Four Guys Shucking

Clam shacks on water street. Newburyport, Massachusetts
Click any pic to magnify
The good folks at Sepia Saturday sometimes like to throw some of the most ambiguous photos at us to use as a weekly theme. This week shows three fine looking gentleman sitting, wearing suspenders, and reading a newspaper. One of them is holding a camera (see below) Looking through my postcard collection I found a card showing four fine "gentlemen" sitting, hard at work shucking clams.

The first postcard is of a group of "clam shanties or shacks." The City of Newburyport was once famous for the clams harvested from Joppa Flats which are just to the right in the postcard image. The flats are exposed at low tide. Because the flats produced thousands of bushels of clams per season they needed to have "clam shuckers" to process them. The shuckers worked out of these shacks. You can see a few of these crusty old salts in the second postcard.

To shuck a clam the shucker would insert a knife blade into the clam to cut the muscle the clam uses to hold the shell closed. They would then open the shell and scoop out the contents which they then dropped into a pail. The shells were then throw out the back door directly into the river. They did this over and over and did it with speed and accuracy. I can't imagine how they could do it so fast. I tried to shuck some clams once. I ended up cutting myself after the 3rd clam which took me 15 minutes!

The shuckers were notorious characters in town. I think you can see by the photo just how tough and cranky they might have been. My brother-in-law knew the last shucker in town. By then the shucker was an old man and would stop into the fire station to get a free meal which the fire fighters generously gave. They also gave him a few dollars so the old man could get a few "nips." The man would tell the younger men stories from the real old days of Newburyport. The stories were peppered with clipper ships and fish drying racks from city's shipbuilding days.
Four men shucking clams. Newburyport, Massachusetts
Postcards: CrazyasaCoolFox

Joppa Flats was closed in the 1960's due to severe river pollution. Because the Merrimack River has become dramatically cleaner over the years, when the tide and currents are right, clamming is reopened.

On the front of the second postcard the writer says, "There is to be a bride in the King's Daughters in June. I will tell you who is my next (written along the bottom) Ananias." The card is postmarked in two places. One is Newburyport, Mass 4:30 PM, May 9, 1906. The other postmark is it's destination: Sharon, Mass 6:00 AM, May 10, 1906. It's addressed to a Mrs. Sarah E. Mulliken, Sharon, Mass. On the left bottom corner it says Sharon Sanatorium. I found that was a hospital for tuberculosis patients.
The last clam shack. Newburyport, Massachusetts
The only remaining clam shack.,
now a residence.


21 Wits said…
Now this was very interesting, thanks. I always enjoy learning about the various tents and other such buildings and things that folks had along the water.
I was 5 years old when I opened my first oyster and became quite the expert in the family with that knife, even if I was from the city while my parents came from the coast...
Go figure!!

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