We have film of live turkeys being thrown from a rooftop in Holdrege in 1939. The Turkey Day promotion had a simple rule: any turkey you caught was yours to cook for Thanksgiving dinner.
By David L. Bristow, Editor
“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”
Readers of a certain age will remember a 1978 episode of the TV sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” in which radio newsman Les Nessman narrates a Thanksgiving promotion gone awry. He describes live turkeys being thrown from a helicopter. “Oh my God! They’re turkeys! …Oh, the humanity! …The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!” (Watch the WKRP clip here.)
The scene’s humor is based partly on its satire of radio announcer Herb Morrison’s famous 1937 live report of the Hindenburg airship disaster. But some say the turkey drop itself was based on real events. Various communities claim to be the inspiration. The strongest claim might be that of Gettysburg, South Dakota, where a 1973 Farmers Day celebration involved live turkeys being thrown from Piper Cub and landing, unexpectedly, “like living battering rams.”
But the idea of throwing live turkeys from high places is older still, as demonstrated by this circa-1939 Holdrege home movie digitized by History Nebraska. The local Turkey Day promotion had a simple rule: any turkey you caught was yours to cook for Thanksgiving dinner.
Three things have changed since then. One, even by the 1970s, poultry producers had learned to grow bigger, fatter birds. Two, such events assumed that the typical housewife knew how to pluck and gut a turkey before putting it in the oven. And three, promoters felt that the sight of terrified turkeys being chased and killed by a mob would be a popular and non-controversial public entertainment.