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  • The Cottage Mover
  • Bland Simpson (bio)

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"Well, madam, I know you don't have one of these back home."

"No," she said. "But …"

Photograph by Daniel Schwen, courtesy of a GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons.

Fifty or sixty years ago, my second cousin once-removed's uncle by marriage, Uncle John Ferebee, was a legendary cottage-mover on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He specialized in sliding cottages westward, back away from the encroaching ocean, though he also moved them north and south up and down the beach. Over on Roanoke Island, any number of homes in Manteo now stand on foundations they were not built upon, thanks to this man's work. There was nothing he couldn't move—why, I believe he once moved a small hotel! [End Page 88]

Down on Hatteras Island, back in the 1950s when the moving of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse first got talked about, they even consulted with him to see how he would do it, and, though it wasn't till 1999 that the light retreated from the Atlantic, old-timers say that some of the cottage mover's suggestions and methods from forty years earlier were put to use.

Uncle John was extremely well-known, famous even, as the man who could move anything.

Famous, that is, in Dare County and parts of eastern Hyde and southern Currituck counties, and probably not unknown over in swampy Tyrrell. Yet, once that we know of, his fame transcended the Carolina sound country and made it all the way up to Manhattan.

An old lady from Manteo decided she needed to take a trip and go see New York City one time in her life. So she got there and signed up for the Gray Line "Historic Sites" Tour right away. First place they went was to see the Old Dutch House, a little two-story affair down on Wall Street dwarfed by the towers of commerce, and, after the tour-guide's spiel, the old lady from Manteo was unimpressed and said from the back of the crowd, "We got one of these back home."

The tour guide was peeved, but held his tongue. And then they went over to St. Mark's Place and looked at the beautiful commercial buildings along 2nd Avenue, the Italianate details of the roofs and windows, and the little old lady thought about the antique buildings in downtown Manteo and said, a little louder this time, "We got some of these back home."

Then they drifted down to South Street Seaport and studied the historic ships there, and the old lady, reminded of all the weathered boats in Shallowbag Bay there at Manteo, said firmly: "We got some of these back home!"

And so it went, all through the whole four-hour tour, the tour guide getting more and more steamed by the old Manteo lady's refrain but never responding, till they finally reached the last site of the day: the Empire State Building. They went up to the Observation Deck, and the tour guide pointed out features of the New York skyline, showed them all the yellow cabs in the world down below. And then, tapping on the great skyscraper's side, he pre-empted the little old lady from Manteo, saying, "Well, madam, I know you don't have one of these back home."

"No," she said. "But we got somebody can move it." [End Page 89]

Bland Simpson

Bland Simpson, Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a long-time member of the Tony Award-winning Red Clay Ramblers. He has received the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, collaborated on such musicals as Diamond Studs, King Mackerel, and Kudzu, and authored Into the Sound Country and The Inner Islands, with photography by his wife, Ann Cary Simpson.

Ed. Note: This true story originally appeared in UNC Press's Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of North Carolina's Finest Writers and appears here courtesy of the author.



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