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!”
According to Heritage of the Prairies the first Turkey Trot Day was in November of 1917, but a check of The Pantagraph archives includes an ad for LeRoy Turkey Trot from 1916. According to the ad 35 turkeys were free for the catching. “The turkeys will be divided into 6 lots of seven each and will be thrown from the roofs of the various business houses” The fourth event was for Ladies Only. Everybody was invited and no one was barred from competing.
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 Pantagraph article which followed the event is very entertaining:
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
Guinea Hens and Chicken Hawks Are Added to the List of Free Birds
One of the greatest and most amusing stunts ever pulled off by a small town was staged at LeRoy yesterday in the form of a “Turkey Trot.” The event was something entirely new and the fact that it came so near Thanksgiving time helped make it a wonderful success.
The morning dawned bright and clear and by 9 o’clock the streets were lined with automobiles. Both the morning trains brought scores of people from other towns. It was estimated in the afternoon that there were about 1,200 people present from outside the city. Such a day was never known in the history of LeRoy before. The whole day was one of jollification and amusement.
At each specified time as had been previously advertised, seven turkeys were turned loose from as many different buildings and the sight was very amusing to see boys, men and women scramble over each other to get the turkeys.
Some Unusual Features
Several unusual affairs were intermingled with the regular program. T.G. Steinke, who is always noted for some boyish tricks, threw out a dozen guineas during the day and these were even harder to catch than the turkeys, in fact they were able to fly so much farther.
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 by Roy Smith.
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.
Was It Legal
The turkey given by Crumbaugh & Son was turned loose on their building and when they attempted to push it off flew up on the peak of the roof so it was out of reach until John Roberts, who was painting nearby, climbed up and captured it. This provoked much discussion among those on the ground for they argued the turkey was not allowed to fly. The dispute was finally settled and Mr. Roberts was allowed to keep the turkey.
When the guineas were turned loose, one flew on the awning of the List Harness Shop. In their eagerness to get it down, the boys tore the awning off and this scared the guinea so it flew up to the window of Frank Hall’s flat above. It remained there for a few minuted while caps and hats of all descriptions were hurled at it, when Mrs. Hall raised the window from within and captured it.
During the noon hour during the intermission of turkey throws, Leslie J. Owen threw out a number of pennies at different intervals for the entertainment of the boys in the street.
During the forenoon, Clarence Holt wheeled his neighbor, Charles Hendrickson Jr. thru the main streets in a wheelbarrow in payment of an election bet. In the afternoon Rev. LeRoy F. Sargent, playing a bass drum headed a procession with F.T. Sturgeon in a wheelbarrow and J.F. Brown wheeling him. Mr. Brown carried a large banner of Hughes on his back and was wheeling Mr. Sturgeon in payment of an election bet.
At 3 o’clock the seven turkey which were for the ladies only to compete for were all taken to the park and turned loose from the statue in the center. The men were obliged to stand back and allow the ladies to walk away with the seven birds.
These Won Turkeys
Those who won turkeys were: M.H. Dooley, Bert Isaac, W.A. Rowley, Oscar Kirschner, George Hoffman, E.B. Mayfield, John Roberts, Lawrence Baker, Lee Henry, Clyde Miller, Arthur Bailey, John Howard, Roy Smith, John Siler, Lynn Miles, C.E. Williams, H.G. Brown, Joe Hoffman, J.L. Moutier, all of LeRoy; Till Elmore, Weedman; Russell Romine, Downs; Otto Jeck, Peoria; Ralph Milton, Farmer City; Cash Walden, Dewitt; Ora O’Neal, Saybrook; H.C. Hinthorn, Normal; Ralph McNaughten, Normal; Roy Van Gundy, Ellsworth. The women were: Miss Virginia Kirchner, Normal; Mrs. Rachel Luther, Bloomington; Mrs. Clara Deatrix, Farmer City; Mrs. Stella Gassaway, Nellie Williamson, Litta Kimler.
The day passed without any serious accidents of fights. Mrs. Peter Lowe was struck by an automobile, as was also little Mary Owen, but neither one was seriously hurt. The day has past into history and placed LeRoy merchants on the map as a free-hearted class of men.
Following the 1921 Turkey Trot, the event took a hiatus until 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.
On turkey Trot Day in 1931, guineas were released from a height. Some lit on window ledges and above awnings. There were some who climbed walls to go after them. One lit on the roof of the Methodist Church and half a dozen men and boys found a way to climb on the roof, but the guinea was captured by someone on the ground.
Minor injuries such as bruises, bumps and cuts were not uncommon. One boy fell eight feet from the Methodist Church roof and broke a bone in his foot. School was dismissed for the day and all had a real holiday.
According to Wikipedia many cities have Turkey Trots, but these all involve some type of foot race. The first one of these also started in 1916.
One of the more humorous references to Turkey Trot was the Oct. 30, 1978 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. “Turkeys Away” was ranked the #40 episode on the 1997 TV Guide “100 Greatest Episodes of All Times.” In this episode Mr. Carlson (middle aged general manager) decides to take a more hands-on managerial approach by doing the greatest Thanksgiving promotion in radio history – dropping live turkeys from a helicopter. What makes the episode even funnier is the fact it is based on a real event that happened at station WQXI.
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.
So this year when you are enjoying your Thanksgiving turkey, have a good laugh as you picture a crowd of a thousand people chasing down birds thrown from the roof tops of downtown LeRoy.