A Touch of Magic
You might say that pure magic drew me to the Lowcountry, and you wouldn’t be wrong. On one of our family’s first visits to Hilton Head Island over 20 years ago, we drove across a narrow bridge onto an island in Broad Creek, where a fellow accompanied by his sleepy golden retriever sat in the shade of an ancient live oak tree. As he casually plucked a tune on his fiddle, the man looked up and smiled as we exited our car. Calling my children by their names, he said, “Well, there y’all are! I’ve been waiting for you all day!” We’d never met this man before in our lives, so how did he know us? My kids were convinced he had magical powers, but I suspected he had overheard my husband or me say the kids’ names. Even so, I knew that he’d immediately made us feel at home in the Sea Islands.
So who were this mysterious fiddler and his dog? Turns out they were a famous duo on the island, particularly at the Shelter Cove resort owned by the Walt Disney Company. Far from the theme park chaos in Orlando, this tucked-away piece of Disney magic has called Hilton Head Island home since 1996, when its condominium buildings and recreational areas were constructed on what was previously known as Longview Island. That same year, the resort hired Mick Ayres (not to be confused with that other well-known Disney “Mick”) to entertain guests as “B’lou Crabbe.” In that capacity, Ayres led sing-alongs, performed magic tricks, shared Lowcountry tales (some ghostly, some not) around the campfire, and apparently greeted some lucky guests upon arrival—always with his friendly golden retriever by his side.
A Puppy Tale
As we came to learn, the dog was the real star of the place. Her name was “Shadow” and, according to Ayres, her name reflected her curious and happy spirit. As he tells it, “She showed up when we were building the resort. We noticed a golden retriever puppy hanging around with some of the workers, getting into trouble and coming out of it smelling like roses. We named her Shadow, not because of the color of her fur, but because she was more underfoot than your own shadow and the name stuck.” Disney quickly made her the resort’s mascot—the only live-animal mascot ever at a Walt Disney property.
For nearly 25 years the official story was that Shadow lived full-time at the resort, as proven by evidence of her throughout the property: a doghouse on the front porch, puppy footprints in the concrete, and a doggie door and bowl by the recreation area. I even recall seeing dog footprints in the ceramic floor tiles in our room, convincing my kids that Shadow had been up to visit. While Shadow just MAY have actually gone home with Ayres each night, she did make appearances on the resort grounds throughout each week. If guests didn’t find her walking with B’Lou, they might see her playing games at the pool and at other special events. During regular “Shadow’s Tales with B’Lou”, Ayres would talk about the golden retriever while guests had an opportunity to pet and interact with her. At the end, kids would get signed postcards from Shadow (see photo above), graciously signed by B’Lou, who was authorized to sign for her.
The End of an Era
An entire generation of Lowcountry visitors had grown up with Shadow and B’lou Crabbe by the time Covid made its appearance on the world stage in 2020. Sadly, the duo did not return to the resort after an initial 20-month hiatus during the height of the pandemic. These days Ayres performs as an entertainer with the Marriot Vacation Club resorts on Hilton Head (as himself rather than the character B’lou Crabbe) and still lives in nearby Bluffton. He reports that Shadow is now retired from show-biz, but still lives with her long-time owner and is doing just fine.
Which begs the question: how does a dog live a youthful, healthy life for more than 25 years? Cynics might say there have been multiple “Shadows” over the years, but I know better. The answer is simple: a Lowcountry touch of Disney magic.