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Statue in Babylon to honor Great South Bay clammers

Kathy Herzy, Scott Lockwood and Wayne Horsley, members

Kathy Herzy, Scott Lockwood and Wayne Horsley, members of the bayman statue committee, on June 5 with the monument. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

A statue commemorating the history of clamming in the Great South Bay will soon stand near Argyle Lake in Babylon Village.

Members of a local civic group spearheading the project said the bronze monument depicting a bayman will preserve the memory of a once-booming industry that provided a livelihood and way of life for many on the South Shore.

“This was one of the most productive areas for clamming, probably in the world,” said Wayne Horsley, a village resident and member of the Bayman Statue Steering Committee, which is raising $157,500 for the project.

The committee will dedicate the statue in a ceremony on July 1.

Once installed, the monument should “give the public the opportunity to see what the bay used to be,” he said.

Horsley and other committee members got that opportunity last week when village public works chief Charles Gardner uncrated the 7-foot figure for a sneak preview at the back of the village garage. The roughly 1,000-pound sculpture portrays a clammer holding a pair of tongs that generations of baymen have used to scoop the mollusks off the seafloor.

“We set him in 1970,” committee co-chair Scott Lockwood said of the figure, noting his mustache, sideburns and traditional waders.

“That’s the look when the bay was at its height,” added Horsley, the regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Nearly 10,000 Long Islanders worked in clamming in 1976 — a multimillion dollar local industry at that time — and the Island’s harvest that year topped eight million pounds, according to a 1983 Newsday series called “The Decline of the Clam.”

“You could make good money, and there was just tons of clams out there,” said Bob Hawkins, 65, a former clammer from West Islip. “It supported a lot of guys going through college.”

Hawkins, a committee volunteer, spent a recent morning helping with the final landscaping of the statue’s future site just south of Montauk Highway. The village owns the property and proposed it to the committee as a location for the monument, Horsley said.

Village Mayor Ralph Scordino did not respond to requests for comment.

Hawkins could also remember when pollution, overharvesting and other factors began to thin the bay’s bounty of clams.

“It started to get where you couldn’t make a day’s pay,” he said.

The Town of Babylon issued just 21 commercial clamming permits last year, according to town spokesman Kevin Bonner.

The committee members said they hope the statue will spark new concern in the bay, and perhaps new life as well.

“This is a reminder that we need to bring the bay back to its former glory,” Horsley said. “It’s going to happen at some point.”

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