The Tale of Lobster Barbie
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Back Story

When you do a web search for "lobster" and "barbie," most of the hits are on articles about barbecuing lobster. But not all.

In December, 2003, an event occurred in the Islesford (Maine) fishing community that will be long remembered. Chris Costello, known for a strong sense of humor, was sterning (acting as sternman) for fisherman Jim Bright. The AP picked up the story of what happened:

Mount Desert Island:

A female lobster crawling around off the Maine coast has cheated death at least 10 times, thanks to Barbie and a couple of Mount Desert fishermen.

As a gag, Jim Bright and his sternman, Chris Costello, outfitted the lobster in doll clothes – a blue blouse, a red-and-white checkered shirt and pink high heels – before putting her into a friend's trap in September. "It's a monotony hauling traps day after day," said Costello, "and we just wanted to break it up a little. It totally worked."

Barbie Lobster, as she is known, has been hauled up by various fishermen at least 10 times along the 26-mile channel between Baker's Island and Mount desert Rock. The VHF radios used by lobstermen would buzz with chatter and laughter each time a new sighting of Barbie was reported.

Costello made a special trip to Ellsworth to buy the Barbie clothes. The fishermen had wanted to dress up a jumbo lobster, but it was too fat to fit into the Barbie doll outfit. They choose a svelte 1.5 pound crustacean instead. "They slipped right on, just like Cinderella," Bright said of the tiny pink shoes he and Costello slipped on Barbie. Costello disagreed, saying it was a challenge to put high heels on the little lobster legs. There are four legs on each side, so the men attached the shoes to the center two. "You try squeezing Barbie shoes on a lobster," he said. "That was the most time-consuming thing."

Barbie hasn't been seen since early December and apparently was unkept at the time, with just her pink heels still hanging on. If she and the shoes survive until spring, she may be home free for another season, Costello said. "We have our spring fashions all ready to go," he said.

Singer/song-writer Charlie Ipcar noticed this and posted it as a song challenge on the Mudcat Cafe music discussion group, with the comment "Maybe there's a ballad here." This started a lively exchange during which the following poem was constructed, starting with an initial version by Amos Jessup. Charlie finally put the finishing Robert-Service-like touches on it that you see below, and eventually sang it to the tune of a Gold-Rush song (Service would have loved it).

The creativity of this crowd didn't stop there. Another clever poem, The Tale of Barbie Ellen, was devised to tune and mood of the Scottish folksong "Barbara Allen," swiftly followed by The Barbie Lobster Patrol. But to my mind, Charlie's poem is a classic, and I've loved working with it over the years.


The Tale of Lobster Barbie
by Amos Jessup and Charles Ipcar   ©2003
(with apologies to Robert Service)
Original:   http://www.charlieipcar.com/lyrics/lobster.htm

See also the printable, pocketable PDF

There are strange things true, I'm a-telling you,
    in the waves off Mount Desert Isle,
Where the ocean's roar meets the rock-bound shore,
    and the weather's somethin' vile;
Where them lobsters grow in the depths below,
    and men cast their lot to the sea,
But there's no tale told by them shores so cold,
    like the tale of Lobster Barbie.

Now them lobster boats in that land remote,
    they're manned by a special breed,
Men as hard of eye as a winter's sky,
    who march to their own good speed;
Their words are few, and if one but knew,
    their thoughts are few as well,
'Til the day that their haul brought a Barbie Doll,
    from the ocean's icy swell.

'Twas old Jim Bright, on a dark cold night,
    with his sternman loyal and strong,
Throttled down to a muffled sound,
    slipped out past the bell-buoy's gong,
They swung her bow right toward Baker's Light,
    while their neighbors slept and snored,
But down in the hold like pirate's gold,
    was a bag from an Ellsworth store.

Now they've never told, that pair so bold,
    what in that bag did lay,
They just snuck her aboard like a smuggler's hoard,
    and quietly sailed away,
And it's hard to prove when they made their move,
    and down the Sound did prowl,
But the gossips all say their cargo that day
    was clothes for a Barbie Doll.

       

There was an apron neat, a blue blouse sweet,
    a red checkered gingham skirt,
And to go with the deal some pink high heels,
    for a classic Barbie flirt!
They grinned at them wraps as they hauled their traps,
    and passed the jug impatient,
And by the end of day on the deck boards lay,
    a svelte female crustacean!

"Now see here," said Bright, "let's do this right!
    You hold her legs and claws;
We'll slip on these shoes and this blouse so blue,
    with nary a hitch or a pause!"
So ol' Chris grabbed hold, Jim slipped on them clothes,
    and she sure looked wicked sharp;
Then they latched onto a buoy of their good buddy Louie,
    dropped "Barbie" into his trap.

Now early next morn they was cruisin' along,
    their VHF tuned for chatter;
With much mirth they heard Louie curse
    and his sternman shout, “Wassa matter?”
And for a month or more as they cruised that shore,
    their VHF burst into glee,
As a new lobsterman was swept up in their plan,
    hauled in a bedraggled Lobster Barbie.

Now as winter begins, them cold north winds,
    sweep down on the Mount Desert shore;
As them nights grow long, there's rum and song,
    and no one ships out no more;
Jim and his friend, their jug upend,
    and grin at the drifting snow,
For soon as it's spring there'll be a new fling,
    for Barbie's spring fashions are ready to go!