“Let us talk about turkey,” proclaimed a New York Tribune humor column republished Nov.23, 1888 in The Granville Sentinel. Not Turkey in Europe, nor yet Turkey in Asia. But turkey in America – the esteemed bird that goes so well with cranberry sauce.”
The bald eagle, national bird of the United States, gets prominent attention for months at a time once every four years, when there is a presidential election, but the turkey is heralded every year, the columnist quipped.
“The eagle has had his full fling this year. He has ruled the roost ever since early summer, when the presidential conventions were held,” the columnist wrote. “Now that the election is over, let the eagle fold up his wings … and give way to the turkey. … The turkey stands for the refreshing calm that succeeds a quadrennial election. The turkey holds himself aloof from political parties, cares nothing for public life.”
The Granville Sentinel, on Nov. 7, 1890, reiterated the philosophy more succinctly. “The Thanksgiving turkey is nearly ripe. Politics will now take a rest for a while.”
Julius Caesar, in the Shakespeare play, was warned “Beware the ides of March.” In the 19th century, turkeys around Washington County became wary around the ides of
November, as the Thanksgiving holiday was approaching.
“In view of the near approach of Thanksgiving, fat turkeys are looking with feelings of envy upon scrawny fellows, and forming bony clubs, and studying how to get rid of their adipose tissue and reduce themselves to their old fighting weight,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Nov. 17, 1876.
The people of Boston ate quite a bit of Washington County turkey for Thanksgiving in 1886. “Carmi C. Farr of Fort Ann shipped four tons of turkeys to the Boston Thanksgiving Market,” The Morning Star reported on Dec. 3.
The Civil War did not stop Glens Falls residents from being thankful, or consuming poultry. “Thanksgiving Day was generously observed by the good citizens of this burg in a quiet,
uncontentious manner,” the Glen’s Falls Republican reported on Dec. 3, 1863. “More than the usual number of turkeys, chickens and goslings came to a premature untimely end.”
A Pennsylvania philanthropist set a model for others at the end of the Civil War. “Some large-hearted citizen of Lewisburgh, Pa. proposed to give a Thanksgiving turkey to every
soldier’s widow in his county, and to every widow who lost a son on whom she depended for support,” the Glen’s Falls Republican reported on Dec. 5, 1865. “Let us have his
name and pass it around as one of nature’s noblemen. Let some of our rich men ‘go and do likewise’ and know that it is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Thanksgiving charity need not be limited to the rich. “Help your poor neighbor to a Thanksgiving dinner,” The Morning Star editorialized on Nov. 25, 1884. “One little act of practical charity is worth a whole book full of prayers without the proper spirit.”
It may or may not have been the editorial that inspired George Montee, a saloon keeper in Lake Luzerne, to give away turkeys in a raffle that evening. “About twenty of the birds were distributed to those who were lucky,” The Morning Star reported.
Stealing a Thanksgiving turkey is not recommended. “A young lad named Russell went into O’Connor and Brother’s Market, and, taking a nice fat turkey in each arm, started down Glen Street,” The Morning Star reported on Nov. 26, 1884. “Claude Tillotson espied the lad, and, following him, discovered him secreting the turkeys at the read of Sherman’s store. Mr. Tillotson compelled the youthful pilferer to return the turkeys.”
Illustration: A 19th century Thanksgiving postcard.