Currituck County Tales and Legends
Contributed by Robert Etheridge
This story is not a tale of a supernatural event. Rather, it is about a natural occurrence. The time was before 1912 because it happened when Lizzie was still at home with her parents, Gideon and Mary B. Sawyer.
The little house was located in southern Currituck County. Its exact location is unknown, but was probably in the area sometimes known as Kilmarlic. It was home to an older couple who lived peacefully in a small frame house in a state of semi-retirement.
The piano was the pride and joy of the lady of the house. It was an inheritance from an old friend who had known that the lady admired the instrument and left it, a bench and the Persian carpet upon which they sat to her. When it arrived on the steamboat, several burly men were required to get it up into a wagon and deliver it to the little house. It was so large that the double windows that opened into the front parlor had to be removed in order for the men to maneuver it up into the room. That day the entire neighborhood pitched in and helped and everyone admired the piano and assured the lady of the house that she was blessed indeed, to have had such a good friend.
One morning, several years later, her husband said goodbye and rode off to catch the steamboat for Elizabeth City as he had some business to transact there. The lady finished up her household chores, visited and had lunch with a friend down the road and returned home in early afternoon.
In spite of, or perhaps because of the magnificence of the piano, she never was satisfied with her playing so she always practiced whenever she could find a few minutes. Therefore she was in the front parlor sitting at the piano when she noticed that the fine April day had suddenly turned very dark. She glanced out the front double windows just as the storm hit. All she saw was dust and debris whirling past at incredible speed. That was the last thing she remembered until she regained consciousness. She realized that she was outside and in a field in back of her house. She turned toward an ominous noise and was just able to see the tornado dissipate as it crossed into Currituck Sound. “Good Lord, it was a twister!” she exclaimed.
A friend from the next farmhouse came running to her aid. “Are you all right?” she asked. The lady performed a quick self-examination and proclaimed herself fine except for a headache. Something had apparently hit her on the head shortly after she saw the debris flying. “Just help me into the house and I'll lie down a short while.” She saw her neighbor's look of despair and followed her eyes toward the house. It was not there!
The tornado had destroyed the little house. It had disintegrated into thousands of parts and all of those parts were now scattered over lower Currituck. But there was something of the house left. The foundation and the flooring were intact and sitting where the front parlor once was and now exposed to the open air was the piano, the bench and the Persian carpet. They were absolutely unscratched and had not moved one inch!
People from all over came to see this phenomenon and one man rushed to the dock to prepare the husband for the shock and assure him that his wife was unhurt. He was told that two structures had been destroyed—a barn and his home. There was only one death reported and that was an unfortunate mule that was caught inside a neighbor's barn when it collapsed.
Thus my mother told this story to me as a child. I remember that I was fascinated by the action of the storm and the fact that the piano was left untouched. After I became older, however, two footnotes assumed more importance than the quirk of the tornado's winds.
The first footnote was this: Within a day after the storm, the lady and her husband were safely under the roof of friends and within another day most of the people from the surrounding area assembled at the site of the destroyed house and held a meeting. The piano was covered with a large tarpaulin to prevent rain damage. Strangely enough, though there was heavy rain in other parts of the county, the site of the damage had experienced no rain whatsoever.
The next day, wagons filled with materials and men descended and began construction on another house. It was put up on the same foundation and closely resembled the original house when it was completed. There were no plumbing or electrical fixtures to worry about and most of the men in the county were very good at the building trades.
No money was accepted from the lady and her husband. It was considered a duty to help out your friends and neighbors when they were in trouble. Within a month the lady of the house was once again sitting at her piano with a grateful heart.
Did you want to know about the second footnote? It seems that the farmer who owned the mule requested only one thing from the folks who asked if they could help him. “I would appreciate it if you could help me bury my mule.” And so they did. When asked why he would go to so much trouble for a mule, he replied, “That mule was my friend and co-worker for over twenty years. He understood me like no one else and saw me as no one else saw me. He deserves a proper burial.”
In our modern age with electronic communication, the strange things that a tornado can do are well documented. Therefore the story of the tornado's random destruction may not be as surprising to us as it was to the people of Currituck County in a time now over ninety years ago. As for me—well, I love the footnotes!