I like Thanksgiving. Any holiday that revolves around huge amounts of food and drink is aces with me.
But fear not, even such a benign celebration has attracted its share of disaster, and I'm just the person to chronicle it all. Think of this post as a feast, Strange Company style: a hearty helping of murder, with generous side dishes of violence and misery, with a slice of The Weird for dessert.
The rest, of course, is gravy.
For instance, the "Milwaukee Journal" for November 29, 1935 told of a man who provided his dinner companions with unexpected entertainment with their meal:
While Ernest Mahr, 20, of 539 W. Juneau Av. was eating his Thanksgiving dinner Thursday police walked in and arrested him on a charge of automobile larceny, second offense. Friday he was arraigned in the district court and bound over to the municipal court for trial.
Auto theft is bad enough, but the holiday programs can be pure murder. From the "Miami News," November 28, 1929:
Carrier Mills, Ill., Nov. 28--Grief and unhappiness supplanted the spirit of the holiday in Carrier Mills today--the aftermath of an argument over when to hold a school Thanksgiving program.
Leslie Lightfoot, 33, school district director and teacher, was dead and Dwight Organ, 26, teacher, was held in the Saline county jail at Harrisburg, charged with slaying Lightfoot.
Lightfoot and two other directors of the school district decided the Thanksgiving program should be given Friday evening. Mrs. Lightfoot was asked to convey this decision to Organ.
Organ discredited the message from Lightfoot and called a meeting of the school district directors in a cafe Tuesday night. At the meeting, Lightfoot is said to have asked Organ why he questioned the message; an argument followed, in which Lightfoot, witnesses said, struck Organ, who in turn drew a revolver and fired twice into Lightfoot's body.
Yes, let that one sink in for a moment. These were two schoolteachers.
This next one, from the November 29, 1913 "Cambridge Chronicle," is an unusual example of family holiday cheer:
A regular "Carrie Nation," in the person of Mrs. Anna B. Glynn, of 40 School street, visited the drug store of John H. Fitzgerald, 695 Main street, Thanksgiving morning, at about 10 o'clock, and paid her respects by hurling a flatiron through one large window and a brick through the other. Then she submitted to arrest by Patrolman "Tony" Diehl. Her husband, Thomas J. Glynn, was later arrested on the charge of drunkenness. In court yesterday, Glynn was released, but his wife was held for a hearing December 5th, on the charge of breaking glass. The police took four children of the couple to the city home, where they remained until yesterday afternoon, when Mrs. Glynn called for them. According to the police, the explanation the woman gave for her act was her claim that Mr. Glynn had been sold liquor at the drug store.
This next pair may give even Mrs. Anna B. Glynn a run for her money. From the "Los Angeles Herald," November 30, 1909:
Albuquerque, N.M., Nov. 18--News of a Thanksgiving day duel at Fairview, N.M., in which both participants were killed, has just reached here.
James B. Taylor, well known cattle man and foreman of the United States Treasury mint in Sierra county, and C.A. Futch, cattleman, had been enemies ever since the latter's wedding a year ago to which he failed to invite the wife of Taylor. The men had quarreled frequently over this slight, and Thanksgiving day drew their revolvers upon meeting again and opened battle. Each was wounded twice and both died almost instantly. Fairview is eighty miles from a railroad.
So far, we've learned that some people just shouldn't put on holiday programs, act as sobriety coach, or throw weddings. Add cooking dinner to the list. "The Times News" for November 28, 1992 reported that a Walter Lee Parker, of Raleigh, North Carolina was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for stabbing his nephew during an argument about trimmings for the Thanksgiving dinner. (The nephew was not seriously injured.)
More family cheer, this time from the "San Francisco Call," November 28, 1913:
Too much turkey and Thanksgiving cheer made a bad day yesterday for the Falkenburgs. On their way to their home at 624 Girard street, after dinner with friends. Mr. and Mrs. L. Falkenburg and their son. Edward Falkenburg, started arguing, and 15 minutes later the son was in the Mission emergency hospital with scalp wounds.
After treatment his parents went with him when to the home of their other son, William Falkenburg, 810 Hampshire street. Another argument started, during which the mother stabbed William with a hatpin. After police were called the sons decided their parents should not be arrested.
Here is one of the less satisfying Thanksgiving feasts on record, but you can't deny this guy was easy to cook for. From the "Spokane Press," November 27, 1907:
CHICAGO, Nov. 27—Of all the queer menus that will be served Thanksgiving day, the queerest is probably that of Dr. Thos. J. Allen of Aurora, Ill. Dr. Allen is the scientist who has asserted and is attempting to demonstrate that he can sustain life for 60 days on a diet composed almost wholly of peanuts. Thanksgiving day will he the forty-second of his peanut roasting. The doctor asserts that he feels much better than he did before he began to diet: that he has lost a little flesh, but has gained in nervous ability and "tone." Friends of his declare, however, that he is shaky and weak, and that his hand is cold to the touch.
The Thanksgiving dinner he will eat is as follows:
SPANISH PEANUTS WITH A PINCH OF SALT.
VIRGINIA PEANUTS IN THE SHELL.
At the other meals of the day he will vary this diet with a glass of lemonade. He eats three-quarters of a pound of goobers daily.
The Thanksgiving dinner will be served at one of the best hotels, and the doctor will have several guests at his table who will partake of the same diet. He will lecture to the guests on the food value of the nut.
"l want it understood." Dr. Allen said, "that I do not believe the peanut is as good as some other nuts or vegetables. I am eating it alone merely to demonstrate that it will sustain life. The most natural food for any one, of course, is milk. "Meat should never he eaten. I have not touched it for two years. The peanut is like meat in that it contains a greater proportion of carbon than is of value to the human system. For that reason I think the pecan is the most nutritious of all nuts. Its proportion of albumen, carbon, etc. is better suited for assimilation.
"My ideal menu for a day on a vegetable and nut diet would be:
"7 a.m. —Lemonade with sugar.
"10 a.m. —Breakfast: Brown part of the wheat cocoanut, peanuts (20 per cent), pecans, egg. Serve uncooked.
"1 p.m. —Dinner: Vesper broth, composed of figs, dates, corn syrup, malted grains. Serve without starch and uncooked.
"3 p.m. —Lemonade with sugar.
"This diet could be varied occasionally with a few bananas, grapes, oranges, raisins and apples. My theory is that the average man eats about five times too much every day. 1 would advise him to leave out meats and cut down the amount of other foods.
"My experiments have demonstrated to me the value of peanuts as a brain food. I have kept an exact record of each day's work since I changed to this diet, and I find that I can do 20 per cent more than formerly. It takes about 30 days to change from one form of diet to another, and I am just beginning to get so that I can go by a lot of delicacies and not crave them."
Dr. Allen's companions at this Thanksgiving "dinner" discovered that he had first gone in disguise to another restaurant where he had a five-course meal including baked ham, mashed potatoes, vintage champagne and several different kinds of pie. They then took him out to the alley behind the restaurant and beat him up.
All right, I made up that last paragraph, but I think we can all agree that that's how this story should have ended.
Here's one man who had an even worse Thanksgiving than the good doctor. Here is a weirdly Draconian punishment described in the "San Francisco Call," November 28, 1913:
As punishment for picking raspberries on a millionaire's estate at Hillsborough a San Francisco florist was sentenced by Judge Henry P. Bowie to forego the pleasure of his annual turkey feast.
John Nalistini, 55 Valparaiso street, San Francisco, is the sorrowful person who paid the unusual penalty. He was arrested yesterday for picking berries on the Joseph D. Grant estate. "Have you had your Thanksgiving dinner yet?" demanded Judge Bowie. "Not yet," replied the prisoner. "Then I order you confined to Hillsborough jail till all vestige of turkey has disappeared."
|The Gobbler's Dream; or, The Vegetarian Pledge|
As I said, I enjoy Thanksgiving, but as a virtually life-long vegetarian, I do regret the fact that the most famous feature of the day is a mass turkey slaughter. In memory of 2014's doomed-to-be-main-course birds, I'd like to highlight a few stories where their brethren got a bit of their own back.
Andrew Green, the druggist, was yesterday thrown to the ground by his horse, afrighted by a turkey flapping its wings. NJ1885
— R.L. Ripples (@TweetsofOld) November 21, 2014
From the "Adelaide Register," June 4, 1910:
A Staffordshire artist, while sketching near Hanley, was attacked by a turkey, and had an exciting encounter with the bird, lasting a quarter of an hour. The turkey approached the artist from behind, and made a sudden attack, which he just managed to escape. With his sketch block he aimed a blow at the bird's head, but missed, and then sought refuge behind a tree. The turkey pursued him, and after dodging it around the tree for some time the artist made a dash for his stool to use as a weapon, but the bird was too quick for him. Then began a combat which lasted for some minutes. The artist used his palette as a weapon of defense, and this was destroyed in the first blow. Closing with the bird, he bet every attempt it made to spring at him by kicking it in the breast, while he protected his face with his arms. It was not until the artist was almost exhausted that his cries for help were heard by a party of golfers and a farm hand. A blow across the neck put the turkey out of action.
The "Altoona Mirror," September 8, 1926:
While gathering sweet corn in a back field of the A.B. Miller farm on Saturday Mrs. Miller was attacked by a turkey gobbler belonging to a neighbor and had to battle the vicious bird for a half hour before she conquered him. Evidently resenting what he thought was an encroachment on his feeding grounds the big gobbler launched a fierce fight for mastery. He flogged and kicked, hurling himself at Mrs. Miller's face. She interposed a tin bucket which was full of roasting ears between them to protect her face and such was the force of his impact that he dented the bucket like the kick from a cow. She could not get away from the big turk as he cut off her line of retreat every time she tried to get away. He seemed to be in a dozen places at one. She beat him with the bucket and corn stalks but every blow she landed only acted to further enrage him. After a half hour of this strenuous engagement, both combatants were pretty well exhausted. But Mrs. Miller came off with the honors of war as the gobbler quit fighting as suddenly as he began and marched off home.
There was that time when a man and a turkey battled it out in court. From the "Mid Surrey Times," August 28, 1880:
A curious case has just been referred to the Russian Court of Appeal. A certain General, who had earned half-a-dozen decorations in the Turkish campaign, was walking a few days ago along one of the principal streets of Tamboff, a town in Central Russia, when he was suddenly attacked by a ferocious turkey. The unexpectedness of the encounter seems to have entirely paralyzed the faculties of the worthy son of Mars, for although he wore his sword at his side, and might easily have made mincemeat of his assailant, he raised no resistance against the enemy, but shouted loud and lustily for the police. These gentry, on the watch for Nihilists, hurried from every quarter, in obedience to the General's cries, but were anticipated in their assistance by a deacon, who, passing by at the time, seized the enraged bird--then fluttering on the General's breast--by the neck, and held him captive till the gorodovie and dvorniki came up and took him into custody. An owner for the turkey-cock was soon found, and a protocol was drawn up by the police, charging him with culpable negligence in not looking after his poultry. The case came on, and the evidence adduced added nothing to what we have already stated, and a defense was raised on the simple grounds that the Article of the Code mentioned in the indictment did not refer to feathered kind, but merely applied to ferocious bipeds and quadrupeds. The bench of magistrates discussed long among themselves the validity of this argument, and at length, amidst breathless silence, announced that "State Secretary Nikiferoff, as owner of a dangerous turkey-cock allowed to roam at large, was amenable to the Article of the Code referred to in the indictment," and sentenced him to pay a fine of ten copecks (three pence) or undergo twenty-four hours' imprisonment. A roar of laughter followed the decision of the Bench, in the midst of which the solicitor of Nikiferoff arose and gave notice that he should carry the case to the St. Petersburg Court of Appeal.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to learn how that case was finally resolved.
From the "Newark Advocate," April 1, 1936:
Coshocton, April 1.--C.C. Dawson, real estate salesman, while calling on a prospective customer was attacked by a turkey which struck him in the chest, knocking him down and causing a sprained knee. He scrambled to his feet and, limping, looked around for some means of protection. The turkey charged again but Dawson, seeing a piece of canvas, picked it up and threw it over the turkey's head, at the same time yelling for help. D.A. Overholt who Dawson was calling on, came to his rescue with an inner tube and struck the attacker. The turkey then retreated.
The last line of this next story sounds ominously like a declaration of war. The "Oakland Tribune," April 4, 1912:
Kent, April 4.--A turkey with proclivities for man killing is the property of R.R. Rotter, a compositor on a local paper. When Rotter was feeding his turkeys a large gobbler attacked him, striking him in the face so hard that he was forced to beat a hasty retreat. His face was badly lacerated by the attack of the gobbler, and Rotter says that when he feeds the turkey hereafter he will arm himself.
It's hard to top the lede from this story in the "Princeton Union," December 21, 1911:
Frank Stadden narrowly escaped having his eyesight destroyed and his nose bitten off by an infuriated turkey on Monday morning. But here's the story in brief:
John McCool sold a number of turkeys to Mr. Austin and one of them flew into a tree. Finding it impossible to coax the gobbler from its perch Frank Stadden was appealed to. Frank loaded his blunderbuss and brought the fowl to earth, but it was only slightly wounded and, when he attempted to capture it, the bird showed fight. It struck at Frank, drove its talons into his hands, bored holes into his face with its beak and greatly disfigured his proboscis. Seeing that Frank was getting the worst of the battle Mr. Austin ran to his assistance with a club and dispatched the gobbler. However, in striking at the turkey Austin's aim was not at all times accurate, and Frank received one of the blows intended for the bird which caused a big blue-black lump to appear with remarkable rapidity upon the polished portion of his cranium. Mr. Stadden asserts that never in his lifetime has he encountered so ferocious a turkey as this particular gobbler, and says he is inclined to the opinion that either its father or its mother was a great American eagle.
Fortunately, a similar story from the "Iola Register" for August 22, 2001, had a happier ending for all concerned. For some months, the town of Holland, Michigan had been terrorized by a wild turkey who had settled in their neighborhood. He took to stalking the citizens of Holland, pinning them inside their cars or behind their front doors. People began altering their normal routes to avoid him. He was "the bully of the block." "I taught in Flint for 39 years without a problem," one victim wailed. "I move over here and I'm attacked by a turkey." The town finally called in, not Superman, but Mike's Nuisance Animal Control, who captured the predator and released him into a wooded area some miles away.
Now, here's the spirit: Have a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner--as the guest of honor! Let's end our chronicle on a cheerful note with the legend of the Sweater-Wearing Fowl, from the "Delaware County Times," November 24, 1955:
Some turkeys don't die on Thanksgiving Day...they just live out their lives in knitted sweaters.
At least this was the fate of a bird picked for eating in California one day many years ago, according to Paul Fox, Swarthmore author.
"This story," he related the other evening, "is said to be true. Two elderly women were preparing for a Thanksgiving Day dinner of traditional type.
"They were city folk, however, and when a friend in the country offered them a turkey, they accepted without taking into consideration that the turkey would be alive.
"The day before Thanksgiving, the bird arrived; the picture of good health--active and very obstreperous. The women were stumped. How to get the turkey into the shape they were accustomed to for roasting taxed their minds.
"With the burst of ingenuity, they planned the bird's death.
"One went to the drug store, and by dint of persuasive skill, bought some chloroform. Later in the garage, the two women soaked chloroform on a handkerchief and shoved against the gobbler's head.
"The chloroform and turkey performed as expected. The bird collapsed to the floor, and the two ladies promptly plucked every feather from its still body.
"At this point an act of God intervened. There was a slight earthquake, generally upsetting the routine in the household, and the ladies forgot the featherless bird for a space of time.
"Later, when things settled down, imagine their horror as they saw the naked apparition of the traditional Thanksgiving Day roast walking down the street!
"Embarrassed and shamed, the ladies caught the wandering gobbler, fed him well, and knitted him a sweater until he restored his plumage," Fox concluded.
So you see, not all gobblers end up in the oven--some wear sweaters.
That wraps up our tribute to Thanksgiving. A happy holiday to all my fellow Americans, and do your best to avoid getting stabbed with hatpins, shot, arrested, or attacked by turkeys.
Or, worst horror of all, dining with Dr. Allen.