The Story of Carolista Baum and Jockey’s Ridge

This excerpt is from a piece on Jockey’s Ridge by Sarah Perry from Our State Magazine. Her full article with more history on Jockey’s Ridge can be found here: https://www.ourstate.com/jockeys-ridge/

Thank you Sarah for detailing this story so well, and keeping the legend of Carolista Baum alive!

 

“On a sticky summer morning in 1973, three kids belonging to Carolista Fletcher Baum raced across South Virginia Dare Trail toward Jockey’s Ridge. Their feet sank as they barreled up the hill, and they knelt to catch their breath at the top. They saw Albemarle Sound. They saw Bodie Island Lighthouse, the Atlantic Ocean, and the mainland. They also saw a yellow bulldozer scooping the sand below them into its clutches.

After they ran down the hill and returned home, they told their mother what they’d seen. Baum marched across the street, and the three children watched their mother stomp up to the bulldozer. Baum stood tall, shoulders back, her wild hair straying in the wind from her bun — the chestnut bun that people knew her by, wrapped loosely around a bandana, that she’d burrow pens, pencils, and sunglasses inside of. Ann-Cabell Baum Andersen, the oldest daughter, doesn’t recall now what her mother said. She just remembers the driver shut down the engine. And later, when Baum was certain the driver had retreated on foot, she snuck back and twisted off the bulldozer’s distributor cap so the engine couldn’t start back up the next day.

Baum was a statuesque woman known for her beauty, charm, and flair, with a raspy voice and warm, brown eyes. “My mom was hot pink, fuchsia, purple, bright blue,” Ann-Cabell says. “Not white.”

The morning after standing in front of the bulldozer, Baum paraded around Nags Head and began gathering signatures to save Jockey’s Ridge. Store owners set out collection jars to buy property. Baum formed a nonprofit, The People to Preserve Jockey’s Ridge, which mailed more than 10,000 letters.

Baum walked every day to her store, Carolista’s Jewelry, and painted signs that said “Save our Dunes” with faint sand hills in the background. She stacked pamphlets and bumper stickers in her shop for customers. When people called her disorganized, she said, “Everything’s organized in my mind.”

She installed a telephone next to the counter to call legislators and raise funds while she worked. When frustrated, she coiled its cord around her fingers until her arm was a lump of wire.

She painted a small shack watermelon pink and sat it on the dunes. Ann-Cabell, her sister Inglis, and brother Gibbs stood in the hut and sold bumper stickers, notepads, kites, stationery, and square feet of the dunes for $5 each. The three kids got no sweet tea until they were finished at the hut.

When Baum severed her right two middle fingers making jewelry, she taught herself to write letters left-handed. When Ann-Cabell developed pneumonia, Baum’s phone calls and letters continued from her daughter’s bedside.

Jockey’s Ridge had consumed her life.

Her magnetism wasn’t lost on reporters. News stories bordered on outright admiration. “Carolista Baum must surely be the reincarnation of an Olympian Fury,” wrote journalist Alan Murray. The Chapel Hill Newspaper wrote: “She has built a state-wide reputation for bothering people until they do what she wants.” Others noted her energy and “worldly” methods, and called her a “formidable crusader.”

For three weeks, Baum drove daily to Raleigh to pester politicians. She persuaded songwriters to sing about Jockey’s Ridge and invited filmmakers to the dunes. Her efforts even motivated poet Carl Sandburg. “Save the dunes,” he said. “They belong to the people. They represent the signature of time and eternity. Their loss would be irrevocable.”

Eventually in 1975, North Carolina listened and declared Jockey’s Ridge a state park.

That summer Ann-Cabell, Inglis, and Gibbs walked triumphantly to the ridge before sunrise. They tromped around the highest slope, dragging their feet through the sand in organized lines. When they returned to the house, they woke their mother. Baum walked to the door and saw a message drawn in the dunes that she’d saved. “Happy Birthday, Mom.”’