Connecting People to Places

Dare Wright’s ‘Ocracoke in the Fifties’ chronicles Ocracoke scenery, history and people

Dare Wrigth

While ‘Ocracoke in the Fifties’ has only one photo of herself, Dare took many self-portraits on the Ocracoke beach. Photo courtesy of Brook Ashley

By Connie Leinbach

Just as Ocracoke in the 1950s welcomed New Yorker Dare Wright, Wright herself welcomed islanders to the Big Apple.

A fashion model and photographer, Dare and her mother Edie, a renowned portrait painter, discovered Ocracoke in 1947 when a friend flew them to the remote island for a summer vacation, said Brook Ashley, who was Dare’s god-daughter and heir to her estate.

Another world to these city women–just as it is now to many vacationers–Dare and her mother fell in love with the island and its people.

The island became a refuge for the Wrights to relax and also for Dare to expand her growing photography skills.

Dare, whose first name was Alice and who was born in 1914 and died in 2001, is most famous for her series of children’s books featuring “The Lonely Doll (1957).”  This was the first of 10 books featuring black-and-white photos of “Edith” and two teddy bears on various adventures.

“The Lonely Doll” was a best-seller back then.

“Dare developed a whole new genre of children’s literature,” Ashley said. “It was a perfect combination of all of her talents.”

While the first book takes place mostly indoors, it does feature several photos take on Ocracoke, but “Holiday for Edith & the Bears” (1958) was all shot on Ocracoke.

In 2006, Ashley published a book of Dare’s photos of Ocracoke (with assistance from Alton Ballance and Philip Howard) titled “Ocracoke in the Fifties,” available in stores throughout the island.  Photos and narrative are all by Dare, who chronicles the history of the island, its people and its ways.

Even then–more than 60 years ago—she recognized that the arrival of more tourists spelled the end of old Ocracoke.

Over their many years of visits, staying at the Wahab Village Hotel (now Blackbeard’s Lodge), the Wrights got to know some of the islanders.

Those who remember the pair were youths when they met these glamourous women from the north.

“Dare was beautiful, and people stopped and stared,” Ashley said. “But Dare and her mother never patronized the locals. I have so many photos of Dare and Ocracoke. She listened. People opened up to her.”

Some islanders even ventured to New York City to visit her.

Dare Wright’s color photo of islander Sherry O’Neal, who died in June. A similar black-and-white photo of O’Neal is in ‘Ocracoke in the Fifties.’ Wright described O’Neal as ‘a woman with the face of an eighteenth-century sailing lad.’

Ballance reached out to Dare in the early 1980s when he went to New York to be with his father at Christmas.

“She welcomed me in on Christmas eve,” Ballance said noting that Dare was in her 70s at the time. “It was pretty interesting to be in her upper East Side apartment on Christmas Eve.”

Dare showed him all of the dolls and bears that she used in illustrating her series of children’s’ books.

“Then she showed me this thick scrapbook,” he said. “It was a mock-up of photos of Ocracoke and typewritten copy.  It was just beautiful to see all these photos from the 50s.”

This scrapbook later became “Ocracoke in the Fifties.”

Another islander, Sherry O’Neal, whose photo is in the book and who died in June, also visited Dare in New York, Ashley said.

“Sherry was very close to Dare and her mother,” Ballance said.

Ashley said O’Neal was brave to also venture off the island to visit New York.

“Dare opened up the world to her,” Ashley said about O’Neal. “Dare encouraged her and told her she could do whatever she wanted.”

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Brook Ashley, left, Dare Wright’s god-daughter and heir, meets with Sherry O’Neal in 2006 during a book signing at Books to Be Red.

When Ashley visited the island in 2006 to promote “Ocracoke in the Fifties,” O’Neal attended the book signing at Books To Be Red.

“She wanted me to know what Dare’s encouragement meant to her,” Ashley said. “Look at what Dare did. She was that inspirational.”

Ashley herself is working on a new, coffee-table biography of Dare and her photography for publication sometime soon.

In the meantime, Ashley said she has several Facebook pages including, “Dare Wright ~ a Tribute” and “Ocracoke in The Fifties” which anyone is welcome to join.

Ashley said she has posted old photos of Ocracoke folks on these Facebook pages and has gotten a number of them identified.

“Everyone’s having such fun figuring out who these people are,” she said. “I love Dare and want her legacy to be what it deserves.”

Dare Wright's children's book 'Holiday for Edith and the Bears' was shot on Ocracoke.

Dare Wright’s children’s book ‘Holiday for Edith and the Bears’ was shot on Ocracoke.

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Dare Wright on the Ocracoke Dunes. Photo courtesy of Brook Ashley

Dare's Story

Dare Wright poses on Ocraocke with two local men. John Ivey identified the man on the right as Oscar Jackson. Photo courtesy of Brook Ashley

1 reply »

  1. I became acquainted with these books by Dare Wright, in college —1972-76, when a classmate of mine had some of them. Though a North Carolinian, I hadn’t been to Ocracoke yet, growing up in the foothills and rarely getting to the beach. Have been many times since then, after discovering it through Dare’s children books. SO glad that her heir is doing all she can to keep her memory and the memory of an older Ocracoke alive. Ocracoke is my happy place!