YARMOUTH — Steamer the Clam has been the Clam Festival mascot for almost 10 years, and remains a hard shell to crack.
Created in 2002, the clam’s identity is closely guarded. He, or she, has been played by men and women, children and adults, and residents of Yarmouth and other towns.
According to Carolyn Schuster, executive director of the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce, the idea for a mascot was conceived by Judi Clancy, a former Clam Festival director. The costume was designed by Frances Dunphy of Commercial Costumes and every year the shell is repaired and Steamer’s smile is adjusted.
“The identity of who plays Steamer has always been a secret,” Schuster said. “It’s a cardinal rule with mascots. No one knows who Oakie or Slugger is, and it’s the same with Steamer.”
Schuster said different people have had the honor of playing Steamer. She said one Steamer was a very shy, reserved person; once inside the costume, they became an outgoing, animated mascot.
“The Steamer costume gives people the chance to be someone else, to make people happy and to have a different personality,” she said.
According to one Yarmouth resident who has played Steamer (and who will remain anonymous) the costume is hot, but well-ventilated. He said there is a fan in the hat and a custom-made vest lined with ice packs to keep the person inside cool.
“It gets really hot in there, so it’s not advisable to go longer than a few hours,” he said. “You can’t see very well either, so a handler helps guide Steamer around curbs and other obstacles. They also help with crowd control.”
Whoever plays Steamer has to know the signature moves, the former mascot said. There is the big open-handed wave, the thumbs-up move and lots of high-fives to hand out, he said. And it’s very important to be over the top and exaggerated with the movements.
“The beauty of being Steamer is that he has fun with the young kids, but also the college-aged kids and the adults,” he said. “This is for the volunteers as much as for those who visit. Steamer is about boosting morale for the volunteers who do this year after year without any compensation.”
He said he likes to visit the volunteers who run the food booths and always makes an appearance at the Clam Shucking contest.
But being Steamer is not all fun and games.
Kids try to look inside or move the costume around to discover who it is and many people want to take silly pictures, he said. And Steamer doesn’t make any night appearances after being pushed down at a block party one year.
“It’s impossible to get back up when you are down,” he said.
He said it can be uncomfortable when people make comments about Steamer’s legs, especially when it’s an older gentleman or someone he knows.
“Every year I hear ‘nice legs,'” he said. “Why some people assume Steamer is a girl I’ll never know.”
Another important skill Steamer has to have is the ability to determine when kids are scared or have had enough of the mascot.
“It’s a skill to know when to back off,” he said. “When you see the child start to make that face, you have to know when to back off, give a small finger wave and move on. You have to be very careful not to be too big, or it can backfire.”
But overall, the former mascot said it is an honor to play the festival mascot.
This Friday, July 15, a new mascot will make its debut: Littleneck the Clam. The Littleneck mascot is smaller than Steamer, and can be played by a child or a smaller adult, Schuster said.
“Little Neck will be a great addition to the festival,” she said.
This year’s festival is from July 15-17. For more information, visit www.clamfestival.com.
Yarmouth Clam Festival mascot Steamer high-fives a young spectator during last year’s festival parade. The identity of the person who plays the giant clam is a closely guarded secret.
YARMOUTH — The Yarmouth Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, in conjunction with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and Maine Tri Sports, is offering free bicycle valet parking during the Clam Festival, July 15-17.
More than 380 bikes, one wheelchair and two skate boards were parked for free last year.
The valet parking lot is at 26 School St., next to the entrance to the carnival. The lot will be staffed Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
— Amy Anderson