LEROY – One of the more unique events in LeRoy history was Turkey Trot Day. According to the LeRoy history book red edition of Heritage of the Prairie, “a jaunty spirit would pervade the crowds on Turkey Trot Day. The town would swarm with people hoping to catch a turkey or other fowl for Thanksgiving dinner. It was Fourth of July without fireworks. It was a carnival day without sideshows!”
Always looking for a way to bring LeRoy history to life, the Empire Township Museum board decided to resurrect LeRoy Turkey Trot Day this year. Turkey Trots are still popular, only in a different version – running races. So the museum contacted the LeRoy Chamber of Commerce for help. The Chamber voted to move its Jingle Bell Run forward and LeRoy’s first Turkey Trot 5K Fun Run will be held this year.
Turkey Trot 5K Fun Run
The LeRoy Chamber of Commerce 5K Fun Run will be Saturday, Nov. 18. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the run will start from LeRoy High School at 9 a.m. and end at the Empire Township Historical Museum.
Pre-registration has started. Cost is $20 for 14 and over; $10, 6 to 13; free, 5 and under; $30, family rate. The first 100 to register will receive a t-shirt. On race day the cost will be $25, 14 and over; $15, 6 to 13; and $40, family rate.
There will be prizes for the best Thanksgiving-themed costumes for adults and children. Prizes for overall 5K winners will go to the male and female adults and boy and girl 10 and under.
Runners can register and pre-pay online at www.LeRoyChamber.org or mail checks payable to LeRoy Chamber of Commerce to LeRoy Chamber of Commerce 5K Fun Run, PO Box 124, LeRoy, IL 61752.
Turkey Trot Toss
Museum board members won’t be tossing live birds off the roof like the old days, but will be tossing stuffed turkeys and turkey suncatchers off the library landing. Following the race at 10 a.m., runners and anyone in the community are invited to “catch a turkey” – some with gift certificates attached!
And the fun will continue inside the museum. Browse the Turkey Trot exhibit to learn more about this unique event which drew thousands to LeRoy during hard times. And children are invited to listen to a “turkey” story and complete a craft. Board members will be on hand to answer questions and chat about our local history. The last Turkey Trot was held in 1947 – a special invitation goes out to anyone who attended a Turkey Trot, come share your stories.
The museum is also highlighting World War I.
The first Turkey Trot was held in 1916 when 35 turkeys were free for the catching. The turkeys were divided into six lots of seven each and were thrown from the roofs of the various businesses. One of the lots was for women only. Everybody was invited and no one was barred from competing.
The rules were simple:
• Turkeys are to be caught with the hands only – no guns, dogs or clubs allowed.
• Only one turkey to a family and after catching one the winner cannot compete again.
• Each winner must register his name and number on tag attached to turkey’s leg at Barley’s office immediately after catching.
• Above rules must be complied with or turkey forfeited.
The event was described in the Nov. 29, 1916 issue of The Pantagraph. The headlines set it all: “People Grab For Turkeys in LeRoy,” “Unusual Stunt Is Put On,” “Town Thronged with Visitors, Who Have a Continued Round of Amusement,” “Some Extra Features Added” and “Guinea Hens and Chicken Hawks Are Added to the List of Free Birds.”
The same article estimated 1,200 people were present and described the event as one of the greatest and most amusing stunts ever pulled off by a small town.
The turkey which was given by Buckles & Son was was thrown from the top of the water tower and flew for four blocks before it was finally captured.
Another amusing stunt was a chicken hawk which was thrown off the National Bank by John Smith. It flew for some distance down Main Street and was caught by John Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers was so surprised and disgusted when he found what he had captured that he turned it loose again for the boys to scramble after.
The day passed without any serious accidents or fights and placed LeRoy merchants on the map as a free-hearted class of men.
The Turkey Trots were held through 1921 and brought back in 1930. That year 150 turkeys, geese ducks, chickens and guineas were given away. The fowls were not only thrown from roof-tops, but were given as prizes for winners in the fatmen’s race, throwing the rolling pin contest, the pillow fight, the fiddlers’ contest, the husband calling contest, funniest dressed couple, the oldest couple the ladies’ egg race, the wheelbarrow race and the couple with the largest family.
A greased pig was let loose and became the possession of the one who could catch it.
The event was on again – off again. It was discontinued again sometime in the 1930’s or 1940’s and brought back again in 1946. In the 1980’s the LeRoy Downtown Group tried to revive Turkey Trot Days, only with frozen turkeys this time. The group devised games such as turkey bowling as a way to give away the turkey prizes. Merchants held sales and other promotions. The weather was extremely cold that day and the crowd was thin and the idea was dropped the next year.