By Donald Wittkowski
No one knew for sure if tears of joy were streaming down her crusty cheeks. It wasn’t clear if she was smiling, either.
Truth be told, it didn’t appear that she acknowledged the crowd’s thunderous applause — not even bothering to wave her claw.
This beauty queen was a real crab. A hermit crab, to be precise.
With all the drama of the Miss America Pageant (well, maybe not), Ocean City beachgoers watched in awe as Miss Crustacean 2016 was crowned Wednesday during the wacky hermit crab beauty contest’s 42nd edition.
This parody of the iconic Miss America Pageant crawls to a climax when the winner plods down a flower-adorned miniature runway amid the strains of “Here it comes, Miss Crustacean,” the official theme song.
Grabbing the title this year was a contestant nicknamed Tinker Shell. She — actually, no one was sure of the crab’s gender — beat out other Miss Crustacean hopefuls with the help of an elaborate Peter Pan-themed costume and display that wowed the judges.
Julie Marzano and Emily McCarthy, twin sisters from Springfield, Pa., had the winning crab Wednesday, locking up the fourth straight year they’ve captured the title.
Marzano had help from her 6-year-old daughter, Nadia, while McCarthy’s 5-year-old daughter, Maura, also lent a hand in the crab’s costume design.
“We start planning a year in advance,” Marzano said of the secret to their success.
Marzano and McCarthy have a summer home in Ocean City. They vowed to return in 2017 to defend their hermit crab dynasty, but declined to divulge the theme they are planning for next summer.
“We’re excited. We look forward to it all summer,” McCarthy said.
With the win, Tinker Shell takes home what pageant organizers comically call the Coveted Cucumber Rind Cup, which supposedly contains enough food to sustain the crustacean for a year.
Mark Soifer, Ocean City’s longtime public relations director, dreamed up the Miss Crustacean pageant decades ago as a tourist attraction. He boasts that he is the chairman of the National Association of Crab Activities at the Beach, or NASCRAB, the pageant’s sanctioning body.
Unlike Miss America, Miss Crustacean has no social platform or official duties that are part of holding such a prestigious title.
“She simply basks in hermit crab glory for a year,” Soifer deadpanned.
Tinker Shell now joins with other legendary hermit crabs that have been crowned Miss Crustacean over the years, including Crabopatra, Crabunzel, Copacrabana, Crab Salad and Taxi Crab.
Spectators chuckled as the newly minted beauty queen waddled down the runway while being serenaded by “Here it comes, Miss Crustacean,” sung by Jersey Shore celebrity Shelly the Mermaid, also known as Suzanne Muldowney.
“I think it’s really cute. It’s awesome,” exclaimed Patricia Rice, a tourist from Pittsburgh who was watching from a grandstand set up on the Boardwalk.
Immediately after the Miss Crustacean hoopla died down, NASCRAB’s popular companion event, the King of Klutz hermit crab races, got underway. During the races, crabs crawl their way outside of a plywood oval in the quest for victory.
Preceding all of the crab craziness was a sand sculpting contest at the Sixth Street beach. The sculptures ranged from modest creations to elaborate pieces of sand art, including depictions of the Eiffel Tower, the Olympic rings and an assortment of large sea creatures.
Sand sculptor Frank Siderio won first place with a medieval castle that featured a turret, steps, a waterfall and a moat.
The 20-year-old Siderio, who lives in West Chester, Pa., and attends Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said he doesn’t fret that his sculpture will be washed away in the next high tide.
“I’m used to it. As long as I get a picture of it, that’s good enough for me,” he said.
Brother and sister Corbin and Abby Garwood, of neighboring Somers Point, sculpted a sprawling sand dragon with some help from their grandmother, Chris Pompper, of Fairton, Cumberland County.
“I think it’s pretty good,” 8-year-old Corbin said of his work.
The dragon was depicted with its mouth open. It had large fangs made of white seashells and was devouring a seagull. Abby, who is 9 years old, suggested that the dragon may deter real-life gulls from making their notoriously noisy raids on the beach.
“I think the birds will be very scared of it because it’s eating a seagull,” she said.