Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

By Kip Tabb | February 13th, 2014

In the far side of Hatteras Village lies the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

A day trip into the Outer Banks’ history

In the far side of Hatteras Village, just past the ferry terminal to Ocracoke Island, lies the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, a fascinating little museum that is the perfect day trip for anyone visiting the Outer Banks.

The museum’s major exhibit brings details of the Civil War on the Outer Banks to life, re-creating a time and place when the dunes lining the shore were flattened stretches of beach, and Confederate forts at Hatteras and Ocracoke tried in vain to halt the Northern onslaught.

The ongoing excavation of Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship, off Beaufort Inlet some four hours to the north, is also noted with artifacts and historic notes. There are maps giving the location of shipwrecks and replicas of ships that slipped beneath the sea. More exhibits on the wrecks are planned.

The story of the Outer Banks is often told by these ships that have floundered on the shoals and sandbars, sometimes so close to shore the men of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a forerunner to the Coast Guard, could rescue the crew with nothing more than a 16-foot surfboat, a lifeline and courage. Other times there was no one to rescue the mariners, and the victims became part of the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”


The drive to the museum is a relaxing ride through the most beautiful stretch of the Outer Banks. Coming from the north, the Bonner Bridge lifts drivers to a panorama of Oregon Inlet and Pamlico Sound, then brings them to the surface again at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which takes up the north end of Hatteras Island.

There is only one road that traverses Hatteras Island. N.C. Highway 12 is a two-lane highway that never wanders far from the sea. It can’t. This far south, the Outer Banks is barely more than a raised sandbar separating the ocean from the Pamlico Sound.

It’s a good 45 minutes to an hour from the end of the Bonner Bridge to the museum, but the trip is worthwhile. The road passes through vistas of verdant marsh, filled with the sound of migratory waterfowl in fall and winter. In spring and summer, the marsh changes to hues of green, and songbirds fill the air.

The villages of Hatteras Island that a driver passes through are a reminder of a simpler time on the Outer Banks. Unlike the developed towns north of Oregon Inlet, these are true villages, surviving on visitors who keep coming back. Except for the Food Lion in Avon, there are no national chains; it’s all mom-and-pop stores, galleries and restaurants from Rodanthe on the north to Hatteras Village.

The Museum’s 854 Fresnel lens

Photograph by Vicki McAllister


The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum itself sits next to a wide, pristine beach just north of Hatteras Inlet, and a few of the boats of the local fishing fleet can usually be seen plying the waters offshore. The museum is unique in its shape, bowed spars rising from the foundation frame the building, giving the sense of a ship that has floundered and been stripped to its skeleton.

The entrance to the museum is dominated by the striking 854 Fresnel lens that was removed from the second Hatteras Lighthouse, which was rendered inactive by the Civil War. (The current Cape Hatteras Light replaced that replacement lighthouse in 1873, although encroachment from the sea led to its being moved in 1999.)

The museum is a one-hour stop, maybe an hour and a half. Yet, as a destination for a day trip, it’sIas good as it gets. Open year round, it’s worth a visit any time of the year.

Kip Tabb is a freelance writer an editor of the North Beach Sun, a quarterly newspaper based in Kill Devil Hills that covers the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina. Contact him at

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