Mary Ellen Riddle, Education Curator, Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

By on January 14, 2021

Mary Ellen Riddle (credit: Millie Griffith)

There are a number of Outer Banks residents who have told our story to locals and visitors over the years through writing, music, painting and other fields that come other the broad classification of “the arts.” But perhaps none have been as prolific and versatile in those endeavors as Mary Ellen Riddle.

Currently, she’s the Education Curator at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village, where her many duties include duties creating videos, writing articles, posting on Facebook and creating additional content in an effort to tell the story of “maritime history and culture” far and wide.

But there’s much more. Riddle is also the arts columnist for the Coast magazine, a popular lifestyle and current events tabloid. In the past she frequently contributed to or edited numerous other publications including Insider’s Guide, Outer Banks Magazine, Outer Banks Wedding Guide, My Outer Banks Home. And the list goes on. She’s contributed to books, edited videos, managed art galleries including Full Moon and Glenn Eure’s Ghost Fleet Gallery, worked as the newscaster for 99.1 The Sound, hosted an eponymous dance party show on Radio Hatteras, taught courses in myriad subjects and is an accomplished photographer, artist, illustrator and local volunteer.

Riddle has expended significant energy telling the stories of others, especially those in the arts community, to the rest of us. It therefore seems appropriate to return the favor and let others get to know a little bit about this incredibly talented individual who deeply loves the Outer Banks, its people, history and culture.

We started our conversation by asking Ms. Riddle, a Long Island native, how she found her way to the Outer Banks.

“I came to the Outer Banks to be by the sea and live in a safe and remote area of great beauty. I first visited in the ‘70s while taking breaks from school. I fell in love with the area and lived here for about a year or so. I returned in 1986, after years of having nightly dreams of searching for the ocean amid mystical mists and never left,” she notes. Riddle is a graduate of East Carolina University, where she earned a B.F.A. in Fine Arts.

Q:  You’ve written for numerous local magazines and news sites — and contributed to many regional books. We know its hard to choose, but which of the regular publications in which you appear have had the greatest impact on you, and likewise, which of the books you’ve contributed to are you most proud?

A: I have been writing an art column for the Coast for 27 years. Being able to enter the lives of creative folk, highlight their endeavors, and experience their creativity has been an honor. I become completely drenched in creativity, and my mind opens and my heart pounds. On books, my favorite is a work of fiction I currently am working on – a children’s chapter book that relates to tolerance. It is dedicated to my new grandson. I want him to grow up understanding equality and justice for all and that Grammy loved him dearly.

Q: Until recently you hosted your own radio show, ‘Mary Ellen’s Dance Party” on the Radio Hatteras community FM station. What well-known songs did you gravitate towards, and how about a few more obscure artists or tracks did you like? And most important, are you likely to be the first one out on the floor at a dance party?

A:  I loved doing the ‘Dance Party because I am a dancer at heart. Even when I was a child attending church, I could not stay still when music was played. I wondered why I was the only one moving. I am a free form dancer. I like to get completely lost in the music. I do not understand why we have to dance on tiny, designated dance floors and not just get up spontaneously wherever we are and dance our hearts out. Life is energy and rhythm, after all. Let’s celebrate!

When choosing songs for my show, I listened to track after track. If I started dancing in my chair, I put the song into the show. It didn’t matter what era or genre.


Q: Your current and past works often connect with the sea — nature and maritime themes. Is there a special connection for you and the ocean?

A: I grew up on Long Island and remember as a young child staring across a vast body of water and wondering about the universe. There was something magical and mysterious about what appeared to be an endless sea.  It piqued my curiosity. I was attracted to the ocean, boats, and the sounds of the marina.

When I came to the Outer Banks for a visit from college, I went straight to the marina and walked the docks. I ended up working as a mate on a fishing boat. Something about the water calms me. I am at my happiest in a boat soaking in natural beauty with the wind cooling my face. I became enamored with shipwrecks, their rich history filled with heroism, humankind’s relationship with the sea, and the causes for shipwrecks.


Q:  When you’re not working and it’s down time, what is Mary Ellen doing?

A: I write essays in my down time, mostly. I also go shelling, walk on my treadmill while singing to a blues station, paint, play my recorder, read fiction – from classical literature to pulp detective and mystery stories. I probably have spent as much time reading in my life as I have breathing. It is my first love. One of my favorite places is my backyard. When I walk the perimeter, I see interesting bugs and plants, sun and shadows, and myriad shapes and colors. It unleashes my creativity. There is an entire universe out there.


Q:  I’m betting you’re somewhat of a foodie. Favorite foods, local restaurants, wines?

A: I am crazy about blackened tuna. I stop at the fish market on my way home from the museum and pick up seafood. When the shrimp are in, I go down to the docks and stock up. I feel so happy living where the best, most fresh seafood can be found. I never take that for granted.

I am a bit of a health food nut and have a passion for nutrition. My mom turned me on to healthy living at a young age. I still have this worn book of hers that I read over and over called the Health Finder. My favorite local restaurant is Breakwater in Hatteras Village. The chef is outstanding, the tuna cooked to perfection – and they even stock a dark beer. Up the beach, I love going to Mama Kwan’s and order the blackened tuna nachos. They are to die for. On wine, I would choose Chateau Gloria.

Q: You’re the Education Curator at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Of all the exhibits you’ve created, what is your favorite?

A: My favorite exhibit I created was “With Love, Aleta.” It was an illustrated children’s story about a mailboat that serviced Hatteras and Ocracoke. I included mail art and vintage postcards in the exhibit and challenged the children to create their own. It was hung on eye level for small fry. I felt it captured the community feeling of the Outer Banks in the old days.


Q: Besides the exhibits you create, why should I visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum?

A: When visiting the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, you discover the amazing maritime history and culture of the North Carolina Outer Banks that had local, regional, and global impacts. The fascinating stories and artifacts – including a rare four-rotor enigma machine and Monomoy surfboat, are related to major events including war, shipwrecks, lifesaving, and piracy.


Q: What is something about you people would find surprising or might not know?

A: I was voted the second funniest person in my family according to my nephew Matt, who is a true comedian. As I have seven siblings who are funny, I was surprised to be bestowed that unsolicited honor.

GETTING TO KNOW…Outer Banks Hotline Executive Director Michael Lewis

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