Friday, November 18, 2011

1939 Turkey Festival

In September 1939 the first ever Turkey Festival was held here in Harrisonburg. The two day event took place on Monday, September 4, 1939 and Tuesday, September 5, 1939. The festival was designed “to pay homage to Lord Rockingham II, the big American bird emblematic of the county and city’s five million dollar poultry industry.” [1] It was hoped that the Turkey Festival would become an annual event that would earn Harrisonburg and Rockingham County nationwide attention.

Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce secretary Russell L. Shultz originally proposed the idea for the Turkey Festival in January 1939. The membership of the Chamber of Commerce adopted the idea and went forth making plans.
According to the festival program printed in the Saturday, September 2, 1939 edition of the Daily News Record both days of the festival were packed full of events from 8 am Monday morning through late Tuesday evening. Events included a turkey exhibit hall, band concerts, a Turkey Institute, turkey stunts, tours of Rockingham turkey ranches, historic point tours, tours of Natural Wonders, a turkey throw, a baseball game, the Queen’s coronation ceremony and special reception, Turkeyrama pageant, turkey roasting demonstrations, flights on the Goodyear blimp, two parades, a tournament, street entertainment, a turkey race, open air chorus, and two dances. Of course, each day was also highlighted by the opportunity to partake of some turkey as the schedule actually says,

Monday - Noon - Eat Turkey
Monday - 6:00 - Eat More Turkey
Tuesday - Noon - Roast Turkey Dinner
Tuesday  - 6:00 - Turkey Supper. [2]

Members of the 4-H Club started Monday morning with a turkey roasting contest. First place went to Carolyn Long and Lydia Ann Miller. At 10:30 Mrs. Elva S. Bohannon, Home Economist of the Rural Electrification Administration, presented a turkey roasting demonstration complete with advice on how to kill a turkey at home. Souvenir booklets containing turkey recipes were distributed after the demonstration. [3]

While roasted turkey was the menu item of the day some turkeys were able to relax and strut around as they were put on display for the crowds. During the festival 25 turkeys were kept in a pen on the courthouse lawn. While 500 more turkeys were on display at the turkey exhibit which was held in the old armory building on Newman Avenue. Not all turkeys that found themselves in downtown Harrisonburg during the festival had such a relaxing time. Some turkeys were thrown from the First National Bank building to waiting crowds below who were eager to try to catch the birds as they descended.

The crowds stayed for the Fireman’s Torchlight Parade on Monday evening as it was reported that 20,000 people packed the downtown area for the event. The parade consisted of more than 500 firemen and musicians in 21 units as well as a number of fire trucks. Musical participants included the Shenandoah County Band, Charles Rouss Band of Winchester, Luray Drum Corps., Waynesboro Band, Broadway Band, and the Harrisonburg Municipal Band. Participating fire companies included Hose Company Number 4, Fire Company Number 1, Mt. Jackson Fire Company, Broadway Fire Department, Potomac Fire Company Number 2 of Westernport, Maryland, Waynesboro Fire Department, Shenandoah Fire Company, Luray Fire Department, Strasburg Fire Company, Edinburg Fire Company, Charles Rouss Fire Company of Winchester, Staunton Fire Department, Elkton Fire Company, and the New Market Fire Company. [4]

The Daily News Record reported that 40,000 people made their way to the streets of downtown Harrisonburg to view Tuesday’s Grand Parade which consisted of 33 floats, 16 bands, 50 riders on horseback, and 20 other units. The number of floats was the largest number appearing in a Virginia parade as of 1939. Festival Queen Ruth Wampler rode on the first parade float followed by floats carrying the 50 princesses, ladies in waiting, and maids of honor. Another parade float carried Miss Evelyn Hulvey who wore a gown and cape made of turkey feathers. The outfit was also on display in the window of The Parisian prior to the Turkey Festival. [5] A number of bands participated in the parade including the Harrisonburg Boys Band which featured in his first appearance James Ray Wampler, the world’s smallest drum major. [6]

Each night of the festival the Turkeyrama pageant was held. More than 200 people participated in the pageant directed by Miss Jane Stoneall. The pageant depicted the history of the turkey from the days when it was hunted by Native Americans through 1939. Turkeyrama was comprised of twelve episodes. Some of the scenes depicted included the creation of the world, Native Americans hunting wild turkey and offering it the Great Spirit in a ceremony, Governor Spotswood and his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe viewing the valley and feasting on turkey, first settler Adam Miller building his cabin, pioneer migration from Pennsylvania, George Washington visiting the home of a Rockingham County planter, Federal soldiers tussling with a woman for her turkey, and a turkey drive. [7]
The Turkey Festival was held again in 1940 and 1941, but was cancelled during World War II. After the war unsuccessful efforts were made to revive the festival.
Do you have memories of or memorabilia from the Turkey Festival? We would appreciate your sharing those items with the Massanutten Regional Library community. You can read more about the 1939 Turkey Festival and the two subsequent festivals on the Daily News Record microfilm at the main branch of Massanutten Regional Library.

[1]Turkey Festival Throng to Break All Records; Two-Day program is Colorful, Varied.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 2 Sept. 1939: 1.
[2] “Festival Program.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 2 Sept. 1939: 1.
[3] “Roast Turkey is Attraction.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 5 Sept. 1939: 2.
[4] “14 Fire Companies, 7 Bands Make Colorful Procession.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 5 Sept. 1939: 2.
[5]Turkey Dress Display at the Parisian.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 6 Sept. 1939.
[6] “40,000 View Grandest of all Parades.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 6 Sept. 1939.
[7] “Turkeyrama Most Colorful.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 4 Sept. 1939.

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