Why Did The Turkey Cross the Road?
November 27, 2013 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Spotted last week after my son and I had just jaywalked across a Cambridge, Massachusetts street: a law-abiding wild turkey crossing at a crosswalk.
We did get a chuckle right before Thanksgiving as we the bird nonchalantly meander around the congested streets, stopping traffic right in Harvard Square. Passersby did double takes, some tossed food scraps, while groups of strangers speculated together on the gobbler’s final destination.
Some joked that the bird was getting out of Dodge to avoid being served up for the traditional meal. Or perhaps he was simply out for a leisurely stroll, enjoying a respite from the city park that he and his feathered friends called home.
One thing was certain: this turkey was completely comfortable parading his plumage on the concrete streets. The tom advanced with confidence, as if he were certain the cars would stop, as they did, to allow him safe passage from one corner to the next.
The “first Thanksgiving” likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison–but no turkey. Via Smithsonian Magazine. Photo: Bettmann / Corbis
The turkey crossing got me thinking about the whole turkey thing. It is apparently a myth that the Pilgrims ate turkey on Thanksgiving, or that they were even the first to celebrate the holiday. In 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, the 74-year-old editor of the women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, wrote Abraham Lincoln urging him to proclaim the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” The President listened, and in 1863 issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring it the national holiday we know today.
He’s No Butterball
As a result of overhunting and deforestation that destroyed their habitat, seventy years ago wild turkeys such as this one were nearly extinct. The 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act brought them back from extinction and today this tom is one of more than 7 million wild turkeys in North America. The wild turkey my son and I spotted is very different from his factory-farmed domestic relatives: for one thing, these wild gobblers are polygamous, breeding with several females during the mating season. So perhaps our wandering tom was on his way to visit one of his hens. All the same, my son and I enjoyed watching this Cambridge turkey cross the road to get to the other side.