Ed Grisamore

Gris: Don’t catch that Butterball

I will begin with a shout-out to Alice Asbell, who passed along this story from a recent issue of Lake Oconee Living magazine.

It’s called “The Terrible Turkey Tossing,” and it recounts a Depression-era story about the time a turkey farmer from Morgan County persuaded local merchants to let him throw eight “live” turkeys from the top of the courthouse in Madison, a town I consider among the prettiest in Georgia.

This was a rather unique way of distributing turkeys and a gesture of goodwill during tough economic times. Plus, it was a tremendous marketing stunt. It was certain to attract a crowd of folks downtown to be entertained while trying to catch their Thanksgiving meal.

I’m not sure how much each of those turkeys weighed, even with their wings clipped. But I’m not sure if the turkey tosser took gravity into account. A 15-pound turkey dropped from 100 feet has got to hit with the force of a small hippopotamus.

The turkey tale was a favorite of the late Roy Lambert, a state senator from Madison. It was a tradition for him to read the story to his family every Thanksgiving. He would turn to a page in the book “Down Drafts,” a collection of newspaper columns from his childhood friend, B.M. “Buddy” Atkinson, who once wrote for the Louisville (Kentucky) Times.

They both grew up in Madison. Atkinson later wrote 52 episodes of the television comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies” and was a screenwriter for “The Love Boat,” “Green Acres,” “The Partridge Family” and “The Tim Conway Comedy Hour.”

In his story, Atkinson said old-timers in Madison claimed the great turkey drop “compared favorably with the day Sherman came through.”

(If only they had dropped live turkey bombs on Sherman’s troops, he might never have finished his March to the Sea.)

According to Atkinson’s account, the turkey farmer sold the birds to the merchants, then offered to launch them from the top of the historic courthouse on Thanksgiving eve. The eager townspeople gathered in the square below.

What followed was like the opening credits of a disaster movie.

The first turkey was accidentally dropped into the chimney of a print shop, filling it with smoke. The second turkey landed in the middle of a frightened team of mules pulling a wagon, causing them to run away.

(At this point, the turkey tosser’s quarterback efficiency rating was pretty low.)

“The third turkey had a defeatist complex,” Atkinson wrote, “and zoomed right into the middle of the crowd and nearly beheaded a good churchwoman who said a lot of things unbecoming to a good churchwoman after she got the feathers out of her mouth.”

It was about that time, Atkinson wrote, the “city fathers began bellowing for the man to stop launching turkeys. But the turkeys kept coming.”

At this point, I’m not sure how much, if any, the story was embellished. But Turkey No. 4 reportedly plummeted through the windows of a grocery store. And the earthbound fifth bird bounced off the back of a little boy and into a tree, causing a man to fall out and break his arm.

Turkey No. 6 met its untimely death when it got tangled in some wires and was electrocuted. No. 7 somehow ended up inside a drugstore, where the proprietor threatened to shoot anyone who frightened it. The timid bird smashed a couple of display cases and was crushed to death by a mob of customers running for the door.

By the time the final bird was about to be heaved, someone finally reached the top of the courthouse to let the unaware turkey chucker know about the ensuing chaos below.

He untied its legs and released it into the air, where it plunked the mayor on the courthouse steps below.

“The survivors,” Atkinson wrote, “had a lot to be thankful for the next day.”

And you thought being trampled on Black Friday was bad.

I would rather eat my Butterball than try to catch it.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.