Wrightsville Beach resident Bill Creasy is a man with an intimate knowledge of beach happenings dipping back into the early 20th century. Creasy’s remembrances of July Fourths past tell the story of a different time and a different Wrightsville Beach. Watch a video clip of the interview at the end of the article.
What was Fourth of July like in Wrightsville Beach when you were growing up?
My memories of the Fourth of July are mostly from the 1930s and 1940s when I was a teenager because it meant the most to me then. I had all kinds of friends down here and we had a bunch of little activities that didn’t amount to much but they were things we enjoyed doing.
On the Fourth of July they would couple up about four or five of those cars and load them up with every kind of person you could imagine and they would head down here to the Lumina. The Lumina was the attraction on the Fourth of July … they used to have a lot of athletic events like a foot race, sack race, greased pole climb and all kinds of things like that. Of course on Fourth of July night there was always a dance at Lumina, but I was too young at that time to care anything about dancing.
The sack race entertained me more than anything. They would tie a sack around your legs and try to hop along.
Was there one aspect of the holiday that you remember most?
The thing I remember most about the Fourth of July was in the 1940s when I was a teenager growing up and it was the boat races.
Were these sailboat races?
I was interested in motorboats, the sailboats never appealed to me too much because they were too slow. I was mostly interested in the little hydroplanes that used Johnson and Evinrude nine-horsepower motors and they would come from all over the Southeast to race down here around the Fourth of July.
They held them right in front of the old Seashore Hotel in Banks Channel and they would start early in the morning and go all day because they had different classes.
Did you ever have a boat to race?
I was just a spectator; I was never able to have one. I would wander along and ask each one of the drivers about his engine and where he was from.
Those little engines burned ether and castor oil because ether was very volatile and castor oil was a good lubricator, and when they were out there racing, about the only thing you could smell was the ether and castor oil.
They had bigger boats, too, that mostly had 22-horsepower Evinrudes or Johnsons. That was the biggest engine back then.
Why did you like the smaller boats more?
I don’t know, because they were small, I guess. They appealed to me and when they got about five or six of them out there it sounded like a bunch of bumblebees because they had a real high pitch with that ether burning in there.
When did you get your first motorboat?
When I was about 8 years old my dad got me a little two-horsepower Evinrude engine. He bought it secondhand from somebody and probably got the whole thing for $25. I had more fun with that little boat up until gas got short, so that is when I got my sailboat.
I traded the engine for a Keystone movie projector; I never will forget that, and I started collecting 16-millimeter film.
I kept the boat and I had a set of oars so I could row my boat.
What do you do on the Fourth of July now?
Now I usually sit on the porch with some kind of cool drink and watch all the boats and people come by. I can sit on this porch and I can see all the boat activity out there and I can sit on the other porch and see all the street activity. I get it all right here in the downtown area.
I guess you see more standup paddleboard races in the channel now.
Yeah, that is all you see nowadays, paddleboarders. I think that is probably a fad anyway. First it was windsurfing, then it was something else and then it was wakeboarding.
What watersports did you like?
I used to waterski but you never see anybody waterskiing anymore. All you see now are boats dragging people along on a tube and that is because it is the easy thing to do and they don’t want to do the more difficult thing. It took me probably two or three weeks to actually stand up on skis and another two weeks to go from two skis to one. It was an accomplishment.
Did you start skiing at a young age?
There wasn’t anything like skiing when I was a teenager though; what we had back then was called an aquaplane. It was a big, wide board with ropes on it that you hold onto. It was a humongous, big board and if it ever hit you it would kill you. It was like a big door.
Last time I skied I was about 55 years old and I was worried about falling and breaking something, but back then we didn’t think about breaking anything.
Our favorite thing was to ski between here and Carolina Beach. That was a good ski and it would wear you out.
But like anything it faded out and something else took its place.