Thanksgiving Meals That Got Away (or Almost)

Most of us get our Thanksgiving dinners from the grocery these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Before the advent of modern refrigeration, holiday meals were usually living in the woods or the farmyard until the day of the feast. Sometimes this resulted in Thanksgiving dinners making a break for it. Here are several stories from such occasions:

Thanksgiving ‘Possum Escapes When Firemen Extinguish Tree Fire – The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) · Fri, Nov 26, 1920 

A Thanksgiving ‘possum hunt by boys at Inman Park terminated in a manner disappointing to the boys when neighbors summoned the fire department to avert the destruction of a venerable hollow oak tree in imminent danger of being burned by the “smudge” which the boys set to smoke out “Br’er ‘Possum,” and which a brisk wind whipped up into a blaze over which the lads quickly lost control. “Br’er ‘Possum escaped in the shuffle, and the lads ruefully returned to their homes. Firemen related a similar occurrence Thanksgiving day a year ago. 


Escape of a Thanksgiving Raccoon and the Fun That Followed – The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Sat, Nov 29, 1890 

Early on Thursday morning a man came along the north side of Eighth street going east. He had under one arm a live and very frisky raccoon, which he had evidently intended should take the place of a Thanksgiving turkey. Be that as it may, just as he was about to cross Shipley street he lost his grip on the coon, which suddenly sprang to the ground. When the prospective coon-eater gathered his wits he found that his dinner had climbed to the top of a maple tree. Quick as a flash he mounted that tree. The higher he climbed the further out did the coon climb. The branches bent under the weight of the anxious coon chaser. 

Thomas J. Goslip on whose pavement the tree stands opened a window of his house and ordered the man down, as he was afraid that the old tree would break and the man would be hurt. The man came down at once. He was disgusted and told the gathering crowd of people that the one who caught the coon could have it.

By this time the coon had crossed to a tree on the pavement of St. Andrew’s Church and settled down on the outer end of a limb to await developments. Then it was that burly man started to make chase. The crowd, which had increased to 200 persons, cheered and jeered as the burly man climbed. 

“I’ll shake him down,” he said, “and the feller what catches him will please hold him for me.” The crowd agreed to that and kept up their jokes.

After a vigorous shaking of the limbs the coon dropped to the sidewalk. The crowd parted to give the little animal a chance. He took it, and darted up Eighth street toward Orange. The crowd started after him, and he was soon captured and taken back to the man who had dislodged him. The happy man seized the coon by the tail and started toward Whitechapel followed by the crowd. 


Ducks Escaped Thanksgiving Mess – The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Sat, Dec 5, 1914 

Weeping Water, Neb. Dec. 5.—Yesterday morning two ducks belonging to Mrs. Ohnmacht, living at Nebraska City, returned to their quarters in the chicken house after what had evidently been a week’s vacation taken to avoid being served up for a Thanksgiving dinner. Mrs. Ohnmacht sold the ducks to John Franks a day or two before Thanksgiving and was to deliver them a little later. The morning after the sale she discovered the chicken house door open and the two ducks and six chickens missing. No trace of the fowls was found until the ducks returned Thursday morning. The six chickens have not yet put in their appearance. 


1,000 Thanksgiving Dinners on Loose – The Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) · Tue, Aug 10, 1943 

A thousand Thanksgiving dinners were on the loose in a Des Moines suburb today.

That many 10-week-old pheasants answered the call of the wild and flew out of the rearing pens at the L. E. Heifner Hatchery.

Attempts to drive the birds back into their pens met with little success. 

Heifner said due to wartime shortages he had been unable to cover the pens with chicken wire. He had clipped the birds’ wings once but they grew out sooner than he had anticipated.

Heifner was growing the birds for the holiday trade. 


The Sad Fate of A Gobbler, Escaped the Thanksgiving Axe But Met Death Next Day – The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) · Tue, Nov 30, 1897 

Dr. George Seiberling had an immense turkey gobbler, which, after he found out he had escaped the Thanksgiving Day axe, went and committed suicide on Friday. This is perhaps the only case on record where a gobbler’s pride was so wounded after seeing many of his brothers chosen for the feast and himself left that he went and ended his existence.

The doctor had invited his parents and the parents of his wife to spend Thanksgiving at his home. The parents, however, found it impossible to be here upon that day, and it was decided that the gobbler’s day should be prolonged. His wings were clipped, and then he was allowed to be king of all he surveyed in the backyard. But the gobbler’s heart was sore, and, for want of company, he pined. Looking through openings in the fence, he spied others of his tribe and on Friday he decided to join them. He managed to get up on the fence, but must have lost his balance between two palings protruding on one side and the body went down up the other, and, there suspended from the fence, the doctor’s gobbler ended his days. 


Hundred Turkeys Fleeing From The Thanksgiving Ax – Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Wed, Nov 27, 1901 

Scattered through the woods in North Evanston a hundred turkeys, destined for Thanksgiving tables, are enjoying liberty through the grace of a team of restless horses. The turkeys were the property of Jacob Nellis, who has a large poultry farm a few miles from the town, and whose birds are farmed for their size and fatness. 

Nellis placed his turkeys in coops, loaded the coops on a wagon, and started for Evanston with them yesterday afternoon. At North Evanston, when he left the wagon to get a drink, the team became frightened and ran away. The wagon was overturned, the frail coops broken from the force of the fall, and the turkeys fled to the shelter of the trees which lined the road. The sun was going down, and in the darkness the turkeys proved exasperatingly elusive. Nellis gave up the attempt to capture them and returned home, resolved to try again today.


Fat Fowl for Thanksgiving Dinner Escapes and Hunting Party is Formed to Capture the Bird – Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) · Tue, Nov 28, 1911 

It is seldom that the residents of this section of the state get an opportunity to go hunting for turkeys, except when the hunt takes them to the stores. On the Ralston property was a fine turkey, which was growing steadily fatter as Thanksgiving day drew near, and the owners were already smacking their lips over the quantity of white and dark meat he would provide, when the turkey, evidently knowing what was in store for him, escaped from the farm. For a week he did not return and then an organized hunt was made for him. In a clump of woods quite a distance from the farm the gobbler was discovered and the pursuit began, but every effort to get close to the bird was vain, the wily bird baffling all their attempts. The owner finally went for a shotgun and a charge of shot brought the bird to an untimely end. 


Turkey “Sniped” From Uptown Building – The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) · Wed, Nov 25, 1914 

A bunch of live turkeys had been cooped up in the rear of the Schneider meat market, and yesterday morning employees of the place proceeded to dress them. In the scrimmage, one of the largest of the birds escaped into the open. Using his long-neglected power of flight, he soared out over the street and up to the roof of the Ferre building opposite. There he alighted and sat in serenity. The question of how to get him down seemed at first a serious one. But soon some one suggested to a group of men in the [nearby] gun store the practical idea of “sniping” the bird. No sooner said than done, and in a minute there was the short crack of a rifle shot ringing out over West Front street, and his bird-ship came tumbling to earth. His demise was quick and painless, and a good Thanksgiving dinner was saved to some one. The incident attracted considerable attention in the vicinity. 


I hope you enjoyed this week’s stories. The Weekly Holler wishes you and yours a happy Thanksgiving. May your turkeys stay put and your hams never wander.

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