Calabash is a charming, picturesque fishing village nestled into the tidal plains in the southeast corner of coastal North Carolina. This beautiful town, just a couple of miles from the South Carolina border, has a timeless legacy and a rich tradition. You may have heard it referred to as the “Seafood Capital of the World”. Known for its original style Calabash Seafood, there is a story to be told and legends to behold!
Settlers originally came to this area from New England and Charleston, SC. In the late 1800’s , present -day Calabash was known as Pea Landing, due to the growing and shipping of peanuts off grand plantations to the ports of Wilmington, NC. Indigo, rice, tobacco, and cotton were also grown on a few plantations in the area. It wasn’t until 1883 that Pea Landing, at the request of the villagers, got its first Post Office. The name “Calabash” was selected for the name of the village. The village of Calabash and the Calabash River were named after local gourds which grew wild there. Calabash was an Indian name whose meaning pertained to gourds or tropical trees/vines. These gourds were once used by the Native Americans to hold food and water.
For years fishermen hauled their catch to the docks of Calabash. Upon the return of the boats, “Dinner was On” with impromptu oyster roasts for a popular feast under the oak trees. Calabash Style Seafood was Born …a local favorite! Seafood was lightly dipped in a seasoned batter and deep fried golden brown in big tubs of hot grease. It was served very hot, and locals were glad to pay for a plate. They were drawn to the aromatic smell of this seafood being cooked outdoors! Later the food moved indoors to old-fashioned “Fish-camps” which were typical of the Carolina coast. Calabash quickly became known for fine quality fresh shrimp and fish.
Legend of Calabash
“Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!” … became the mystery sign-off at the end of every broadcast of national radio and television comedian and actor, Jimmy Durante. Legend has it that he passed through the area in the 1940’s and took a liking to the food and folks of Calabash! There are different versions of this legend. They involve members of the a local family.
Clarice Holden, a Calabash native and owner of the Island Breeze claims that his mother, Lucy Coleman, is Durante’s Mrs. Calabash! He says that Jimmy Durante came traveling through town and ate at The Original , the first Calabash seafood restaurant. He liked the food so much that he asked for the owner, Lovely Lucy Coleman. According to this story, Durante told her, “I’m going to make you famous one day.”
Ella High , of Ella’s of Calabash Restaurant, was also related to Lucy Coleman. Her grandson, Kurt Hardee, has run the restaurant started by his grandparents, Ella and Lawrence High, for 31 years and loves it! Lucy Coleman was Hardee’s great aunt.
There are various versions of the Mrs. Calabash of Durante’s Signature Sign-off statement. Whoever Mrs. Calabash was, it is no doubt that Lucy Coleman started the first Calabash Seafood Restaurant…Coleman’s Original in 1940. Her sister, Ruth Beck, opened Beck’s restaurant shortly thereafter. Their brother, Lawrence High, started Ella’s of Calabash in 1950. So, Calabash Seafood is officially “A Family Affair”…Something to be proud of and enjoy for everyone!
Jeanne Durante was Jimmy’s first wife. When asked about who Mrs. Calabash was, he stated, “Years ago, the Mrs. and I used to drive cross-country , and we came across a beautiful little town.” Durante said, “We stopped there overnight, and she loved it, really loved it! I was playing piano then and said as soon as I’m rich, I’ll buy that town. So, gentlemen, Mrs. Calabash that I refer to all the time on our radio show and television program was Mrs. Jeane Durante.” Since she who died in 1943. It was possible that a layover in Calabash & dinner at Coleman’s Original could have happened. When asked directly in a letter from a young girl in Calabash if Lucy Coleman was Mrs. Calabash…Jimmy Durante offered no commitment with only the line, ” A pleasure, believe me!”
Whoever the real Mrs. Calabash that Mr. Durante was referring to was, does not really matter. The legend grew and what is really clear is that Jimmy Durante was honoring Calabash and his truly wonderful experience here with the lovely folks and delicious food! “Good Night, Mr. Durante, wherever you are…God Bless!”
You might want to stop by Coleman’s Original, Ella’s of Calabash, or Beck’s Restaurant for yourself.
The Seafood Hut is a Coleman family restaurant in Calabash today. .The legend is fun and the food delicious…Calabash style! It is a Family Tradition!
However, the restaurants have grown in number in Calabash and the area. I read where there are over 20 restaurants that prosper today serving its special version of Calabash seafood and more! Down by the riverside is Coleman’s Original plus Captain John’s, Captain Nance, and Dockside! Choices with a view! You might want to stay awhile!
Brunswick Plantation and Golf Resort has golf condos available if you’d like to explore the area. It is the Two State Solution to Fun! Come on Down! Enjoy the beach and and a more relaxed pace.
You might like shopping at Callahan’s of Calabash Nautical Gifts. There are other interesting and quaint shops that are fun to explore in Calabash. Traditional Fresh Seafood and Laid Back Legends! What Fun!
Credits for this article: www.ourstate.com
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