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Interview with Christopher A. Suiter, February 16, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Christopher A. Suiter, February 16, 2007
February 16, 2007
Chris Suiter attended both Duke and UNC Chapel Hill, specializing in law. He went to Air Force Officer Candidate School, graduating in time to take part in the Viet Nam Conflict. Prior to his release from military service he was was recruited by the CIA, for which he spent the subsequent twenty-five years working. Since retiring to Southport, NC, Mr. Suiter has volunteered with the National Park Service, served as president of the Southport Historical Society, and been involved in the preservation of historic homes in Southport and Oak Island.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Suiter, Chris Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 2/16/2007 Series: SENC Volunteers Length 59 minutes

Jones: Today is February 16th, 2007. I am Carroll Jones with Jennifer Dail for the Randall Library Special Collection Oral History Program. Our guest this morning is Chris Suiter, now living in Southport. Although not a North Carolinian. You are?

Chris Suiter: Yes.

Jones: All right, we'll come to that. Thank you. He has seen a great need for personal involvement in preserving the colorful history of Southeastern North Carolina. He formally was a government employee in Washington D.C., most notably the CIA. Good morning, Chris.

Chris Suiter: Good morning.

Jones: Your personal employment history is colorful. And I'm sure you can't go too deeply into that. But let's begin with your roots, now that we've been corrected here. And how you got from there to here, where you are now.

Chris Suiter: Well, I'm a return North Carolinian. This is what I am. I was gone for 25 years or more and moved back. So yeah, I'm one of the few. In fact when I was in the Adult Scholars program here at UNCW, I think we had 40 or 50 people and there were two from North Carolina. And I was one of them.

Jones: Where in North Carolina?

Chris Suiter: Born in Greensboro, moved to Raleigh when I was about three and went all the way through high school in Raleigh. And then, actually spent quite a lot of time in North Carolina up until probably the '60s. And then was gone a long time and man, North Carolina since then. It's not the same place.

Jones: So, you went where from there? Where did you go to college?

Chris Suiter: Guilford College in Greensboro originally. I graduated from Guilford. I was in Duke Law School for a while. I was in graduate school at Chapel Hill. In those days they had something called the draft. So that made it difficult.

Jones: You mean you went from Guilford to Duke and then to what they call Carolina?

Chris Suiter: Yes, real Carolina.

Jones: Real Carolina. Just call it Carolina. And then what did you finally end up with, besides the draft?

Chris Suiter: I was (inaudible) scholastic deferment. And had the choice of actually being drafted into the Army or joining the Air Force as an officer candidate. which I did. So I was in the Air force for about three and a half years. Got out just before the Vietnam War really took off. I got out in 1965. I missed by about three months being extended for a long time. I had some friends who had come in three months after me who took four or five years to get out. Had to do a Vietnam tour before they'd release you. But I was just ahead of that curve.

Jones: So, that was in the mid '60s.

Chris Suiter: Sixty-five yeah. Went back to graduate school at Chapel Hill. And then joined the agency, the CIA in the spring of '66.

Jones: The Company?

Chris Suiter: Never, no. That's interesting that you say that because the origin of that and the reason that has appeared in so many things is from the Latin America Division. Spanish, what's the abbreviation for company? It's not limited, Ltd. it's not Inc., its CIA.

Jones: What does this mean?

Chris Suiter: Company in Spanish. So if you write a company name, you know, Coca Cola, CIA in Spanish. And so that's why they refer to it as The Company.

Jones: As, The Company. I knew several who were with CIA. And jokingly they would refer to it as The Company.

Chris Suiter: But it's always a joke. I never heard that term in 25 years, internally.

Jones: So, let's go back. Did you set out to join the CIA or did they come after you?

Chris Suiter: A little of both. When I was in the Air Force and was getting out, I talked to a lot of people. Took a lot of tests. Took a Foreign Service test, the Federal Management Intern Agencies test and various other things. And actually the best offer came from the Agency. I didn't follow through, I passed the Foreign Service exam but I didn't follow through with it.

Jones: They gonna send you to some small little place in South America or no?

Chris Suiter: What's the difference? I went to some small little places without doing that.

Jones: I know a man very well who did the same thing. But anyway let's get back to that. So, that's as far as you can go as far as your involvement with CIA?

Chris Suiter: Well I was undercover for 25 years and was not opened up until after I retired. So at the time I was employed I could not have been sitting here saying this.

Jones: No, I understand. So when did you retire from...?

Chris Suiter: I retired in '91. So, they had an internal retirement system that permitted you to retire with a combination of age, service and overseas time. And if this combination all fit together, you could retire even at age 50. And when I was 50, which would have been '89, we started looking for a place to go. Because we knew we wanted to get out the Washington area. And kind of looked down the coast. Started looking at Chinquapin places like that. A lot of North Carolina coast places. Looked at Wilmington and Wilmington even in '89 was already scary. You could see what was coming. You could very definitely see it was a work in progress. And Southport was not. In '89 Southport was pretty peaceful, pretty quiet and had been the same way for many, many, many years. In fact most of the downtown was all boarded up in those days. And so it felt right to us. The first time we went to Southport was in January and it was one of these January days like we had this year, where it was absolutely gorgeous. Yeah and you think man what a nice place to winter over. So, we started looking at real estate there. And I actually bought our house in '89 and we didn't move into it until '91. But man, and it was great for about 10 years. And then it went (inaudible), same thing. So, it's probably worse than Wilmington now. As far getting away from us.

Jones: Well the statistics show that Brunswick County, at least, is the fastest growing county in the country. And you like so many, don't like that. Let's get back to one other thing. Tell me about your family. When you were undercover and gone so long, did your wife work? Was she a historian?

Chris Suiter: She's retired from the Agency also. In fact, both my wives retired from the Agency.

Jones: You are really close. How about children?

Chris Suiter: We looked one time at a machine run, which of course you can see internally but nowhere else, of all the employees in the history of the Agency. And I think there were five Suiter's that had ever worked there. And I knew the guy that was the employee there and his wife. And then the other three were my two wives and me. And one of our sons worked there as a summer employee. So I guess we have kind of a lock on that name.

Jones: How can a family, when a husband and wife, the mother and father are in such jobs as that raise a family? It seems that you did.

Chris Suiter: Sure. I have two sons. My wife has a son. I have a son. So we have two- which one's which, you know. Both of them were really raised this way because we were both working for the Agency at the time. It's almost inconceivable to anybody who's never been there to know what a different life that is.

Jones: I have an idea.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, I know you do.

Jones: I have an idea. Both my father and my husband at one time or another were involved. But still I don't know it all. And today it's different. It's not the same. I don't think.

Chris Suiter: Oh, it probably is. The part that is, you're not seeing.

Jones: Well, I never will. Do you miss it?

Chris Suiter: Never, not one second. Neither one of us do. No, we were done with it. In '91 we felt like our war was over. And it was.

Jones: It probably was. So you came back home to North Carolina. Is that where you had planned to come and all?

Chris Suiter: No, we had no plans. Like I said we were just looking for somewhere to go. And at that point had more interest in the coast than we probably would do today. And not because I'm not still interested in the maritime aspect and all the coast and all the history. Because what's happened to the coast. I think we'd look elsewhere today. In fact I know, and my wife and I talk about this a lot. If we were looking to retire now, if we were retiring at what you might call a normal age, middle sixties. We wouldn't even glance at this area.

Jones: Really. Tell us why. Because this is what we need to know.

Chris Suiter: Because I have lived in places. I was born in Guilford College, which was swallowed by Greensboro. The town no longer exists. It was just eaten. Greensboro, I wouldn't even go to visit nowadays. Raleigh went the same way just (inaudible) exploded. Here's an example. When I lived in Raleigh and graduated from high school, Cary had 700 people.

Jones: Oh really.

Chris Suiter: That's right. It's bigger than Wilmington now. It's over 100,000. And that's an example. And then we lived in Fairfax County, Virginia, which, oh you know, that's just absurd. And you watched the whole thing just disappear before your eyes. And my wife was born in northern Virginia. And she saw this-- we went to try to find a place she'd lived at as a little girl. Couldn't find it. Couldn't even find the street. It was just gone. It was an ocean.

Jones: No more chicken farms and dairy farms and--?

Chris Suiter: Nothing, nothing, nothing. And then having had all of that. That's what we were running from. That's why Wilmington did not look attractive. See when we'd come into a place like Wilmington we'd look around and see all this empty land and think holy mackerel, whoa. And we were right. We were absolutely right. We were right about Brunswick County. If there's dirt there, somebody's gonna put something on it.

Jones: Brunswick started their real boom, what, just a couple of years ago, wasn't it?

Chris Suiter: Oh about 2000. Probably about 2000. In fact I could put a specific date on when Southport was lost.

Jones: Really. All right, let's get to this. You have been very active in preservation down here.

Chris Suiter: Tried.

Jones: Well. Tell us about it, from the beginning. What moved you to get involved and what was your first - were you not involved with the rehabilitation of Brunswicktown?

Chris Suiter: No, I don't go quite that far back. I worked at Brunswicktown for about three years when I first came here. Well let's go back to when I actually moved here.

Jones: Yes, start from here.

Chris Suiter: When I came to Southport in '91, summer of '91, like everybody that retires, you are looking for something to do. What am I going to do here? And one of the attractors for Southport from the very beginning was that Southport has a really incredible history. I mean it goes back forever. The Maritime Museum down there's first exhibit is from 1520s.

Jones: Now are you President of that?

Chris Suiter: No, I've worked there before. That's a State entity now. Another story.

Jones: We want to get to that, too.

Chris Suiter: Okay. And so consequently I was smitten by all of the opportunities of various things to practice history, which I had done to a certain extent when I was in the Agency. But not as much as I'd ever wanted to. The one job I will tell you about was that my last job there before I retired was I responded to FOIA requests.

Jones: To what?

Chris Suiter: To Freedom of Information Act requests.

Jones: Oh, okay. You did?

Chris Suiter: Yeah I was in the office where we responded to the Freedom of Information- and if you want something that is just bizarre and otherworldly, try that in the Central Intelligence Agency. You cannot imagine the kind of requests we would get. And the two specialties that I was assigned were-- I got the UFOers. And I got the ones who thought somebody has implanted something in their heads. And those are the ones I got to respond to. And correspond with them, talk on the telephone to them. And you wouldn't believe some of the people that are running loose in this country.

Jones: Oh yes, I would.

Chris Suiter: No, you wouldn't.

Jones: You are the expert. So are you telling us that there are no UFO's?

Chris Suiter: Unproven.

Jones: Unproven. Okay.

Chris Suiter: Most of the stories, 90 percent of them are (inaudible). 'Course, I've read the uncut stuff. But that's another story too. So, we won't go there.

Jones: I hope you and your wife talk together a lot to keep all this fresh. Because you can't talk to anybody else.

Chris Suiter: Oh, not much. But anyway that was history of a sort, because what most people's questions are in FOIA is historical questions. They'd want to know what did they do in 1950. Or did a lot of stuff with the OSS records that we'd inherited all of that. Huge amounts of that, I mean whole archives full of OSS records. A lot of that was put out to the public and released to people like Joe Persico. But it was always redacted, is the term. A lot of stuff blacked out. And a lot of that was because if it came from a foreign government it was blacked out. And the British are really ferocious about this. If it came from the British you do not release it.

Jones: Were there sort of-- we're getting a little off subject. The British, my understanding from what I've heard, and in particular I'm thinking of one man, he was a Russian Colonel. He considered himself a White Russian Colonel. But anyway, he said that the British were the most intelligent and went about this the most intelligent way of anybody. And that they had their finger on everything, and every one of their people. Do you agree?

Chris Suiter: Yeah, I do.

Jones: All right, so anyway now you're in Brunswick County.

Chris Suiter: Okay, right. So when we arrived here in the summer of '91, and like I said all retirees are looking for something to do. I got involved with all kinds of things. I was already involved with the Maritime Museum and had been long range from when I was still living in Northern Virginia. And it didn't exist at that point. It was still more or less a dream that people were working on. So I was really kind of in on the ground floor of the Maritime Museum, which started out as a local museum. It was not state supported. It was all locally supported. And we worked on that for a number of years and then fortunately the state took it over in the late '90s or it wouldn't be there, frankly. Somebody had to pay the rent. That's hard to do if you're private. So I was heavily involved in that. And I actually was employed there, you know, just sort of helter skelter basis. No regular employees, because we didn't have any. Worked at Brunswicktown on the weekend staff for about three years.

Jones: And what did you do there?

Chris Suiter: We kept the place open on the weekend. We'd have a couple of people out there. Because the regular staff being government employees go home on Friday. So Saturday, Sundays in those days when they had a little more money, was kept open and everything was done by the part timers that worked on weekends. So you had to be involved in almost all of the stuff that they were doing. Met a lot of people in the state entities of all kinds, from all directions, Fort Fisher, Bentonville, everybody. Lots of Raleigh people who came and went.

Jones: Is this when they would be the various, including historical museums would do their bi-annual get togethers?

Chris Suiter: Yeah, lots of things like that and usually we'd be called in to help out. And even during the week things. So I was involved with that, but then it started conflicting. I couldn't do everything at once and I had to make a choice between Brunswicktown and the Maritime Museum. And the Maritime Museum needed me worse than Brunswicktown did. So I stopped at Brunswicktown. But I still connected with all that for many years. Volunteered at the Cape Fear Museum ever since they reopened after the '91 renovation. When the new wing was put on there. When they had their grand opening in January of '92, I was a volunteer for that and have continued sort of not so much nowadays as I did at one time. Where, you know, 1300 and some hours of volunteering there, that kind of stuff. Done a little bit of everything with them for years and years and years. And now I'm pretty much a just a shop help out. When they can't get anybody else, they call me to come man the shop. Because it's a different world. It's like everything else around here.

Jones: I know. Don't you do some lecturing?

Chris Suiter: Yeah, I have. I've done programs. In '93 we started traveling with the National Park Service. In Alaska for seven seasons in Alaska, four years at Denali, three years at a place called Coldfoot, which is halfway between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. Two hundred and fifty miles north of Fairbanks, down a dirt road. That's out there.

Jones: That is out there. I worked with a Lieutenant Commander and his wife who were sent to Washington from Prudhoe Bay. They lived up there and had a small child. And evidently I said, "What in the world were you doing up there?" he said, "Oh, it had to do with oil." And that's all I got out of him.

Chris Suiter: Deadhorse. Probably lived in the town of Deadhorse.

Jones: So, why are you doing this? Is this something that you enjoy?

Chris Suiter: Oh yeah. Well the Park Service has also been a great interest. And we've been involved with the Park Service since '93 continuously and still are. Next month we'll be spending six weeks down in Fort Pulaski in Savannah as volunteers.

Jones: Six weeks.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, that's a shorter season than we have done in the past. Let's see, we had four years and-- most of the '90s we were in Denali. But we also were in places like Smokey Mountains, Glacier National Park, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. And then interspersed with-- this was not continuous Alaska; it was sort of interspersed with these things. We go somewhere every year.

Jones: How about North Carolina? They have people that do that here?

Chris Suiter: Not much. Moores Creek is the only National Park around here, but that's so small that.

Jones: We have on the 24th I think it is. Saturday the 24th there will be their annual Moores Creek rededication plan and so forth. The DAR takes a big part in that.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, right. That's right. That's right. Well the advantage of course, Moores Creek has is its close to town. And a lot of these places like we were two years at Grand Portage, Minnesota with the National Parks. That's as remote as you can get in the lower 48. Its six miles from the Canadian border and the town is 250 people. So, they're not gonna get much help if they have to rely on local volunteers. There just aren't any. There's nobody to come do anything. So they have to really bring in their volunteers. And that's what we've done there.

Jones: Well, that sounds fun though really.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, it is.

Jones: Between doing that and you mentioned to me on the phone. Maybe that was it, the trip that you're going to be taking. I guess that's what it is. What are you doing now down in Southport? What did you feel about the saving the Fort Johnson thing? What do you feel about the Port Authority? The look on your face is beginning to--?

Chris Suiter: Well, let me back up a little to, I said I could put a date onto the actual demise of Southport as an attractive place. And I was also involved with the Historical Society in Southport. Even before I moved here I was a member of the Historical Society and I still lived in Northern Virginia. And was on the board of directors for several years. And was Vice President and was President of the Historical Society for four years, late '90s into the early 2000's. And we could see very easily what was coming by the late '90s. We knew what was gonna happen.

Jones: Let me interrupt you a minute. Is this the historical society where you have your dinner meetings?

Chris Suiter: Yes.

Jones: I've been to two of those. They are very well attended.

Chris Suiter: Yes they are and they'd be even bigger now. Now that we don't have any history anymore, but. Anyway, we had had a National Register Historical entity in Southport since the Bicentennial, since the '70s. But all National Register does is protect you against the government. It does not protect you against private individuals. A private individual in a National Register property can do anything he wants to, to it and there's no stopping him.

Jones: Explain that to me. They don't own the property or are you talking about people...?

Chris Suiter: I'm talking about the owners. There's no control over the owners of the property. The only thing a National Register Plaque protects you from is the government putting a highway through your property. Or doing some other obnoxious thing to whatever you have there.

Jones: So the owners can if they want to, like they tried to do in Manassas, sell the property to investors to put in a shopping center.

Chris Suiter: Anything, anything at all. And so that was what we were faced with in Southport. People had the wrong conception of this. And they thought that, oh well, the towns protected cause there's a National Register District- Historical District. Not so, what you have to have is you have to have what Wilmington has, what Edenton has, what most of the historic places in North Carolina have anything left have. And that's a local ordinance for historic preservation. Now in the Wilmington Historical District, owners can't just do anything they want to with it. They've got to have approval. We had nothing like that in Southport. And we campaigned as hard as we could to the point where we actually-- there were some aldermen who were thrown out of office. Basically because they were hostile to this idea. And we thought we had a shot at this. And we had a couple of people, a couple of aldermen on a committee that the city had appointed. And we studied this and we studied every historical district on the east coast I think. Including places like Nantucket and Cape May and that sort of thing.

Jones: Even old town Alexandria has very strict--?

Chris Suiter: Oh yeah all sorts of places. And it went to a vote with the city aldermen. And they voted against this seven to zero. And their excuse was, "Oh well the developers are nice people. They're gonna take care of things."

Jones: Tax money.

Chris Suiter: Exactly. And so they voted seven, zero and that was the end of it. And the town is (inaudible) gone. It's gone. Ever since that and this has been oh probably, I can't remember the exact date. Somewhere around '99, 2000 time frame.

Jones: Okay, I'm gonna ask probably a stupid question. Is there no avenue to go back to from a state let's say. Saying look this is our history, this your state history, can we not preserve it? I mean whatever they build now will be torn down in 50 years.

Chris Suiter: No.

Jones: No, there is no where to go?

Chris Suiter: No, it's got to be a local ordinance and they're not willing to pass such a thing. And without it Southport's disappeared. If you went down and looked at the waterfront in Southport right now, its clear cut, flattened. All the old buildings are gone. It is vacant lots around the old harbor down there. Where they haven't stuck up brand new condos in all different colors, pink and green and what have you. And really, if you look at it-- if you Southport from a standpoint of what it was like in the '90s, before all of this started and try to find a historic building that's still standing. You're not gonna find one that's recognizable.

Jones: Really, what about the residences and such?

Chris Suiter: They've all been gentrified so much. You know you start with a little tiny house like this and you put one on that's 5,000 square feet. It's landed right on top of it. You can't stop it. It's private money. And that's what's happened. Take the architecture of Southport book that was done in the'70s at the time of the Bicentennial. And try to match it with what is happened to all of these houses. Man you couldn't find one house in there that still looks the same. They've all-- you know the look's great, they love the location. And they love the idea of a historic house. And if you go on all historic- historic-- half of the Christmas house tour nowadays, you'd be hard put to find a house that's actually a historic house.

Jones: Really? How many members of your Historic Society are natives? Or are a lot of them from somewhere else? What I'm getting at...

Chris Suiter: The natives have pretty much died out. I think they're from everywhere.

Jones: I was going to say that you can't really go back to the native population and say look.

Chris Suiter: No, because what happened there, and this has happened in extreme cases, Oak Island probably, Southport to a lesser extent, is: you've got people living in these old houses that have been there forever. And are three, four generations. Family had never had any money. They've always been working stiffs, poor people, lots of elderly, widows, whatever, owning these properties. And somebody comes marching in and offers them $1,000,000 for it. What are they gonna do? They're not gonna preserve it. They're gone. And that's what's happened all across the board. And nobody can blame the individuals. Nobody can blame the locals. Hey, wouldn't you do the same thing?

Jones: It's amazing to me that there's not some kind of an ordinance where there's block by block. Or (inaudible) certain small sections at least.

Chris Suiter: They wouldn't pass it. That's what we wanted. That's what we campaigned for and that's what we lost.

Jones: And the Governor, who's from that area, doesn't care?

Chris Suiter: Couldn't care less. Who got the Ford?

Jones: Well, who did get the Ford?

Chris Suiter: The city.

Jones: Okay, what a prime piece of property that is. It's beautiful.

Chris Suiter: And this is the same people who voted seven nothing against historic preservation.

Jones: But its not gonna be a place for the homeless, right?

Chris Suiter: No, it won't be a place for the homeless but it may not be there at all. That's what I said, this is the same people, the very same individuals who voted...

Jones: So is anybody doing anything to save this? Anyone tried to save it?

Chris Suiter: What can you do?

Jones: I don't know. That's what I'm asking.

Chris Suiter: Jack Cryer [ph?] tried his best to get the state to do something. Then the Governor turned him down. The Governor said, "No we don't want it. We're not gonna take it." And the people that should have taken it, which of course would have been the Historic Sites people, they were precluded. They were told the Maritime Museum wanted it in the worst way. "No can't have it. Give it to the city." Because there's all this old buddy thing and all kinds of who knows what all the ins and outs are.

Jones: What happened to the friends of Fort Johnson?

Chris Suiter: I don't know. We did not-- we the survivors if you will, of that previous campaign, really stayed out of prominent participation in that. Because we didn't want to poison the well. We did not want to bring up old battles. And let them fight it out as a new entity and a new thing. Which is what they did. And the homeless disappeared, but then I don't know how serious that ever was anyway. Because they also wanted Oak Island lighthouse, same group. And they didn't get that either.

Jones: And that all came from out of state I understand.

Chris Suiter: Oh yeah. Well they worked the computer print outs. You know, here's surplus property that the government's getting rid of. And so they, hey put in for it, it can't hurt. And then it's up to someone else to have to defend it against the...

Jones: I have two questions. You take one whichever order you want. Where are these people coming from that are now going to Southport? I guess what I'm trying to say is, Wilmington seemed to have attracted a lot of retired - you kept saying that when you retired you'd like to have something to do like most retired people. I disagree with you. I see a lot of retired people who figure I've worked my buns off all of my working life. I'm coming here to play. And they come to golf and they belong to various groups. They're at the theater. Wilmington provides all these things for them. Some of them own a boat and then they travel. And this is a great setting for that. And so they talk to their friends. We have the highest concentration of retired Fortune 500, midlevel (inaudible) CEO's living here now. So is Southport attracting this or are they attracting people who, like you, want to get away from Wilmington but they're going there?

Chris Suiter: I don't think so. I don't think they're attracting very many like me any more. Like I said I don't think we'd even glance at the place nowadays.

Jones: So what can we see from Jacksonville to the South Carolina border in the coming years? What do you envision having grown up in North Carolina, having looked in the '80s and early '90s and living down there now? That was question number one. We'll do that first.

Chris Suiter: Right. Last weekend, as a matter of fact, one of our sons was visiting us, who comes probably once a year or something like that. And we went out and rode around and looked at what is happening in Southport and the surrounding areas there. And he was stunned. And he lives in Fairfax County. He could not believe it. He looked around and he looked at oceans, oceans of condos being built everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these are all going in right down there. It's as far as you can see. You know you ride down these streets and you look back over here and as far as you can see out there, they're building things. Over here it was an ocean of just pipes sticking up and each one of those pipes is going to be a house. And I don't know where they're coming from. Nobody has a clue where they're coming from. But somebody thinks they're coming or they wouldn't be building all this stuff. We can't imagine who's coming.

Jones: Remember that old saying build it and they will come?

Chris Suiter: That's apparently the theory. But.

Jones: So you don't know.

Chris Suiter: Based on the-- well we know lots and lots of lots of people who live in St James, which of course is the primo gated community down there. And a large number of those people all came to golf or bridge whatever. You know, go to the clubs that kind of thing. Lots of them. But they do that for a while and then they look around and think, oh I'm not gonna do this the rest of my life. And so now, what they've done is those groups have taken over the churches, they've taken over almost every organization in Southport. And the locals really aren't players anymore. They've been swallowed up by all these newcomers. Really. I go to a Historical Society meeting nowadays and I don't even recognize anybody. I don't even know them. I don't know who they are.

Jones: So, you're saying that the gist is what we're finding here in Wilmington as well that the older families that have been here for generations. Owned businesses for generations, they're staying here. Their sons and daughters aren't necessarily. But they're not the ones who are hands on working to preserve, working in the museums...

Chris Suiter: No, they're not.

Jones: They write a check once a year because it's a tax deduction.

Chris Suiter: Right. And they have the interest.

Jones: They want the town to stay the same.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, they have the interest but I suspect if you got in touch with Karen Smith at the Cape Fear Museum and checked the origins, if you will, of the 125 or so volunteers that she has working for her. I bet you couldn't find two that are from North Carolina. I don't know any.

Jones: Is that a good thing?

Chris Suiter: It is, but what makes it difficult for people like me is that I feel like an outsider. And I've been here forever but I'm not a participant in all that. I don't live in one of these places. And we got really, we're nesting more. My wife and I are just nesting more and more and just getting out of things that we used to do in the community. We're withdrawing into our house. And going away with the Park Service every year has the great advantage of you don't feel trapped. You're going off somewhere. We spent four seasons at Harpers Ferry which is (inaudible). Well you know Harpers Ferry. And stayed downtown, hey, how's that?

Jones: That's a really big attraction. And you know to me from the last time I was there. And I can see this happening in Southport. I can see this happening in Brunswick. I can see this happening in New Bern in which they've tried, but you know. The tourists are there in the good weather. They bring the children. There's all kinds of things going. They mark things well. They've got open fields for picnicking and so forth. And there is a sense of history still there. And they do use or wear some of the old costumes at times. And they do have that wonderful brick wall with the marker of the flooding and such. And they do have Whites Ferry and all this sort of thing. They could do the (inaudible) too. In talking to those people who are dosens or who are leading tours. They're not from there either.

Chris Suiter: No they're not because the population base is so small. And the same thing has happened there that...

Jones: But they've done that wonderful job so the question is. Where you are right now and then take the people who are not from there, do you think (inaudible)?

Chris Suiter: Well, the thing is that I don't have any problem with the newcomers, what I have a problem with is the fact that there's no protection. And so consequently what the heck are they coming to preserve? If it's gone. If they flattened it all. If they swallowed it up with these huge houses. What's left? I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of houses on the waterfront in Southport that are original. Maybe not even that many, lets do one hand yeah. It's like we let it go, we let it slip slide away from us. And now years later, they're saying, "Oh man, lets try to save some of this." And I don't know if there's much left to save.

Jones: Well, let's talk about the possibility; I guess it's a done deal, of the state court going in there.

Chris Suiter: I think that's less and less likely all the time.

Jones: Why?

Chris Suiter: Because economically it doesn't make a lick of sense. It's absolute insanity. It's another -- what's the thing up there at Kenston [ph?] that they used to have the signs up stuck all over the highways. Where they built the big airport, there was supposed to be a-- oh shoot, I can't remember.

Jones: Global Transport?

Chris Suiter: Global TransPark yeah. It's a Global TransPark operation. And one of the writers in the local paper down there in Southport just did one this week that points out what is happening in Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, all these other places. How billions of dollars are being poured into these things. And they have contracts with all of these international companies. And they have representatives overseas here there and beyond that are feeding their stuff in there. We don't have any of that. How are you going to beat out people who are there? Already have the infrastructure. Already have the railroads. Already have the highways. Already have the port facilities. Already have the deep water. And are spending the money now, today, not 10 years from now. How in the world are they ever gonna beat them out? It ain't gonna happen. It's not gonna happen. And private industry who doesn't deal in dreams, which is what this thing is, is not going to throw all the money at it they hope they are. I don't think it's gonna happen. Why in the world did the state court spend all this money to bring those huge cranes that they just brought into Wilmington if they're gonna build one down there 30 miles closer to the sea? Are they fools or what?

Jones: Well, I don't know but my understanding is that the port will still stay open here but only for certain types of ships. But it's not deep enough for the ones-- the state claims they're losing money. Because they can't bring in the deep water. Also, North Carolina has been offered and you probably know this better than I, they have been offered a ship. It's not the big Kitty Hawk.

Chris Suiter: No. The aircraft carrier.

Jones: It's not the Kitty Hawk. They're looking for a place for the Kitty Hawk. But the Kitty Hawk if there is a state court in Southport that the other ship that they have been offered is a smaller draft [ph?] ship. But it is a naval vessel. It could be a companion piece. And I know that there are a number of people who are money people, there are state people. And they're looking at making a park for this, which would be a draw. The money of course would go strictly for maintenance. And have checked various places around the country. But that won't go either unless there is a port down there. (inaudible). I hear about this all the time.

Chris Suiter: As a veteran of these wars who is battered bloody on this. I hate to say that the reason Southport is named Southport is it started life as Smithville.

Jones: Smithvale?

Chris Suiter: Smithville.

Jones: Oh, Smithville.

Chris Suiter: Yes in 1792 it was chartered as the city of Smithville. It went as Smithville until 1880s. At which point in time as money group came in from colder climes as they say, who was going to establish it as the port of the south. Southport. They changed the name of the town to Southport. They were gonna get a railroad into Southport. They didn't have one in those days. They were gonna dig out the harbor, they were going to all kinds of docks.

Jones: What time frame?

Chris Suiter: 1880s. They changed the name of the town and they had all these big ideas about making this a coal port. It was gonna be a port for coaling ships. Because Southport is the exact halfway point between New York City and The Panama Canal by sea. It's the halfway point. Yes.

Jones: What route would they go?

Chris Suiter: Well they'd probably have to come out around the capes and come in. But it was exact-- and they studied this and it was the halfway point. And so ships transiting The Panama Canal, which was being constructed at that point by the French. They never made it. Was to they were gonna come in there and refill with coal to keep going. So that was like a filling station. And they had all these contracts where they were gonna bring in the railroad. And they were gonna bring in coal from West Virginia or something. You know, all this stuff was there. What happened? Wilmington pulled the rug out from under them.

Jones: Coming up to Cape Fear.

Chris Suiter: Wilmington says, "They can come up to Cape Fear. We already have the railroads. We already have the docks." And the whole thing just went like a house of cards and fell in. And the only residue of that is the name Southport. It was to be a port in the south. They didn't get a railroad until 1912 or there abouts and by then it was long since too late. But that's the-- and we've had-- the Maritime Museum has had two tries at ships. We had two ships that we were gonna put in Southport. The first one was the light ship. The Frying Pan light ship that was actually tied up at the dock at the foot of Howe Street in Southport for several years. After it was decommissioned and, you know, when the tower went in, the Texas Tower went in out there, as a museum ship. And eventually the powers that be decided that, "Well, it's too shabby and we're tired of looking at it." And they got rid of it. They sold it off. And the next one was the dredge that the Corps of Engineers was going to give to the Maritime Museum in Southport. This was a done deed. All the paper work had gone through. They were going to take this dredge that was tied up by the lift bridge here in Wilmington for many years. Declare it surplus and they were going to take it down there. And the Maritime Museum had all kinds of great plans on what they were going to do with this. And it was pristine. This ship was-- you could move in. It looked like everything was there. The ship was coming with all the china and the cabinets, the pots and pans in the galleys, the linen for the beds, everything. It was the whole thing.

Jones: And how far back was this?

Chris Suiter: Oh this was in the '90s. The Markham was the name of the ship. First problem was where do you put it? And so they worked that out with the state. And they were actually going to dredge out a dock area adjacent to the Fort Fisher Ferry. And they had the plan there and they had all this stuff going for it. And they weren't moving fast enough and so finally somebody just jerked the rug out from under them. And said, "Well, you didn't get the money quick enough. And you're not doing this and you're not doing that." And so now The Markham is a fishing reef.

Jones: In other words they were doing this without a signed contract of some sort.

Chris Suiter: Well they had the signed contract. They had the ship.

Jones: Well (inaudible) contract?

Chris Suiter: Was the government. The government, it was the Corps of Engineers pulled the plug on them. We don't know what the politics of this were. But they stripped the ship immediately after that, and took everything off that was worth having. And it went out as a fishing reef. So that's two tries for ships down there. And once again, that's why I said we're all kind of battered and bloody on ships. So ships are scary.

Jones: So you really have no hope. You personally feel that this is not really going to...

Chris Suiter: I don't think it's gonna happen. I don't know whether it's a hope or a fear but I don't think it's gonna happen. Because I think that the competition is going to spring forward as did Wilmington (inaudible). Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk all the other major ports on the east coast.

Jones: Norfolk is full.

Chris Suiter: No it isn't. None of them are. And this was documented in this newspaper article, one of their very knowledgeable reporters did in the local paper down there. About how all these huge expansion projects for places like Savannah and Charleston that are just-- their expansion projects that are already underway, funded and happening are bigger than this port would be if it were finished. So it's a ball game that's kind of a major league and we're way behind.

Jones: Would you like to see one there?

Chris Suiter: No, no absolutely not. I think it'd just destroy the town. I think Southport would disappear.

Jones: Do you think there's any place for a port in Carolina? North Carolina?

Chris Suiter: Probably not now. It's too late. The coast was empty years ago, but it's all full now. What would this do to property values to places like the waterfront in Southport? What would it do to Bald Head Island? See I work as a volunteer out at Old Baldy Lighthouse and those people have some very strong thoughts on it. Because it's, you know, the wash of these big ships going by just about destroy their waterfront. And the channel is probably about as far as from here to the other end of the library. That would go by Bald Head and they have trouble with sea walls and mess now undercutting things every time there's a storm. And the wake from these huge ships is going to go out like this as they come in. And they are not happy about it at all. And you're talking multi-million dollar properties all along there that would be just trashed by this. Who knows? You know, it's a very, very complicated problem. And that doesn't even address the subject of what happens to, okay your ship comes in and it has 8,000 containers on it or whatever and they plop them all out in Southport here. And then what do they do with them?

Jones: What they do here? They put them on trucks, put them on the train.

Chris Suiter: Well, yeah but what road are they gonna go on? And what train are they gonna go on? None of this exists. Driving up here this morning from Southport is an adventure, because it's so crowded.

Jones: What do you think about a new flying bridge over the Cape Fear River? Of course, it would have to be a toll road.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, it's pouring a quart in a pint pot again. When they come down off that bridge, where are they?

Jones: Well, once again I guess it goes back to the population of Brunswick County growing so fast. I know that a number of people in Wilmington have decided to live in Brunswick County because the cost of housing is cheaper. And they have young children, so that the schools now are really gearing up.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, what we suffer from and continue to suffer from down where I live is we don't even have enough grocery stores. We are desperate shortage of grocery stores. We have a desperate shortage of restaurants. We don't have enough filling stations. We don't have enough of the real nitty gritty infrastructure. Last Sunday night when my son was visiting here we had trouble finding a restaurant that we could get in for Sunday night.

Jones: In Southport?

Chris Suiter: Well, Southport, Oak Island.

Jones: How many people from Southport go on down to Myrtle Beach and take their money down there?

Chris Suiter: Not if they can help it. About the only thing people go to down there is entertainment. They'll go down there for shows and events and that kind of thing. But as far as actual-- I don't think very many people ever shop down there.

Jones: How far is Shallotte?

Chris Suiter: From us? Probably 40 miles.

Jones: Oh, that far?

Chris Suiter: Yeah, and what's in Shallotte?

Jones: Well, I don't know, but we keep seeing advertising in the newspapers about how all these different areas are growing.

Chris Suiter: They are.

Jones: So (inaudible) what's there? I mean the people from St James are not going to be satisfied looking at their neighbors forever.

Chris Suiter: No and St James' problem is - you're about done aren't you?

Jones: No we have five minutes.

Chris Suiter: Okay well the problem that St James has is they're up against the same thing that I'm talking about here. And I'm just wondering if they're not killing the goose that's laying the golden eggs there. Somebody's got to let them get some grocery stores and some just nitty gritty personal structure here. The businesses that have been pouring in down there recently have been what they call upscale. You know you've got a lot of day spas and...

Jones: Boutiques.

Chris Suiter: Yeah and little boutiques and various things like that, that are fine except that they don't help you live. And I don't know what the people in St James do; they have no shops of any kind in that whole thing. And nothing outside it except same thing that we have, Southport and Oak Island all share.

Jones: Chris, just in the couple of minutes we have left here. Give us your perspective on the next 10 years. Can you do that in a couple of minutes? What do you envision happening?

Chris Suiter: I hope, well, I tell you what I hope. What I hope will happen is that it will dawn on people that this is madness what we have now. And let's have some manageable growth. Let's slow it down to the point where, let's get some of the infrastructure first. Or at least let it even out so that you can live here as it is now before you do more and more and more and more and more. And of course since the money is being made by somebody who doesn't have to live here in almost every case. They could care less, hey they'll build it, they'll stick it all up all over the place. What I think is probably gonna happen is the buyers will have enough sense to look at all this and say, "Hey, where do I go for groceries? Where can I get my car fixed? Where can I go for a filling station?"

Jones: How about medical facilities?

Chris Suiter: Yeah, doctors. Sure, all of this. Especially medical, because the demographics are such that the arrivers are not getting any younger. In fact we're not even getting the younger retirees like we used to. I think the age of the retirees is creeping up too.

Jones: Well, I hate to hear these things, but I think we have to just trust your judgment. You have been very visible down there and made a-- I guess the biggest volunteer that I know that will come and talk to us. And on that note, I hope you will come back again. When you're planning any more lectures or tours or anything let us know.

Chris Suiter: Yeah, I've-- that's the main thing I do with the Parks Service, I'm what's called an interpreter. Historical interpreter, not language and I've done programs on all kinds of things. I was doing a John Brown program at Harpers Ferry which is somewhat difficult sometimes. You have very strong opinions from all sides on that subject. But I do a lot of that kind of thing for, particularly for the Maritime Museum. Local history and things.

Jones: Any books coming out?

Chris Suiter: No, I make tin soldiers. That's what I do most of the time. If I say most of the time, I do. I'm up over 50,000 that I've made (inaudible).

Jones: Oh my Gosh. Mainly Civil War or all wars?

Chris Suiter: Mainly Civil War, because the main market is places like Fort Sumpter, and Fort Moultrie and Fort Pulaski and other historical forts. They buy it for their little shop. And my wife makes dolls. She makes little hanky doll things that-- they get all over the country. She sends them as far away as Vicksburg, (inaudible) places like that, because they can be mailed.

Jones: Well, I appreciate your coming to visit us. This is a treat and I want you to come back again sometime.

Chris Suiter: Okay, I will do. Yeah, let's come back and I'll talk about some specific subject like the port.

Jones: I want to hear that. And go back down there and just tell them, "Hey." Use a little muscle, get your friends together.

Chris Suiter: Well, we dearly love our house and we like our situation. But like I said it's just got to settle down. You shouldn't have to go out and be aggravated every time you go out and say, "God."

Jones: That's not a way to retire.

Chris Suiter: No, it isn't and just irritating and aggravating because the traffic and they've knocked down something else. And you go by something and it's gone the next day. And they're doing this; they're just flattening things left and right. You know the Presbyterian Church was knocked down just recently, (inaudible) gone. They've sodded it now where it used to be. So, that kind of stuff, and that's too much of that, just too much of that.

Jones: Well, let's hope it stops because, I think many of us of a certain age are really hurting. I mean we enjoy history.

Chris Suiter: Where do you live? Where do you guys live?

Jones: We live here in Wilmington.

Chris Suiter: I know, but I mean specifically.

Jones: Well we live near Masonboro Loop Road. We live on a cul-de-sac so that it's peaceful and quiet. My husband had three things. He said, "I don't want to have people--kids-- I don't want barbequing so that I can smell it and I don't want big wheels on a Sunday morning."

Chris Suiter: Yeah, we live on a cul-de-sac too.

Jones: Anyway, thanks a lot. And this is tying up our interview today.

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