Column: Gobble up these Turkey Day tidbitsWORTHINGTON — Turkey Day. I decided to do my Book of Genesis routine. I decided to talk about Turkey Day in the beginning.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Turkey Day.
I decided to do my Book of Genesis routine. I decided to talk about Turkey Day in the beginning.
I know, I know. Someone already is saying, “It is not possible there is anyone who remembers the first Turkey Day.” Well — what can I say?
There is a preface. Worthington’s 10th Street was the region’s largest, most popular shopping district. The merchants all were hometown guys. Habichts’ and Wolffs’ and Silverbergs’ — the department stores — on the east side, Harper’s and Rickbeils’ and Thom’s and Weppler’s — groceries and hardware — on the west side. George Ehler’s Grand Theater on the east side, Gay Hower’s all-new State Theater around a corner on Third Avenue.
There were Young Turks in those stores. Hardy Rickbeil, Harry Sowles, Ken Bunday, Robert Wolff, Graydon Habicht, most certainly Gay Hower, the theater man. Al Walz, who had the new Band Box Cleaners in the 400 block. Through their evolving chamber of commerce, The Merchants cast about for a great long time for something they believed might put Worthington on tourist maps.
E.O. Olson, founder of the Worthmore enterprise, the original Worthington Creamery & Produce which evolved into Campbell Soup in the big empty block which now borders Second Avenue — E.O. Olson made a chance winter visit to Cuero, Texas, where he learned of Cuero’s Turkey Day and the flock of turkeys which led a big parade each year.
Olson told The Merchants of his travel discovery. He noted Worthington merited fame equal to Cuero’s for turkey processing — Worthmore Produce bought turkeys by truckloads and shipped them by refrigerated railcar loads, not to mention J.C. Boote’s sprawling produce plant just across the railroad tracks which did the same turkey processing.
“Oh, this is it,” agreed The Merchants. “This is it.” And so (Worthington’s) Turkey Day came to be. They called it King Turkey Day.
I have to confess an undeniable muddle in my head at this turn. Records say the first Turkey Day came with 1939, the second of course with 1940. In my mind I cannot separate one from the other. They blend.
The Merchants wore neatly-pressed wool suits with vests, white shirts and neckties through every working day. Grocers took their coats off. It was startling, the week before Turkey Day, to see these men on their sales floors in plaid shirts, bibbed blue denim overalls, bandana kerchiefs at their necks and broad-brimmed Western hats on their heads when they went outdoors. This was a first stirring.
The produce plants brought barrels of turkey tail feathers to curbsides along 10th Street and elevators — Nobles County Co-op, St. John’s — brought barrels of corn cobs. Kids (and, at heart, everyone is a kid) — kids took turkey feathers, pressed them into the ends of corn cobs and sent them sailing. On Turkey Days, turkey feather twirlers soared all along the street through every minute.
At the high school, Cy Amundson and Mr. Hackbarth in the art department (first name Mister, like Sir) — Cy Amundson and Mr. Hackbarth pieced together a giant (oh, 12 feet high) King Turkey and covered his wood frame with colored foil. Live turkeys would lead the parade. King Turkey would follow on a four-wheel trailer pulled by a 1939 automobile.
This was the first of floats. Now appreciate this: Worthington, the Worthington area, had never before seen a parade float. The floats spaced along the turkey parade route were produced by Twin City firms. The Merchants sponsored them. Crowds gasped. So big. So bright. So shiny. So beautiful. Aboard the floats were girls, Worthington High School girls in prom dresses, smiling and waving and throwing kisses.
Clowns from the clown club and more bands than locals ever had seen in one procession. The Brewster Girls Drum and Bugle Corps.
I made mention of crowds and this brings the end of the story. Suspense attended those early Turkey Days. There was no such thing as a community celebration in all southwest Minnesota or northwest Iowa. The Merchants led Worthington out on a limb in limbo. No one knew if there would be 25 people at the curbsides.
The passing of three-quarters of a century is the proof — Worthington loves Turkey Day. So do a lot of other people.
Happy Turkey Day to you.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.