Several years ago, on a cold January weekend during which my family and I were sufficiently winter-weary, we packed ourselves into the car and headed to the beach for a day trip. As my husband is fond of saying, sometimes we just need a reminder that the ocean is still there, especially after a long holiday season has passed and we are left with nothing but the prospect of several more months of the long dark days of winter stretching out in front of us.
On this particular day, although the weather at the beach was cold and windy, the sky was also brilliant and sunny, the ocean wild and blue. We got ourselves some coffee, parked along one of the deserted public lots midway along the island, and headed over the dune. It’s never quite the same when you’re forced to wear shoes and the sand can’t be felt between your toes. It’s a different time on the beach, but still a welcome one – peaceful and chilly, breathtaking and beautiful.
We headed north, passing plenty of other brave souls who were also out enjoying the day, as intermittent gusts of wind whipped showers of sand around our legs and strands of hair around our faces, and seabirds hovered above suspended between land and waves. We ended up at the far tip of the island where an inlet separates Wrightsville from exclusive Figure Eight Island beyond and the view is simply stunning.
There, nestled among the blonde dunes and rustling green seagrass, we found respite from the wind and a lone mailbox – the only man-made structure on the beach – and promptly wondered what on earth had caused it to be there.
Tucked inside were spiral bound notebooks, a bit limp in the damp air, and some pens, and we spent the next half hour or so reading through snippets written during the last year or so by visitors from around the world. Some folks commented on the view, their love for the beach, and their gratitude for time with family and friends there. Some poured out their private thoughts, a release for the things that were burdening them. Some were more tongue-in-cheek. One note ominously suggested that if we were there reading the note, to beware…the Zombie Apocalypse had taken place and only a few survivors were wandering around, struggling with the remnants of life on earth.
Entirely charmed by the concept, we added our own words before carefully placing the items back in the box and closing it up tight, and spent a little more time taking in the stunning views of that particular spot.
I hadn’t given too much thought to the mailbox since then, a pleasant consequence of having such easy access to the beach at any time, until we found two others while vacationing in Holden Beach a few weeks ago. At the gated west end, there is a mailbox tucked among the dunes, and on the east end, near a popular fishing spot, sits another.
A little internet research has revealed that there are a few others around the southern North Carolina beaches, most notably on Bird Island near Sunset Beach where the box has been around for three decades. The Bird Island “Kindred Spirit” mailbox was the subject of a feature on the CBS Evening News earlier this summer where it was revealed that Sunset Beach resident Frank Nesmith had been the one to put the mailbox there some 35 years earlier, solving a long-standing mystery among visitors and locals.
The Wrightsville Beach mailbox and accompanying bench were put in place by Bernie and Sydney Nykanen in 2003 but after having been vandalized earlier this past spring, it was dismantled and placed in the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, along with some 130 of its notebooks. (I guess our own notes are part of museum history now!) Since then the Student Ambassadors of UNC Wilmington have thankfully put in a new mailbox at the original spot to continue the tradition.
I’m not certain where the Holden Beach mailboxes came from.
I haven’t heard of these mailboxes being anywhere else, and I haven’t personally come across them during my visits to the coastlines of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, or Florida. They seem entirely and wonderfully unique to North Carolina, which is perfect, because the romanticism of them, singular and lonesome amongst the windswept dunes, fits nowhere better than among the beaches here, which are more natural and undisturbed than anywhere else I’ve been. They belong here, amongst North Carolina lore, as much as tales of Blackbeard and pirates, and shipwrecks and lighthouses.
To read more about the mailboxes, check out these links, or spend some time searching for them the next time you’re on the southern coast of North Carolina. It’s worth the visit!