Chatham Remembers 'Chowdahman' Carl Olson

By: Tim Wood

Carol Olson. ELIZABETH VAN WYE PHOTO

CHATHAM – There are very few local residents who didn't benefit from Carl Olson's passion for chowder. The town's self-proclaimed “Chowdahman” stopped counting the number of servings of his creamy concoction he gave away at more than 7,000.

A Chatham High School graduate, long-time teacher and real estate broker, Mr. Olson passed away Dec. 31.

Friends and colleagues remembered Mr. Olson for his sense of humor and depth of knowledge of the town. Shortly after Chris Rhinesmith bought Pine Acres Realty, Mr. Olson came to work for the company and brought with him not only experience in the real estate business, but also a depth of knowledge of the town and its people.

“He was a real mentor to me,” Rhinesmith said. “He was incredibly helpful, just helping me navigate the system and learning the ropes.”

Mr. Olson taught English at Harwich High School for 25 years and worked as a real estate broker for more than 30 years. He started Stage Harbor Real Estate in the 1980s, and hired Janice Alex after her previous firm closed. He always looked at the positive side of things, she recalled.

“If a transaction was not right, he just always found the upside of it,” she said.

And he had a great laugh.

“Nobody has a better laugh than Carl Olson,” Alex said.

Mr. Olson was always quick with a joke as well. The Chronicle's Amy Tagliaferri said he would sometimes stop by the office just to deliver a joke.

“He'd come in, sit down, tell a joke and then leave,” she said.

Mr. Olson began giving away small servings of his chowder in the mid 1990s. He was known to drive around town delivering Tupperwares of the stuff to friends and strangers alike; if you were unlucky enough not to be at home, he'd leave a card that read, “You have missed the Chowdahman deliver. Perhaps next tide.”

The recipe for the chowder came from Julia Child, he revealed in a story in The Chronicle last year, which he didn't change much. The key, he said, was steaming the quahogs open to create the broth that was its “secret ingredient.” His wife Carol and friends such as shellfisherman John Linnell were the sources for the chowder's quahogs. He also enjoyed cooking lobster bisque, cream of asparagus soup and vichyssoise. The chowder, however, was “second to none,” said Rhinesmith.

A graduate of Chatham High School, Mr. Olson served four years in the U.S. Navy and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts and a master's degree from Wesleyan University. He was an avid reader and writer, and admitted to being a frugal Yankee.

“I hate wasting money,” he said in The Chronicle story. “I don't mind spending it but I want a good value.”

Mr. Olson had “a great way with people” and a “big, big heart,” said Alex. “But boy did he love great jokes.”

Arrangements had not been announced as of The Chronicle's deadline Tuesday.