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Murrells Inlet: Trove of old photos leads to history book

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

When Steve Strickland organized a photo scanning party nearly three years ago, he had no idea the path he had started on would lead to a book.

He was just looking to put names with the faces he saw in a suitcase full of old photos his grandmother left him.

He achieved his purpose and the Murrells Inlet History Project was born. Stickland is now waiting for the day that the Murrells Inlet installment of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series hits book stores.

The release is projected to come sometime between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Simply titled “Murrells Inlet,” the book features about 240 images of the inlet as it was. The majority were taken from the 1950s through the 1970s, but there are also a few from Hurricane Hugo, which did major damage to the area in 1989.

The book covers families, boats and their captains, fishermen and “creek rats” – as many of the people, places and events of that time as possible.

“We were trying to break it down into bite-sized pieces to give that view, or the flavor, of the inlet,” Strickland said. “We talked about the boats especially because they are what defined Murrells Inlet, because of our history as a fishing village.”

It was just last month that Strickland finished the book and turned it into his publisher. The last step was a gathering two weeks ago that brought together many of those who contributed their memories and knowledge to the Murrells Inlet History Project.

About 40 gathered at Inlet Affairs to look over the photos and captions for the book one last time to search out errors and make any changes.

“Everybody had positive things to say,” Strickland said. “We’re trying to capture a specific time in Murrells Inlet. For the most part, we got it right. There were some little things. We might have missed the date on something by a year or only had eight out of 12 people’s names, but that’s OK. We captured the essence.”

Idalene Smith, 84, was among those at the editing party and said she was impressed. The book put things in perspective for her.

“I became quite aware that I am relatively new in Murrells Inlet,” she said. “I came here in 1953, but so many families have been here for many years, like the Stricklands. There was so much I didn’t know.”

Smith grew up in Georgetown, but the family of her late husband, Kenneth, came to Murrells Inlet in 1900, she said. He was a descendant of Ida and Gilmore Smith of Sunnyside.

One of the most notable photos in the book, according to Strickland, shows Capt. Alex Sing, Hoss Johnson and Mike Marchant with their catch, including a white marlin, from a Gulf Stream fishing trip in 1967. Sing brought the first high-speed offshore party fishing boat to Murrells Inlet around that time, marking the beginning of the next era of sportfishing for the inlet, Strickland said.

“It really changed the world of offshore fishing in Murrells Inlet. Up until then, the Gulf Stream trips were typically overnight trips. They had to stay overnight to get enough fishing time to make it worth their while,” he said.

Sing’s boat made the Gulf Stream more accessible and similar boats followed.

“They were able to do the same trip in two or three hours, so they were able to fish waters they had been unable to fish and catch species of fish not a lot of people here had seen,” Strickland said. “That’s really one thing you can point to and say ‘this is the progression of Murrells Inlet history.’ ”

As part of his research, Stickland spent about six months interviewing inlet residents and natives, and recording the conversations.

“Some are good stories for anyone’s ears and others are stories that may be more delicate. Some are really juicy,” he said. “There’s stuff that was done in Murrells Inlet 50 years ago that they put you in jail for today, and these are just good old guys having a good old time.”

He wasn’t looking to unearth secrets he said, but highlight a history that deserves to be preserved.

Strickland had no idea putting together a book, even one comprised mostly of photos, would take so much work and commitment. If he had, he probably wouldn’t have done it, he said. But he’s excited to see what the finished product looks like and is already hearing from people eager to buy a copy.

The book won’t mark the end of the Murrells Inlet History Project. It has already accumulated and provided information about more than 1,000 photos and has nearly 700 members participating and talking about old photos on its Facebook page.

“I hope that will continue and I think it will continue, unraveling more of the stories of Murrells Inlet,” Strickland said.

Beyond that, he wants to see the effort grow and eventually include the creation of a museum to display photos and artifacts, making the area’s story accessible to even more people.

“It’s just a question of when I meet that angel, that person, that benefactor who will make it possible,” Strickland said. “If it’s meant to be, it will be. It’s just a question of being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person.”

While he waits for that person, there’s just one more thing on his to-do list.“I’m still waiting to figure out, How does this become a movie?” Strickland said.

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