At 7 feet, 8 inches tall, Elias (“Nehi”) Gore was a large man, but was also a member of a family of great size. Some of those family members, including his two daughters, attended the unveiling of an exhibit featuring him Friday afternoon at the N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport.
They remembered him for not only his extraordinary size, but also his character. The exhibit, which includes a life-size likeness, has again generated public fascination about his life, and stories from those who knew him were shared over the course of the afternoon.
“He was a very gentle, kind man, who didn’t meet a stranger,” his daughter Mary Gore Wigfall said. “He was one of 11 children, and he sent two of them—a sister and a brother—to college.”
Mary was only five years old when her father died at the age of 38 in March 1944.
Another daughter, Mattie Gore Williams, came to see the exhibit along with cousins, nieces, in-laws and grandchildren, and both daughters said they were happy with the representation.
Alderman Nelson Adams, who also attended, said he was pleased with the way the exhibit turned out.
“I’ve been hoping for this for the last 10 to 12 years,” Adams said. “I would like to thank the museum for getting it done. It looks great.”
The exhibit is part of local celebrations of Black History Month, and represents the African-Americans who worked as fishermen, as Nehi did.
Strickland and the museum’s workers installed fish nets and displayed a video of shanty singers performing the old songs they would sing as they caught Atlantic menhaden, also known as pogies.
But Nehi caught the attention of people beyond the Southport waterways he frequented.
“He went to New York City to do some modeling work, and they asked him to stay, but he didn’t like all the attention people were giving him, so he came back in Southport,” museum director Mary Strickland said.
Nehi is buried in John Smith Cemetery and further events over the course of the weekend chronicling local African-American culture helped to raise proceeds for the upkeep of that burial ground off East Leonard Street.
The family has agreed to loan the museum a pair of size 16 shoes once worn by Nehi to be featured as part of the exhibit.
The museum is also displaying an old Nehi soft drink bottle, in reference to the origin of his nickname. Nehi cola bottles were taller than traditional soft drink containers of the 1930s and 1940s.
“What I remember most about him was that he would fly kites in the sunshine in the backyard on Lord Street, which was quite large,” Wigfall said. “He would pick up two children at a time with ease, and also lift very heavy fishing nets. Although he had great strength, he was tender.”