The Civil War Institute will be celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this spring with its brand new “Find Your Park Friday” series. Inspired by the NPS #FindYourPark campaign, the series will challenge our fellows to share their experiences exploring America’s national historical, cultural, and natural resources through trips and internships with the NPS. In our fifth post, Alex Andrioli goes back to the roots of her love for national parks and discusses how her childhood at Cape Hatteras led to an internship with the National Park Service years later.
Last summer, I was an intern at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in the Education Department as a Brian C. Pohanka Intern. I would have never thought that I would get to live in such a beautiful place. To actually work and reside in a location that is soaked in history has forever changed me because it made me realize that history majors are actually allowed to pursue other careers outside of the high school or college classroom. Harpers Ferry has given me more than just career options and historical knowledge that I can dip into if I ever end up on Jeopardy!; it has given me great friends that live all across the United States (one even lives across the Pond in England) and mentors who are more like adopted parents. However, even though Harpers Ferry has started to help me pave the way to my future career, there is one park that will always hold a special place in my heart.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore and I go way back. Technically, the first time that I went was when my mom was pregnant with me in 1995, but the first pictures of me out and about of the womb are from 1996 when I was a few months old. My earliest memories in life are of Cape Hatteras. For most of my life, my family has gone to the Outer Banks in North Carolina for summer vacation. Towards the end of the school year when most kids were looking forward to typical summertime activities, I was anxiously awaiting the annual trip to that thin strip of islands clinging to the mainland of North Carolina. This is not to say that I wasn’t also looking forward to cliche summer pastimes, but there was nothing like the preparation for the long journey south. Usually, the excitement became surreal for me the week before our departure. The kitchen would be crowded with extra groceries, suitcases would be lying around just waiting to be stuffed with clothes, and the night before felt like an eternity.
No matter how much the night dragged on, the morning always did come, and the trip began with the long car ride. I’m from New Jersey–South Jersey, to be more specific for those people who know what that specification matters. The car ride from South Jersey to Cape Hatteras is over seven hours long which left ample time for my younger brother and I to engage in screaming fits with one another, my dad to sing along with the radio while wearing his traditional “Don’t Make Me Pull Over” roadtrip T-shirt, and everyone to catch up on sleep. When we eventually got close enough to the Outer Banks, my parents would finally play the “vacation music” more commonly known as Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Finally, after a joyful yet painful campaign down the East Coast in a fully loaded vehicle, the Andriolis would arrive at the house that was rented out for the week. After fully exploring every nook and cranny the house had to offer and relaxing a bit, the fun would begin. My family would usually have a vague outline of what our week would look like, but apart from the weather forecast, we were as spontaneous as we wanted to be.
Our days would be filled with climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse if we ventured out to the next island on the Ocracoke Island ferryboat. Lurking around museums and the original site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse before it was moved 2,900 feet from its original location in 1999 due to the threat of shoreline erosion were among other fun activities. One of my absolute favorite things to do was when my family would drive our cars out onto the beach and set up shop right alongside the ocean. We would bring a day’s worth of provisions so we wouldn’t have to leave our spot from morning until about ten o’clock at night. The beach in Cape Hatteras is so long and open and rarely would be crowded.
The beaches in New Jersey can almost be claustrophobic, so Cape Hatteras is a breath of fresh air. My dad and uncle would fish along the shore while my brother, cousin, and I would play in the sand, swim in the ocean, and walk along the beach. When night fell, my dad would get a campfire going, and we would all roast marshmallows after chasing the ghost crabs along the sand dunes. However, the most vivid image I have in my mind is the night sky. I have never seen a sky so bright, not from light pollution but from the stars. My God, it was full of stars!
Harpers Ferry was the start of my journey as a young adult finding my way through the world. It was my first internship, my first time living in West Virginia, and my first time being away from home in a place outside of college. Cape Hatteras has always been and always will be a place where my family and I can be together. Cape Hatteras is synonymous with family, which is especially important to me now that I am away from home for longer periods of time and am learning and growing as an individual. It is my happy place filled with happy memories, and no matter how far I go, I will always be counting down the days until I can return.
“Cape Hatteras Light Station,” National Park Service. Accessed April 30, 2016.