By Patty Huston-Holm
Ocracoke Island’s best history might be just steps from the school.
On Back Road, past the buildings where students learn and past the Masonic Temple is the family home of 10th-generation islander Chester Lynn.
Inside the red house where he was born and raised, he sits surrounded by pieces of his life and of others both living and gone.
Lynn, 66, is eager to share what he knows. And he knows a lot.
His vast knowledge of the fig trees on Ocracoke is within his 40-page book, “Figments of Ocracoke.”
Almost hidden in his combination living quarters and antiques shop is this thin paperback mostly about Ocracoke’s fig history but verifying Lynn as “an O’cocker through and through.” (O’cocker is the moniker for those of the original Ocracoke families.)
Lynn is quick to relate that an Ocracoke fig tree is housed in the White House greenhouse in Washington, D.C., something that he made happen.
Along with antiques, he is the main island purveyor of fig saplings that he propagates from various local trees.
Immediately apparent inside his shop called Annabelle’s, after his grandmother, are the artifacts. Some are for sale. Some aren’t. All have a story.
Lynn admits he struggled in school, graduating in a class of six.
But his eidetic memory, sometimes called photographic, serves him well.
He credits the Masons at the nearby Temple for his literacy.
“When I had to remember and quote all the things to be a member, it just clicked,” he said of his Masonic induction decades ago. It hasn’t stopped clicking.
Visitors to his shop will hear tales in the unique Ocracoke brogue, which may soon die out completely.
Some who visit want to know “where the ocean is” or “how to find the shopping center,” Lynn shared with a grin.
Others want to “go deep.” These deep-information divers find gold as this island native shares his perspective on the Lost Colony, the wreck of the Carroll A. Deering, Blackbeard the pirate and the hundreds of items related and not related to these better-known parts of history.
“The colony was not lost,” Chester asserts about the 1500s English colonization of Roanoke Island, Dare County, a theory that others have posited. They carved where they went on a tree — Croatan, he said, which is now Hatteras Island.
“The DNA (of original inhabitants) was taken right off Back Road in Buxton,” he said. “Some of the descendants on the Outer Banks are from the Lost Colony. That’s already been proven.”
Within Lynn’s treasure chest home is a white bowl “taken right from the Deering boat,” an American five-masted commercial schooner launched in 1919, which ran aground and which her crew mysteriously abandoned off the shores here.
He also has some plates connected to Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, who was killed off Ocracoke in 1718.
“He ate right off this plate,” Lynn said, referring to a metal dish inside a glass cabinet that is off-limits to potential buyers.
Also, for viewing only are ancient artifacts from the Middle East and a kerosene lantern and an oil lamp used in the Ocracoke Lighthouse, slated to mark its 200th anniversary on May 18.
Large furniture items in the house since before Chester was born are likewise for beholding only.
“My heritage is for learning but not for sale,” he said. “I sell bottles, knives and crockery. I had a lot more before (Hurricane) Dorian (2019) that brought water up three feet.”
Lynn’s numerous photographs and lithographs, such as one of Shell Castle Island, serve as historical physical evidence.
The rendition of Shell Castle, once a trading center in Ocracoke inlet and now barely visible in Pamlico Sound, shows it had a lighthouse until lightning struck and burned it in 1818.
A charcoal drawing of Gen. George Nagel of the 1700s elicits stories of correspondence with George Washington.
Lynn, who in six decades has left the island only for brief trips to California, Europe and Israel, has stories about sections of the village that only long-timers know.
Billy Goat Hill, near Ramp 72, is one where he claims 11 World War II German soldiers washed ashore and were buried about four feet deep in the dunes.
About those 1930s sailors’ pipes, they have long stems to keep the flame from their beards. He became the owner of a 1700s cannon ball when a carpenter removed a wall from a house, and it rolled out.
Making money from buyers is less rewarding than sharing these stories, he said.
“A lot of people couldn’t care less about old things but later do and realize it’s too late,” he said.
These days, a neurological disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth robs Lynn of physical but not mental agility. Not as agile as when younger, Lynn admits, are his bones, namely his legs.
Once he is not around, he hopes to find someone or some place that values his historical pieces and knowledge as much as he does.
Lynn views himself as a keeper of island history, especially the lighthouse that no one can climb for safety reasons.
“For 30 years, I would go and sit on the lighthouse steps and talk to people about the history,” he reminisced. “I can’t climb it, but I sure know about it.”