involves a lot of behind-the-scenes coordination, she said, and acknowledged the help from the following agencies: Hyde County, Hyde County EMS and Sheriff’s departments, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent, the Dare County fire marshal, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Dept., the NC Ferry Division, the U.S. Coast Guard and the NC Dept. of Marine Fisheries.
The Fourth of July began with the traditional flag raising at the school. Boy Scout Troop #290 raised the flag and Mariah Temple, Alyssa Bryann and Maren Donlon sang the National Anthem. When Hurricane Arthur struck the island two years ago, the flag raising ceremony was the only event that was not canceled.
The sand sculpture contest took place Monday at Lifeguard Beach. Eril and Paul Lammers, from Ann Arbor, Mich., came up with the name “I Reveal” since Eril is expecting.
“I wanted to find a fun way of telling my four children,” she said. “So we sculpted a pregnant mermaid so the kids would learn that day.”
The lighthouse was open for visitors and about 500 people made a visit.
Early Monday afternoon, Skydive OBX of Manteo put on two sky diving demonstrations at the Ocracoke Community Park ball field.
The two instructors with the company, Sven Jseppi and Pete Schwartz, leapt from about 6,000 feet, said Heather McLay, wife of Jseppi and a member of the company.
After a few minutes of floating and a few circles, the two men landed on the infield as if they were on fire.
“These guys come in hot,” she said before the demonstration. The two often take part in competitions in maneuvering their canopies for distance, speed and accuracy, she said, and they often will land at a speed of 70 mph.
Under threatening skies on Monday, the parade began at 4 p.m., and attracted participants on foot, horses, bicycles, golf carts, cars, trucks and floats.
Lacking a marching band to lead the way, law enforcement vehicles and OVFD fire trucks heralded the entourage with blaring sirens and horns.
There was some musical accompaniment this year, however, with a lone bagpiper.
Islander Jakie Spencer was the grand marshal and waved to all from a decorated golf cart driven by Woody Billings.
The skies opened up a bit after the parade and ended before Donald Davis’s storytelling performance at 6 p.m., but by the time of the final event–a community beach fire at the lifeguard beach–the evening was dry and balmy.
Horn, who organized the two-day event for the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, announced the competition winners Monday evening before the beach fire was lighted.
Winners of the parade categories are as follows:
Walk & Roll: Charlotte Edwards and her horses, first place; the Alcorn Family “Grateful Dead,” second place; Ed Barber “Iron Eagle,” third place.
Wheels: The Ocracoke Garden Center, first place; “Krewe Da Beach,” second place; Ocracats, third place.
Floats: The Nutcracker, first place; Ocracoke Coffee, second place; NC Ferry Division, third place
Winner of the Community Prize, given to a nonprofit, was the Ocracoke Library Summer Reading Program.
Ride the Wind Surf Shop won best of show with its Olympics theme, and second place went to the “Old Airmen.”
On behalf of her other parade mates, Lisa Krizner of West Orange, NJ, accepted the prize for her group’s winning Ocracats parade entry.
Krizner said their three-family group decided earlier this spring to get into the parade, dress up as cats and support the island’s nonprofit Ocracats group, which helps care for and control the island’s feral cat colonies.
She donated their $25 prize to Ocracats.
“It’s very moving that when we all work so hard for Ocracats to have a visitor group step up and offer this kind of recognition,” said Ruth Fordon, Ocracats president.
The annual sand sculpture contest also was held Monday morning. Winners were chosen by popular vote.
The Best in Show award went to Kate Highsmith of Concord, NC, the first individual to win best-of-show, with her rendition of sea turtles hatching.
A frequent vacationer to the island, this was her first time doing the sand sculpture contest.
“When I was 10, I saw turtles hatch,” she said. “That was so amazing. That speaks to me about this place.”
Don Johnson of Scottdale, Pa., has been vacationing on Ocracoke over July 4 with his family for 39 years and competing in the sand sculpture contest. While their group won third place in the Groups 13 and Over category, Johnson said the activity is less about competition and more about family togetherness and camaraderie in a community they’ve come to love.
“This is home,” he said.
Other winners in the sand sculpture categories are as follows.
Individual 12 and under: Petros Burleson, first place, “Squid”; Catherine Todd, second place, “Sponge Bob & Friends.”
Individual 13 and over: Giovanni Capriotti, first place, “Shark”; Adrianna Davis, second place, “Mermaid”; Barb Oelschlegel, third place, “medieval castle.”
Group 12 and under: Team Mini Awesome, first place, “Little Mermaid”; Short, Yellow & Sandy, second place, “Sponge Bob”; Hunter and Ally Capriotti, third place, “lighthouse.”
Group 13 and over: Helmetheads, first place, “Ocra-croak”; Emma, Tim and Sam Dzialo, second place, “Octopus”; Don Johnson Crew, third place, “Ocra-croc.”
A number of islanders noted that they liked that events were spread over two days instead of packed into one.