A Hill of Beans

Nutritious healthy lima beans are the stuff of musicals.
Nutritious healthy lima beans are the stuff of musicals.
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The Shelter Island Historical Society announced last week they will present a musical in July celebrating the short-lived lima bean factory that thrived on the island during the early 1950s. They are looking for singers, actors, set designers, costume makers, musicians and stage hands to volunteer for the effort.

Excited by the idea of this play, I took the ferry to Shelter Island and found someone who said yes, he knew a lot about the production. He said he would tell me what he knew if he could remain anonymous. I said that was fine. Here is what he told me.

The play will consist of three acts. The first act takes place in Lima, Peru and is performed in a foreign language called Quiche, which is what the indigenous natives there speak. Acreage in Peru is limited when it comes to lima beans. So two farmers get together to discuss creating a business in America to grow and sell lima beans.

They and their wives sing songs while children dressed in lima bean costumes march from stage right to stage left and back over and over again during the act. The couples, performing in front of the children, sing the samba I Wanna Machu Picchu All Night Long and later Lima Beans Cha Cha Cha which starts out as a cha-cha but soon, with farmers from neighboring farms joining in, ends in a conga line that is expected to bring the house down. There is a third song about getting immigration papers, but so far it has not been put into the production because the composers are continuing to fight over the lyrics.

The second act takes place on Shelter Island the following year. The Peruvians have arrived and have bought all of Shelter Island, tearing down the existing buildings and replacing them with a single enormous factory where Shelter Island residents work. They picked the lima beans in the fields surrounding the factory and have placed them on conveyor belts that move them through the factory to be packed into steel cans labeled Shelter Island Lima Bean Cooperative. Those cans then are boxed and shipped to supermarkets around the country. Songs sung by the locals as they work include Dance the Lima Bean Boogie-Woogie, No Snitcha Da Limas and Lima, Peru, the City of Gold.

The third act is a re-enactment of Hurricane Carol hitting the factory in 1954, destroying it. No songs are sung—the sound of the hurricane is too loud—but there is a lot of crying and wailing. After the storm passes, the Peruvians are escorted to the South Ferry and put aboard a boat that will start them on their journey back to their homeland. The Peruvians sing an uplifting song in the Quiche language about leaving called We Love You, Shelter Island, and they unfurl the Peruvian flag off the back of the boat and begin a grand finale which ends in disaster as the Peruvian flag gets wrapped around and ripped up by the propeller of the boat. The Peruvians sing Oy Oy Mama Mia, and cry mightily as the ferry sinks and the curtain falls.

At the present time, my source said, all the local women on Shelter Island are hurriedly sewing individual lima bean costumes for the children who will be marching back and forth during the first act.

So now you know everything I’ve been able to find out. At the end of the interview, I asked again if he needed to remain anonymous and he replied, strangely, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

For another account of the upcoming lima bean musical, see Bridget LeRoy’s reporting elsewhere in this newspaper. The editor says her story seems more accurate than mine, or something unprintable which implied that.


A great deal has changed around the waterfront in Sag Harbor in the last few years. Here’s where I think things need to go from here.

The refurbishment of Long Wharf and the addition of the railings is excellent. The creation of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park is also excellent, but what looks like grass is just rough clumps of weeds. A smooth lawn needs to be created there. I oppose a bandshell in the park because I am also in favor of putting a new Bay Street Theatrer alongside that park. You can’t have two amplified performances at the same time so close together. They’d clash.

Also new are three magnificent three-story private residences for sale for $25 million each. Two are brick and well placed. But the third nearing completion is glass on three sides and on one of those sides, it looks uncomfortably down onto the goings-on in the park from 30 feet up. I would suggest that the village consider planting a row of 30-foot-tall evergreen trees on the park side of the property line between the park and the residence to block that intrusive view, unless something else is done. Two magnificent views, both on the sunset side, is enough.

The design of the new Bay Street Theater recently shown is way out of keeping with the historic design of the village. The proposal is just in the planning stage and a design for it is very premature. And in fact the Bay Street people say it is just a suggestion. Make the suggestion to build a spectacular theater mostly of red brick to go with the materials used most often in town.

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