Rendering of a bronze statue honoring all baymen to be installed...

Rendering of a bronze statue honoring all baymen to be installed at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay. Credit: Baymens Heritage Assoc. Inc./Kirk Larsen

When police found Michael Kennedy’s boat floating in choppy waters, they called his father. After a helicopter search they found the shell fisherman’s body.

“I was upset,” John Kennedy of Bayville said. “When I found out he was dead … then you know your mind spins.”

Michael Kennedy had been shellfishing for two decades when he died at 57 from drowning on May 17, 2020, his father said.

Michael’s fellow bayman and friend Bill Painter approached the father about creating a memorial in his son’s honor.

Kennedy said he told Painter no, telling him “I’m touched that you would think that much about my son but a memorial for the profession’s got to be a big thing. You can’t do it just for one little guy.”

Painter honored Kennedy’s wish and set to work on establishing a memorial for all the people who harvest shellfish by hand.

On May 10, the Oyster Bay Town Board approved a spot at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park on Larrabee Avenue overlooking Oyster Bay Harbor to be the future home of a bronze statue honoring all baymen. Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said before the approval that he found the plan to be "incredibly beautiful and very fitting for this site."

The baymen’s work, pulling up baskets called “rakes” to haul in shellfish from the bottom into their boats will be memorialized in a bronze figure sitting in his boat. The face will not be Michael’s, but a one-legged seagull that became known as Mike’s bird will sit on the boat’s stern.

Kennedy said a one-legged seagull would come flying into his son’s boat and they would head out together.

“Michael, when he brought in clams he'd offer one or two and gave them to the seagull,” Kennedy said. “It became pretty famous because even now if I see one of the baymen, they'll say, "I saw Michael's bird today, gave him a ride and fed him a couple of clams.’ ”

Painter said Mike had been a longtime friend and had left a voicemail with his son the day he went out and didn’t come back.

“He was good friend,” Painter said.

After talking to Kennedy about ideas for a memorial he formed a nonprofit, the Baymens Heritage Association, to take on the task of designing the memorial and finding a spot for it.

The fundraising is in its early stages and has raised tens of thousands of dollars for a project that will cost around $550,000, with the statue accounting for about $300,000 and the site work about $250,000, Painter said. The group plans to launch a website to solicit donations with the goal of dedicating the memorial by 2024.

The location is near where the baymen launch their boats and have long held barbecues, Painter said. He hopes the monument will be a place for people to “just to sit and rest, and go enjoy the scenery there” and learn something about a profession that’s been going on in those waters for hundreds of years.

Kennedy said he hopes baymen will see the memorial as they head out to work and have a reminder to be careful out on the water.

“They’ll see that memorial and they’ll remember maybe I should take it easy today, or maybe I should think twice before I do anything,” Kennedy said.

Baymen Memorial

  • Bronze statue of a bayman in his boat
  • Expected to cost $550,000
  • To be installed at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay
  • Anticipated completion by 2024

Source: Bill Painter

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