|ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME
Text by Marsha
Photos by Aycock Brown
|There are Ghosts
|in the Carolinian
|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 Carolinians 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 Carolinians innate old-fashioned feel hasnt 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 Limas husband, Julian. They promoted
the Carolinian heavily as a getaway for the whole family to enjoy surf, sand
|The Carolinian was the center of the beach from the late
50s to the early 70s, says Harriet
Oneto, Lima and Julians 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 wasnt 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
|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 restaurants 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 theyre worth with a guitar-slinging troubadour. My in-laws
were big entertainers, Harriet recalls.
|There was no end to Julian Onetos
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) Pirates 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
|This festival grew to a four-weekend-long event
called the Pirates Jamborama. It
involved frying hundreds of pounds of fish in oil-filled troughs, marching bands, beauty pageants and treasure
|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: Well wager that someone remembers
to invite Jack Danl 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!
| Lucilles 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
|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 Id 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 Carolinians 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.
Its kind of neat to see people preserve things like they do,
especially with all the changes going up around them, Harriet Oneto
|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.