So you head south on Old Harbor Road in Westport, Massachusetts. When you reach the fork in the road… you’ve arrived.
The fork’s creator, Tom Schmitt, drove by this intersection almost every day for years. He has a sense of humor that—lucky for us—is prone to puns. “It’s the quintessential fork in the road,” Schmitt told me.
At 73 years old, and now retired, he spends a lot of his time in his shop working on boats. One day back in 2010 while he was in his favorite lumber yard, he saw some mammoth slabs of pine that he thought would be perfect for the project that had been swirling in his head for years. The price was cheap, so he loaded the wood in his truck and took it home.
He grabbed a fork from his kitchen drawer, some calipers, and began scaling up his design. He did the rough work with a chain saw, the finer work with power tools and sandpaper, he sealed it, painted it, and had a fork standing roughly 12 feet tall.
The night before Memorial Day 2010, Schmitt and his wife lugged his creation to the intersection between Old Harbor and River Roads and attached it to a stone pillar that has been there since horse-and-buggy days. After only a minor delay from a passing police officer who shined his police light at the couple to ask what they were doing, then left with a smile on his face, the fork… in the road… was erected.
After a good laugh himself, Schmitt and his wife left the fork for all to enjoy… which lasted about 24 hours, because something that funny is going to get stolen. After a day, the fork turned up attached to one of the pilings on the wharf at the harbor entrance in town. A fine prank, but not the location Schmitt envisioned for his art. I mean, no one has heard of a fork in the wharf, right?
Schmitt recovered the fork and brought it home. He needed to up his attachment game, so he attached his wooden fork to a metal pipe and secured it into the ground with rocks and dirt. This time the fork lasted until the following summer when someone figured out if they wiggle the sculpture back and forth long enough, it would get loose. The oversized utensil was later found wedged into a fractured rock at the local beach club—as if stuffed there by some giant fresh off his beanstalk descent.
This forked-up incident forced Schmitt to further escalate his efforts for roadside permanence. On a Saturday morning, he invited a bunch of friends to each bring a sack of concrete and come to a digging party. This time the crowd helped dig a hole deep and wide, and mixed enough concrete to fill the new hole with roughly a ton of steel-reinforced concrete. And there the fork has stood ever since.
Once a year, Schmitt polishes up the fork with fresh paint, and on July 4th and Labor Day, he’s been known to place a hotdog atop the tines. But… as all good legends do… the forklore spread. Couples getting married have placed wedding veils on top for the photo opportunity, a giant Santa hat has been placed there at Christmastime, even a meatball and pasta made from papier mâché has been seen gracing this mighty fork.
But not everyone likes it, he explained. Every town has its complainers, and Westport is no different. “A fork like this would never appear in the Hamptons,” one local wrote in the newspaper’s letters section.
“But the backlash from the people who were friends of the fork was gratifying,” Schmitt said. It would seem Westport is mostly okay with not being the Hamptons, thank-you-very-much.
How does one get permission to put up a new landmark? You can go through the town and hope to pass through a significant mill of elected officials and town meetings… or just ask the landowner and leave it at that. Schmitt chose the latter.
“As many of my friends tell me, I have too much time on my hands,” he said. But there’s some pride in his voice when he tells of being labeled the Fork Guy.
I mean, we all want to leave a mark.
“That wasn’t my point at the time,” Schmitt said. “But it has become a landmark. People chuckle when they drive by. It achieved what I wanted people to see. And it gives you the opportunity to not take yourself too seriously.”