HISTORY IN THE MAKING

THE BEGINNING

  As recently as 1871 Old Lady Leary still was keeping a cow in the city of Chicago. As the story goes, one dark night when the kids were all in bed Old Lady Leary took a lantern to her shed... Chicago burns.
   In the 1870s the Gay 90s, the turn of the century years, those were years Americans raised their own chickens, ducks and turkeys on their farmyards. Or they made the trip over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house. Or they kept a small poultry flock behind their own house, even in the great cities. 
   By the 1920s, urban Americans were looking for fresh-dressed chickens in their markets. An industry emerged in the area about Worthington, where chickens were grown in small flocks but in great numbers. Two produce plants (so they were called) emerged: E.O. Olson's Worthmore Creamery & Producer, and J.C. Boote's Hatchery and Produce.
Jobs were created for women, chickens were processed year round, loaded into refrigerated rail cars and shipped to Chicago and Eastern states.


   Seasonally - Thanksgiving time, also at Christmas - there came to be a demand for fresh-dressed turkeys as well. So it came to be: The produce houses pressed select farmers to begin raising turkeys on a grand scale - poultry was raised in numbers greater than anyone ever before had seen. The sight was awesome.  
   Worthington merchants were casting about for a theme for a community celebration which would a) generate publicity for the community; b) focus the attention of residents (customers) from a wide area of Worthington, and c) generate goodwill among the established clientele (say, "Thanks for doing business with us!"). 


   The office of the Chamber of Commerce, with its first full time professional manager, suggested capitalizing on the region's most remarkable feature, the great flocks of turkeys. Merchants liked the suggestion. E.O. Olson (of the produce plant), who had been traveling in the South, told of a turkey festival he had seen at Cuero, Texas, at which a flock of live turkeys led a community parade. An autumn celebration of turkeys was organized, beginning with a free early morning pancake feast and including a parade. Barrels of turkey tail feathers were set out at street side all through the downtown business district for souvenirs. Merchants dressed in denim overalls and plaid shirts for a week - a familiar garb for their farmer customers. The year was 1939. Everything went right. The novelty of the event attracted the attention of newspapers and radio stations. Politicians were quick to see an opportunitiy for meeting country folk.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT

  1940 was a repeat of 1939, nearly. The emerging festival caught the attention of Life Magazine. Gay Hower, owner of Worthington's two movie theaters, arranged to bring newsreel cameramen to town - Worthington's turkey festival was reflected from big silver screens around the world. 
   Before the year was ended there was disaster, however. November 11 (Armistice Day) brought one of the fiercest winter storms in the history of the region. The fat tom turkeys on the ranges perished by the tens of thousands in wind, snow and ice.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Although turkeys continued to be raised in the area, flocks were few and far between. But turkeys continued to be processed at Worthington; it was said there was no place on earth where more turkeys were processed each year. 
   And turkeys continued to be celebrated. No one wanted the celebration to be forgotten. No other place celebrated as they did in Worthington with marching bands, floats, beauty queens and some of the most illustrious political figures of the 20th century. 

NORTH STAR VS THE LONE STAR

In 1972, 34 years after E.O. Olson made his stop at Cuero Texas, Worthington heard that Cuero staged live turkey race as part of its turkey celebration. 
   The Worthington King Turkey Day committee was nudged to send a challenge to Texas. In 1972, Cuero sent a turkey and handlers to Worthington, to be pitted against a Worthington bird in what was billed as the "Great Gobbler Gallop." The Worthington bird was called "Paycheck" (nothing goes faster than a paycheck). The Texas bird was Ruby Begonia. The race has been a feature of the turkey celebrations both at Worthington and Cuero for over 30 years. 

TRADITIONS

Among the turkey day traditions, there is none more enduring than the pancake breakfast. At every celebration since the first, Worthington has hosted a breakfast for all who choose to partake. Since the first celebration, King Turkey Day has reported on by newspapers, television and radio. It even has earned international media attention.