No. But its history is fascinating
March 7, 2023
My brother shared a blurb with me recently which piqued my interest: “It was on March 7, 1992 when the world’s largest crepe was baked and flipped in Bloemfontein, South Africa. It was 41 feet 2 inches in diameter, an inch and-a-half deep, and weighed 5,908 pounds. Sounds like the special at Denny’s.”
So it got me thinking about a large item a bit closer to home. Down in Long Beach, Washington, there is a frying pan. It’s a huge frying pan and it is propped upright on large metal stand in the middle of town. Needless to say, it’s quite noticeable and tourists who flock to the peninsula every year will often have their photo taken in front of the pan.
Why, I asked, was the pan even made and what is its history? Research reveals that in 1941, local leaders conceived of the idea of a Clam Festival. Someone, likely Wellington Marsh, Sr., a successful businessman and owner of Marsh’s Free Museum, suggested that they bake a giant clam fritter. The community borrowed the first pan from the city of Chehalis, a couple hours to the northeast.
Although the Infallible Wikipedia is silent on the matter, the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival webpage is not. Here’s what they say about that first event:
“The fritter was constructed using 200 pounds of razor clams, 20 dozen eggs, 20 pounds each of flour, cracker meal, and cornmeal, 10 gallons of milk, and 13 gallons of salad oil. Ralph Smith, and numerous other locals, would dig the clams and donate them to the Festival. (snip)
The stories hold that a couple of girls helped grease the pan by ‘skating on large slabs of butter’ across the surface of the pan. The cooks even used garden hoes and two-foot-square shovels to maneuver the fritter in the pan. (snip)
The following year a new frying pan was unveiled; this time Long Beach would have their very own frying pan to boast as the ‘World’s Largest.’ This was made possible through the Chamber of Commerce and was manufactured by Northwest Copper and Sheet Metal Works of Portland. The Pan, from base to handle, measured in at a whopping 14.6 feet long.”
And thus began the annual clam festival. People would flock to the beach for the event, all wanting their share of the delicious fritter. This event seemed to get bigger and bigger. There was even a group of people who took the frying pan on a tour of the state, complete with two ‘Bathing Clam Beauties’, to promote interest in the event.
The success of it all did exactly as expected and the tourism to Long Beach exploded. It was the unintended consequences which eventually shut it down.
The last year of the original festival was 1948 with two factors which came into play. First, local restaurants complained that the tourists were not frequenting their establishments; after all, if the people can eat the giant fritter for free, they won’t go buy a meal somewhere else.
But the biggest factor was an alarming decrease in the availability of razor clams.
Also from the webpage:
“The Washington State Director of Fisheries warned that the coastal Razor Clam populations could not withstand the current level of harvest. It had been estimated that in 1946, that clam diggers had taken six million pounds of clams from the beaches of Copalis, Grayland, and Long Beach.”
In the following years, the state Fisheries division instituted limits on razor clams and, eventually, limited digs to a few selected dates each year.
And that was the end of the Clam Festival until, in 1994, an attempt was made to revive the event. Unfortunately it was discovered that the base of the pan had all but rusted away and was no longer viable for cooking. Instead, it was repaired with fiberglass and then hung at its current location as a tourist attraction.
The town “commissioned a welding company in Astoria to construct a new aluminum pan. This pan was inaugurated, cooking a giant fritter, at the Main Street Dedication in 1994. It was then placed in Fish Alley downtown, and was used as a small stage. In 2014, the second year of the Annual Long Beach Razor Clam Festival’s revival, the pan was refurbished and is still used for the giant fritter cook-off done by students.”
Over the years, my family has had many photos snapped in front of that giant frying pan, the kids growing up chronicled every few years.
Whenever we visit Long Beach our tradition is to drive up the main drag of town (there is a road on the bay side of the peninsula which is faster to our family condo). When we get to the light at Sid Snyder Drive that is what I think of as being at Long Beach.
Some distance ahead are the colorful kites twirling on buildings and American flags which line the sidewalks flapping in the ever constant breeze. The sidewalks are almost always awash with pedestrians and cars clog the roads.
And soon we are driving past all that makes Long Beach, well, Long Beach.
Marshs’ Free Museum on the left, the giant squirting clam and Frying Pan on the right. The arcade and the rides (although those were shut down during the pandemic and have not reopened) up next. Then a multitude of restaurants, clothing, and novelty stores. Our favorites, Castaways, Stormin’ Norman’s, and Beachcombers on the left, Dylan’s Cottage Bakery on the right. And then we arrive at Bolstad Avenue. A quick glance to the left and we see “The World’s Longest Beach” sign and then its past Scoopers where one night during our summer visit we will enjoy an amazing ice cream cone. And, finally, downtown is behind us.
The Clam Festival was revived in 2013. Although I have not had a chance to attend, it’s now on my radar and I hope to get there next year. So if you have the time and the inclination, make your reservations now to spend the weekend of April 8 and 9, 2023, at Long Beach for the event. And be sure to wave at the frying pan when you drive into town.
After all, nothing quite says ‘you’re here’ than the first glimpse of that giant frying pan.
https://www.longbeachrazorclamfestival.com/ (official site)
https://www.visitlongbeachpeninsula.com/giant-frying-pan/ (more history plus links to other activities)
https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/84803-largest-frying-pan (some crazy person who used his pan to cook calf livers. I kid you not)
(An interesting list)
(Where we stay when at Long Beach)