by Barb, working on the front porch in Boothbay Harbor, enjoying the scenery and the lovely breezes
I’ve been open about the fact that my Maine Clambake Mystery Series is “inspired by” the Cabbage Island Clambakes here in Boothbay Harbor. One of my fellow MCW writers Lea Wait’s daughter had her wedding reception there. Lea mentioned it to me in passing, and when my agent told me he was looking for a clambake-themed mystery series–bingo! An idea was born.
But, that idea was born in October, after the real Cabbage Island had closed down for the winter, and the series sold in February, so I wrote the first draft of Clammed Up without ever visiting Cabbage Island. I’ve always believed that was all to the good, because it left my imagination free to roam. I could make up an island, a family, and a “dining experience” that was unique. But in the name of research, my husband and I were the first people on the boat the following June when they reopened.
Now that the first three books are out, a handful of people have written me to say that inspired by the books, they came to Boothbay Harbor for vacation and have gone to the “real clambake.” Last weekend, which was the long July 4th weekend, my daughter-in-law requested for her birthday that the whole family, including her mom who was up visiting from Virginia, go out to the Cabbage Island Clambake.
In an interview, Hank Phillippi Ryan once asked me if I could ever attend a clambake again and not be working. I’m happy to report the answer is yes. We had a perfect day for the excursion, and I had a lovely, lovely time. I did pick up some island gossip and anecdotes which will probably make their way into a future book, but I was “hardly working.”
I thought, in the interest of setting expectations for potential visitors, I would point out some of the differences between my fictional Snowden Family Clambake and the real thing.
1) On the way to the clambake, you cruise on a former party boat which takes you on a harbor tour.
The same. Also the same, the boats are named for the matriarch. In my books, the boat is the Jackie II, named for protagonist Julia Snowden’s mother, Jacqueline. The real boat is the Bennie Alice, named for 95-year-old Bennie Alice Moore, mother of the owners, who runs the island gift shop.
2) The clambakes are family-owned and run.
The same, though the families are entirely different. The Cabbage Island Clambakes are owned and run by brothers Wayne and Bob Moore. Four generations of Moores enjoy the island every summer. In the books, Julia Snowden has stepped up to run the Snowden Family Clambake Company along with her sister Livvie and brother-in-law Sonny Ramsey.
3) The island where the clambakes are held is just beyond the harbor mouth, in the Atlantic.
Not the same. Both Boothbay Harbor and the fictional Busman’s Harbor are vast with many islands, inhabited and uninhabited. But though the Snowden Family Clambake is just beyond the harbor mouth, Cabbage Island is inside the harbor in Linekin Bay.
4) There is an abandoned family mansion and a playhouse big enough to live in on the island.
Not the same. The Moores do have residences on Cabbage Island, but the island itself is less than half the size of my fictional Morrow Island. There’s no mansion, playhouse or beach, though there is a lovely lodge built in 1900. My brother is the only person who knows me well enough to have recognized the inspiration for the mansion and playhouse. It’s this little $27 million dollar beauty here, which was next door to my grandparents summer house in Water Mill, Long Island. (And by next door, I mean my grandparents’ modest ranch house was built on property that formerly belonged to the mansion grounds.) It did have a playhouse so complete it was rented out during the summer as a separate residence. The playhouse has been done over and expanded so many times over the years it’s no longer recognizable for what it once was. (On the other hand, the mansion in the books and the original inspiration look nothing alike. It’s just the idea.)
5) The meal consists of clam chowder, steamers, two lobsters, corn, a potato, an onion and an egg. Dessert is blueberry grunt.
Almost the same. The Cabbage Island Clambake serves fish chowder and dessert is blueberry cake, but otherwise the meal is identical.
6) The meal is cooked in a pit, over rocks heated by a roaring wood fire and covered in seaweed and tarps.
Not quite the same. My description in Clammed Up is more “traditional”, but I have to admit I’ve wondered if it would be practical for serving that many people. The Cabbage Island set up includes all of those elements, but is on a raised structure.
7) There is an island cat.
The same. Though not a Maine coon like the Morrow Island cat, Le Roi.
The Moores, by the way, have been very gracious to me, answering questions and so on. When I told Bob on this trip that I’d only killed one person on the island, so far, he laughed and said, “As long as it isn’t me.”