Contributed photo by Bill Creasy from the George Clark collection.
Was a stray cigarette lit during a game of poker or an unattended hot iron to blame for the leveling of 103 cottages, boarding homes and hotels on Wrightsville Beach 80 years ago in 1934?
Bill Creasy, a Wrightsville Beach resident and one of the few remaining who can remember seeing the inferno first hand, said no one would ever know for certain.
It was a chilly Sunday, Jan. 28, in Wrightsville Beach when the unknown spark caught the interior of the Kitty Cottage on fire and the gusting west to southwest wind steered the flames up the beach, leaving few structures untouched.
At the time Creasy’s family owned a cottage on Charlotte Street but said the family had moved off the island for the winter.
“My dad had a sister who was a permanent resident of the beach and she called my dad and said there was a bad fire at the beach,” Creasy said. “We got in the car and came down here but of course we couldn’t get any closer than Harbor Island because back in 1934 there was no bridge, just the trolley line and a footbridge.”
Along with a large crowd of onlookers, some who also had homes on the island, Creasy said he and his parents watched the fire spread from just across Banks Channel from where his current house is.
“We parked and walked down to about opposite of here and stood there for several hours and watched it burn,” he said. “The fire was so intense that there were just big chunks of burning embers going through the air and dropping on different houses.”
Although she was not yet born, Wrightsville Beach native Linda Robinson said she remembers one story her father, who lived on the south end at the time, told her about the attempt to save the Oceanic.
“He told me when the fire started a bunch of people ran toward the hotel and formed a bucket brigade to try to put the fire out because they didn’t have any fire fighting equipment at that point,” Robinson said. “When they realized they weren’t going to be able to save the hotel people started running in and pulling out furniture and other stuff from the lobby and dining room, and they pulled out this upright piano and put it on the sidewalk.”
Robinson said she was highly skeptical of what her father told her next, involving Vertabelle Loughlin, the piano player for her Sunday school classes.
“This woman, who I knew, Vertabelle Loughlin, sat down at the piano and played ‘It’s a Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight,’” she said. “Every once in a while when I would see Vertabelle I would plan to ask her if that was true but I never did.”
Stay tuned for the full article coming out in the Thursday, Jan. 30 edition of Lumina News.