The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is nestled between the ocean on one side and the ferry dock on the other at the southern end of Hatteras Island. I wanted to take my kids since we live here now. I grew up in Hatteras, and I’m very proud of the fascinating history of the Outer Banks, with everything from pirates swashbuckling to World War II submarines patrolling the coast. It’s the sort of history that kids naturally take an interest in. My kids, even the tween who is sometimes unenthused, were impressed by the museum.
People come to the Outer Banks for the fishing and the undeveloped beaches, but in addition to being a world class resort area, there is a ton of interesting history. There was a Civil War fort (Fort Hatteras, whose capture was the first Union Victory), a “hotel” for slaves headed north to freedom (Hotel De’Afrique), Blackbeard the pirate was killed just south of Hatteras, and the whole area was a hotspot of German submarine activity during WWII.
This area is called The Graveyard of the Atlantic because of the number of ships wrecked off the coast here, mostly due to the shifting sandbars off the coast that hundreds of ships ran aground on before the days of radar and depth finders. The shoals constantly shift with the currents and the tides, and in the old days ships were essentially “flying blind” while navigating these waters. Countless ships ran aground and broke apart on the shoals.
All of these various aspects of the history of the Outer Banks can be explored at the museum. They have artifacts from Blackbeard’s ship (the Queen Anne’s Revenge), from German u-boats sunk off the coast and other less famous ships (like the ghost ship Carroll A. Deering) that met their end on the shoals off Cape Hatteras.
As an aside, I’ll tell you a local legend about the Carroll A. Deering that most books and websites leave out. They all say that the ship was found completely empty, and that the crew had vanished. But that isn’t true! A single six-toed cat was found alive onboard, and was carried ashore to Hatteras Island. Legend has it that she is the ancestor of the commonly found six-toed cats still found here today.
My favorite part of the museum is the beautiful exhibit about commercial and sport fishing on Hatteras Island. My little brother is featured in not one but two portraits by local photographer Daniel Pullen.
Both my dad and my brother have worked their whole lives as fishermen in both the commercial and sport fishing worlds. My dad started working as a mate on the famed Albatross fleet in the early 70’s. He then transitioned into commercial fishing and he’s been at it for the past 40 years. For me, the fishing traditions here are part of my heritage and one of the things I most want my kids to experience and appreciate.
Whether you’re a history buff or a fishing enthusiast, or a kid who’s into pirates, there’s something for you at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum!