WELLFLEET — Before there was a Mac’s Shack, which is to say before there was butter-poached lobster on fresh corn risotto, there was the Bayside Lobster Hutt. It was Joe Francis’s place, good for a steamed lobster served with a pair of shell crackers and a bag of potato chips.
Francis first opened the Hutt on Route 6, but in 1971 he had the chance to move into the Crocketts’ old boat house on Commercial Street downtown. Francis died in 1993, but his memory lives on in the form of a paper-mache fisherman, made in his likeness, pulling a giant lobster into a dory that’s balanced on the roof at the Shack.
“There was an art gallery there, and before that Ye Olde Helpee Selfee Laundry,” says Paul Suggs, who helped Francis get set up in his new digs, starting with jacking up the stone floor to try to get it level. They didn’t entirely succeed, Suggs admits: “There’s only so much you can do.”
The Hutt needed signs, and Suggs was the one Francis turned to for that. “I used to have a little gallery down on Mayo Beach Road,” Suggs says. “Back then, I was carving totem poles.” Francis noticed those poles, and the two struck up a friendship and started oystering together.
The oystering worked out. The totem pole shop did not, although, Suggs says, “I think Peter Frawley got a couple.” You won’t find them on display anywhere. “They rotted,” says Suggs.
After the usual kinds of signs reading “Lobsters” and “Hot Dogs” were painted, “Joe got an idea he wanted a boat up on the roof,” says Suggs. And one day, when the two were picking up lobsters in Westport, they found just the one.
“It was a double dory, and its hull was smashed, so it was free,” says Suggs. He rebuilt it, welded a bedframe into a brace, and drilled that into the rafters. To get the boat up there, they dug a hole, rigged up a telephone pole, and used a rope tied to a fuel truck to hoist it to the roof. “Homemade block and tackle,” says the former totem-pole maker.
Did they have a permit? “What’s a permit?” says Suggs. “Joe and I, we had these crazy ideas. At that time, you could just do stuff like that. Nobody cared, and everybody agreed it added character to the place.”
It was Suggs’s idea to put Tweet in the boat. “Tweet” was what people called Joe, says Suggs. “His grandkids were trying to call him ‘Sweetie’ ” — an odd nickname for a man known around town as a no-nonsense and sometimes irascible Cape Codder. “But they knew better,” says Suggs.
Francis and Suggs had other projects. The paper-mache clam that Suggs still pushes at Wellfleet’s 4th of July parade is the same one Francis used to push.
“I had a squirting horseshoe crab,” Suggs says, “but somebody stole it. So, after Joe was gone, I took the reins.”
Traci Harmon-Hay asked Suggs to give Tweet an overhaul this spring. He has reworked the paper-mache a few times over the last 50 years, he says, painting fiberglass over Tweet’s hat and oil gear, face, and hands. “Those hands are tough to keep on,” Suggs says. “I gave him a new pair this year.”
This time, as Tweet was lifted into place, he had company. “I’ve had this idea of putting a dog up there for years,” Suggs says. After Mac Hay gave him a thumbs up, he carved a skull out of a buoy, paper-mached a pair of his wife’s tights, and added a layer of fiberglass to a fisherman’s friend.
“It was time to give Joe some company,” says Suggs. “I worried he might have gotten lonely up there all those years.”
He says he did it for the same reasons Joe Francis put a boat on top the building: “It was a draw. People would take pictures of it. But really, we did it for fun.”