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Public invited to view archived King Turkey Day footage

Nobles County Historical Society volunteer Jerry Fiola stands by a photo of Hubert H. Humphrey and Worthington Mayor Ray Schisler taken during a 1970s King Turkey Day celebration. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Flocks of turkeys marching down the street. Big-name politicians addressing the throngs. Elaborate floats toting a bevy of beauty queens.

Those aspects of King Turkey Day past now only exist in the memories of longtime Worthington residents —and on film footage ensconsed in the Nobles County Historical Society.

Some of that footage has now been transferred into a digital format, and the NCHS and Center for Active Living are inviting the public to view it in a special presentation on March 8.

“First of all, we are trying to get these put on some other media form so they survive the ages,” explained NCHS volunteer Jerry Fiola, who serves on its collections committee. “But we also want people to help us interpret the experience, so we wanted to have people help us identify who some of these people are in the footage. The third thing we want to do is make the stuff the society collects and interprets accessible to the citizens of Nobles County.”

To facilitate the identification of people and places in the films, select longtime Worthington residents will take part in a private screening on the afternoon of March 8.

“While these folks are still around, we wanted to get their heads together on this,” said Fiola. “But we also wanted to make it available to everyone, so we’re having a public event on Saturday night.”

The films that have so far been digitized are newsreels from the earliest Turkey Day celebrations in 1941 and 1942; 1954 footage featuring then-Vice President Richard Nixon as the featured speaker; and 1966, when U.S. Senator Robert Bobby Kennedy addressed the crowd.

“There are not only Turkey Day films, but also trailer films shown at the State and Grand theaters with all the local advertisers,” noted Fiola. “They show the employees marching out and waving.”

The NCHS hopes to get more of the film footage digitized and has been offered help in the process from a prominent documentary film maker. NCHS volunteer Pat Demuth has corresponded with Lucas Frank from Florentine Films on behalf of Ken Burns. Burns has produced acclaimed documentaries on the national parks, prohibition, World War II, jazz and many other topics. A current project is a film on the Vietnam War, which will prominently feature Worthington native Tim O’Brien, who has authored works on his own wartime experiences.

“They were looking for stuff to run in thebackground while they are interviewing Tim O’Brien,” explained Demuth, who directed Frank to footage he had posted on the NCHS’s Facebook site. “He really likes the four films that we’ve already had digitized, and he selected six other years that they will pay for to have digitized.”

Demuth also provided some still photos from the NCHS’s collections, including images of The Gobbler Café and Fred’s Café, both mentioned in O’Brien’s books.

The Vietnam War documentary is slated for release in 2016.

“In anticipation of that, we would really like to seek out some items from people who served in the Vietnam War,” mentioned Fiola, “because we’d like to plan for a local exhibit to tie in with the film. We have very few things that fit in with the Vietnam War era. Uniforms are the most obvious, but we’d also like to find some letters from home, audiotape letters from home, possibly memorabilia picked up in Vietnam, photos.”

“We’re really looking to establish a collection for that time period,” added Demuth, not just items that would be loaned for the exhibit. “But we don’t need 20 sets of dress uniforms. We’d be more interested in fatigues, those kind of things.”

Fiola and Demuth hope the film event and possibility of a Vietnam exhibit inspire more area residents to get involved with and check out what is available at the Nobles County Historical Museum, located in the lower level of the Nobles County Library, 407 12th St.

“Our hope, in part, is to get more people to volunteer in different ways,” said Fiola. “One way is just to help us identify people who are in these films and photos.”

The public King Turkey Day film fest will be at 7 p.m. March 8 at the Center for Active Living, 211 11th St. Popcorn and soft drinks will be provided. 

The King Turkey Day footage can also be viewed on the Facebook site: Nobles County Minnesota Historical Society,

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

(507) 376-7327