John J. Gaspie (1884-1961).
“Lord Protector of the Quahogs,” was what the legendary chef Howard Mitcham called Gaspie, the town’s longtime shellfish warden. Befitting this exalted rank, Gaspie’s marker is topped with the bas relief of a quahog, rendered in elegant style by a fine hand, on an especially lovely marker, with what may the most beautiful letterforms on any tombstone in the cemetery. (If William J. Boogar Jr. had not died three years before Gaspie, I’d swear this was his work.) Gaspie came from Pico, in the Azores; an evocative name for anyone who has read Frank X. Gaspar’s novel, Leaving Pico. (Gaspar, who grew up at 119 Commercial Street, was his one of his grandsons.) In one of his first acts as clam warden in 1947, he called for a prohibition on the raking of quahog beds on the east side of the West End Breakwater, concerned that the wholesale depletion was destroying spawn before they had a chance to sit. Gaspie’s epitaph describes him as “a true conservationist, a raconteur and wit,” and concludes with the words: “Death, you old bugger, you can’t be proud of me. I’m just a handful of dust.” Mitcham said Gaspie played Socrates to his Plato, “a teacher who helps to mold and shape his whole way of life and thought, for better or worse.” Every September, the two men would conduct a “Salute to Indian Summer” clambake, the recipe for which Mitcham divulged in his Provincetown Seafood Cookbook (1975). It calls for about 2,500 littleneck clams (five bushels), 40 pounds of haddock fillets, 150 ears of sweet corn, 25 pounds of linguiça, 300 bottles of beer — you get the idea. After Gaspie’s death, Mitcham perpetuated the ceremony as the “John J. Gaspie Memorial Clambake,” Anthony Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.
¶ Last update on 24 June 2017.
Provincetown’s Historic Cemeteries and Memorials, Key O-86, Page 25.