A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from September 21, 2008
Clam Digger & Mussel Sucker (City Island terms)

City Island in the Bronx has a New England-type culture that makes it seem much different from other parts of New York City. A native City Islander has been called a “clam digger” (or “clamdigger") since the early 1900s. A non-native City Islander is called a “mussel sucker.”


Wikipedia: City Island, Bronx
City Island is a small island approximately 1.5 mi (2.4 km) long by 0.5 mi (1 km) wide. At one time attached to the town of Pelham, Westchester County, it is now part of the New York City borough of the Bronx. As of the 2000 census the island had a population of 4,520. Its land area is 1.023 km² (0.395 sq mi, or 252.835 acres). The island is part of Bronx Community Board 10.

City Island is located at the extreme western end of Long Island Sound, south of Pelham Bay and east of Eastchester Bay. The body of water between City Island and the even smaller (and uninhabited) Hart Island to the east is known as City Island Harbor. The small island adjacent to the northeast is High Island. Stepping Stones Lighthouse, marking the main shipping channel into New York, is off the southern tip of the island, near the Long Island shore. It is part of the Pelham Islands, a group of islands originally belonging to Thomas Pell.
(...)
The New York State Department of Health has declared that the eating of all shellfish from the waters of City Island is forbidden due to pollution (including PCBs and dioxin) and diseases. Thus all seafood sold at City Island restaurants must by law come from elsewhere.

Google Books
New York City: Vol 1,
New York City Guide

By Federal Writers’ Project
New York, NY: Random House
1939
Pg. 550:
A few of the City Islanders still call themselves “clam-diggers,” and the island’s numerous sea-food restaurants on its main thoroughfare, City Island Avenue, are almost as varied as the pocketbooks they are meant to accommodate.

19 May 1974, New York (NY) Times, “The Three Worlds of City Island, an Exercise in Coexistence” by Dan Calrinsky, pg. 27:
Natives are called “clamdiggers,” and those who leave—for college, marriage or a fling at the outside world—usually come back.

New York (NY) Times
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF LIVING IN CITY ISLAND
By FRANK EMBLEN
Published: December 5, 1982
(...)
Traditionally, the residents have owned their own homes. Few rent, and the idea of a condominium has been alien. To some devout City Islanders, covetous of what they have and suspicious of any change, “condo” conjures up the idea of “transient,” a dirty word to the longtime islanders, known as “clamdiggers.”

New York (NY) Times
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF LIVING IN: City Island
By THOMAS L. WAITE
Published: November 29, 1987
(...)
The island instead became populated by small farmers, oystermen—residents still call themselves “clamdiggers”—and the Hellgate Pilots, who guided ships from Long Island Sound through the straits alongside Ward Island.

New York (NY) Times
ISLAND HOPPING; A Place Where Cape Cod Meets the Bronx
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: June 13, 1993
(...)
A most independent part, to be sure. The New York Herald on March 30, 1902, called City Islanders “a race unto themselves.” To this day, natives are called clamdiggers, while those with, say, a quarter-century on the island earn the apparently coveted sobriquet mussel-sucker. People from elsewhere are mainlanders, off-islanders or, most plainly, outsiders.

New York (NY) Daily News
AIM TO END BIG BANG CITY PLANS TO MUFFLE RODMANS NECK NOISE
By BOB KAPPSTATTER
Friday, March 27th 1998, 2:04AM
(...)
With about 3,900 residents divided between “clam diggers” (native born) and “mussel shuckers” (everyone else), island residents voted, 994 to 232, for Giuliani over Ruth Messinger in November’s mayoral election.

New York (NY) Times
A Salty Sliver of Island Life; In the City of Change, a Pocket of the Bronx Is Content to Stick to Its Small-Town Ways
By N. R. KLEINFIELD
Published: July 23, 2000
(...)
City Islanders have their own idiom to classify people. Anyone born on the island is known as a clam digger. Residents born elsewhere are mussel suckers. Even the obituaries published in the island’s monthly paper, The Island Current, will sometimes identify people as clam diggers, thus bestowing on them a stature that extends beyond their other mortal achievements. People neither born on the island nor living there are known as off-islanders, as in, ‘’I’m having an off-islander over for cocktails next Thursday.’’

New York (NY) Times
Down the Years, a Call to Arms
By JIM O’GRADY
Published: October 28, 2001
(...)
CITY ISLAND is one of the many tightly knit neighborhoods that immigrants have settled around the city. A teardrop of land connected to the northeast Bronx by a slender drawbridge, its mostly white, middle-class residents tend to stay put, in tidy bungalows and clapboard colonials. If born there, you are a clam digger; if you move there, you are a mussel sucker.

Google Books
City Island
Tales of the Clam Diggers

By Alice Payne
Published by Dorothy Payne & Virginia Letourneau, 2004

New York (NY) Daily News
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
City Island combines NYC convenience with the calm of a retreat
BY LAN NGUYEN
Sunday, May 30th 2004, 1:01AM
(...)
While bits of its seafaring past remain - the island still has yacht clubs, marinas and sailmaking firms, while residents born on the island are called “clam diggers” and those who are not are affectionately known as “mussel suckers” - today, most of the commercial activity is from tourists.

Village Voice (New York, NY)
On the Hard
They’re buying up every inch of this island and building condos

Toni Schlesinger
Tuesday, February 7th 2006
Location City Island
Price $232,000 in 1991
Square feet 2,900 (three-story 1878 former farmhouse)
Occupants Wes Rodstrom [owner, Consolidated Yachts]; Krista King [office manager, Consolidated Yachts]
(...)
Clam diggers are the people born here. Actually, I’m a mussel sucker. I was born in Westchester.

Hartford (CT) Courant
From AM New York
City Living
City Island
Out to sea in the Bronx

By Patrick Verel | Special to amNew York
August 24, 2006
(...)
How different is City Island from the rest of the city?

Lifelong residents are known as “clam diggers” and transplants are “mussel suckers.” When you ask a City Islander for a phone number, they often give just four numbers since every number on the island starts with the prefix “885.”

New York (NY) Times
City Island
In a Seafaring Enclave, Mollusks on the Mind

By JENNIFER BLEYER
Published: May 27, 2007
PEOPLE who move to City Island hope that they can be accepted into the ranks of the natives. Edward Sadler, clutching his metal cane the other day beside a model fireboat in the island’s Nautical Museum, has some bad news for them.

“Newcomers especially want to be a part of the community, so they figure we got rules to be called a clam digger,” Mr. Sadler said, using the folksy local term for a native. “They figure you can be a clam digger if you stand on your right foot in front of the diner for two hours.”

But clam diggers are born, not made, Mr. Sadler said. Everyone else is relegated to the category of mussel sucker, the island label for nonnatives.

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWorkers/People • (0) Comments • Sunday, September 21, 2008 • Permalink