The Edge Outer Banks 2000.2001 Home
Text by Marsha Bacenko
Photos by Aycock Brown
There are Ghosts
in the Carolinian Hotel.  
You can hear their faint echo in “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” as they sing along with the player piano in the restaurant. Or feel goosebumps as a group of phantom barefoot teenagers rushes past to the ballroom for a night of shag dancing. And is that the scrumptious smell of barbecue wafting from the back deck, or a remnant of cookouts held 50 years ago?
Today, the Carolinian’s stucco exterior wears a fresh coat of paint; its familiar cotton candy pink is now a soft eggshell. In the main lobby, the high-backed seats have been re-covered. The carpet laid in 1965 has been pulled up and the original hardwood floors gleam. But the Carolinian’s innate old-fashioned feel hasn’t changed. The wood paneling has that sticky shiny look that wood gets from years of exposure to salt air. And the moosehead glowering over the brick fireplace, the original upright piano and the framed prints still make the lobby feel as comfortable as an old shoe.
Current manager Lisa Parsons told of a couple who visited last year. “They took one look at a wooden table in the lobby, and found the initials they had carved as kids in 1953,” she marvels.
The original owners were siblings Lima Oneto, Waylon Fermons, Lucille Winslow, and Lima’s husband, Julian. They promoted the Carolinian heavily as a getaway for the whole family to enjoy surf, sand and activities.
“The Carolinian was the center of the beach from the late ’50s to the early ’70s,” says Harriet Oneto, Lima and Julian’s daughter-in-law. “The same people would come back year after year.”
The Outer Banks was becoming a popular destination in the 1950s, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do outside of the pursuits of nature. Our State magazine says of that time that Nags Head, although developing at a fast rate, was still a great place to “go native.”
A stay at the Carolinian filled that gap. People who came to the hotel for the week chose the American Plan, which included meals and festivities. So the owners tirelessly planned activities for the whole family each night — including cookouts, sing-a-longs, games and pool parties. It was kind of a cross between a beachy Dirty Dancing and A Summer Place. Their own ads from that time extol the hotel as a place “where the livin’ is easy and all the family has fun in a relaxed, barefoot sort of way.”
Framed photos taken by well-known photographer Aycock Brown line the restaurant’s walls today and show these moments frozen in time. Everyone from babies to retirees are absolutely giddy with silliness and fun. One photo shows a couple of gentlemen at the buffet table, with one “feeding” a taxidermist-mounted animal standing guard over the roast beef. Another shows families gathered on the sand, singing along for all they’re worth with a guitar-slinging troubadour. “My in-laws were big entertainers,” Harriet recalls.
There was no end to Julian Oneto’s imagination. He was a tireless promoter of the Carolinian, and was probably one of the first to introduce the concept of a shoulder season. The famous (or infamous) Pirate’s Jamboree was an annual event that took place during a sometimes chilly April. Partici-pants were encouraged to grow their beards and dress up as Blackbeard, or at least one of his cohorts. Bill Bond of Kill Devil Hills remembers it well. “It was wild,” he says, “there were a lot of real sailors from Norfolk who came down. They could raise a lot of hell!”
This festival grew to a four-weekend-long event called the Pirate’s Jamborama. It involved frying hundreds of pounds of fish in oil-filled troughs, marching bands, beauty pageants and treasure hunts.
Another annual and somewhat surreal Carolinian-sponsored event was the Nags Head Woods Fox Hunt. This all day occurrence involved a fox, dawgs (not dogs), four-wheel-drive vehicles and a little nip from the flask. As the fun-loving Onetos wrote in their monthly hotel newsletter, The Driftwood: “We’ll wager that someone remembers to invite Jack Dan’l to the festivities.” And with tongue firmly in cheek, they continued, “There is a great deal of etiquette involved in fox hunting — too bad we dune hunters never learned it!”
Lucille’s stepson, Julian Winslow, shares his theory: “By February everyone was talking to themselves – there was no Super Bowl at that time! They all wanted something to do and they were ready to turn out for something like that.”
Working the hotel was a rite of passage for the owners’ children. Julian Winslow worked three summers as a lifeguard and front desk clerk. “We worked all the time,” he recalls, “seven days a week — but it was a nice summer job. They boarded us, fed us — and there were a lot of girls there!”
Harriet Oneto was working the front desk in 1966 for the second summer in a row. She loved Nags Head, but says, “I never dreamed I’d still be here over 30 years later!” What happened was that she fell in love — with the owners’ son, Jan, who was then working as a bartender at the hotel. Jan and Harriet married in 1966, and the reception was, of course, in the Carolinian’s ballroom.
Current owners, Milda and Russ Irani, proudly carry on in traditional Carolinian fashion. Live music, the “Best Body on the Beach” contest, and fraternity reunions are annual events. “It’s kind of neat to see people preserve things like they do, especially with all the changes going up around them,” Harriet Oneto muses.
The Carolinian was never a staid establishment. Even as one of the oldest hotels on the beach, it probably will never be revered as a historical site. But the Carolinian Hotel is not about preservation. It always was — and will be — about fun, family and moments in time remembered and savored.

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