Few of the visitors spending their holiday weekend at the North Carolina coast will recognize the name Aycock Brown. Born in Happy Valley between Lenoir and Blowing Rock, Brown was named for Gov. Charles B. Aycock (by Gov. Aycock himself) and grew up on the Occoneechee Farms of General Julian S. Carr in Orange County. But he was best known as a one-man promoter of the North Carolina coast. In 1949, writer Jack Riley introduced readers to Aycock Brown and credited him with putting the North Carolina coast on the map.
If you’re knocking about the Carolina coast this summer, chances are that you’ll run into a lantern-jawed character with a small mustache, searching blue-eyes, an ivory-studded smile, a sun-seared complexion and the inevitable camera slung over one shoulder.
In case you haven’t already guessed his identity, that character will be Aycock Brown at work. I say at work, because that’s all he does between now and Labor Day, 20 hours per day.
Aycock Brown is the press agent for the Carolina coast, the chronicler of anything and everything that happens along the waterfront and public relations extraordinary.…
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Today the Carolina coast is a booming resort area, and the places Aycock Brown writes about are overflowing with guests who pay folding money for the privilege.
It wasn’t that way 20 years ago when the gangly young mountaineer adopted the coast for his home and became its self-appointed press agent. A stock market crash took the starch out of resort business just about the time Aycock Brown began chronicling the virtues of the Carolina seaside.
Folks laughed at his promotion schemes, and North Carolinians pinched their pennies to keep the family alive in the 1930’s. Often the material Brown submitted to newspapers from Ocracoke didn’t pay enough to cover the postage.
Brown took to all sorts of back-breaking jobs to keep himself and his family alive, but he never quit pounding out pieces telling the world about the coastline.
This summer, if the cash registers stop jingling long enough for a resort proprietor to think, he might well ponder the profits that can be attributed to the faithful plugging by Aycock Brown….
Biggest by-line of his career came to Aycock for a Saturday Evening Post story on Ocracoke which was titled “Cape Stormy.” The story appeared in August of 1940, and in elation, Aycock named his 20-months-old daughter “Stormy Gale.” She had borne the name Esther Gale and is probably the only child the magazine has had a hand in renaming.…
When war broke and the Navy needed quick intelligence along the coast, Aycock Brown was their man. Physically disqualified for military duty, he became one of the rare civilian intelligence operators who shared the Navy’s knowledge of submarine locations, convoy movements, attacks and counter-attacks. The naval warfare that transpired while German subs played havoc with coastwise shipping of the Carolina Coast never made the news, but it piled up heavy reports in secret Navy files.
After the war, Aycock set up a photo studio with Roy Eubanks at Beaufort but still hankered for free-lancing. It was then that an old favor paid dividends.
Aycock Brown was the first writer to extoll the virtues of Tony Seaman’s seafoods at the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City, and his squibs led to a growing clip file of free publicity the like of which has never been shared by another Tar Heel restauranteur. When Aycock was day-dreaming about photographic equipment for free-lancing, the grateful Seaman dropped a $350 press camera into his lap and launched him on his own. The camera sometimes played up Tony’s competitors.
At free-lancing, Aycock was in his proper element. He had proved that for Atlantic Beach back in the summer of 1928 when the resort first opened under the auspices of the Atlantic Beach and Bridge Corporation. Aycock took the job of playing up the “Pagoda by the Sea,” where name bands played for dances and the bridge company collected tolls for bridge crossings and nickels for cokes.
It was when this job folded at the end of the season that Aycock accepted Captain Bill Gaskill’s invitation to Ocracoke and the free vacation that turned into a career.…
He estimates he travels 1,000 miles a week “covering the waterfront” between Currituck and Morehead City and that his work schedule never allows him more than four hours sleep per night in summer. He begins the summer season at a weight of 136 pounds and winds up at about 122.
Summarizing his present situation, the 44-year-old writer says, “…I want to help make coastal North Carolina the best-known coast in the world – like the Riviera, Palm Beach or Miami Beach, Cape Cod or Waikiki. We’ve got everything on the North Carolina Coast that any other coast has got, except rocks.…” The N&O May 22, 1949
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.
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