Big Tom: World’s Largest Turkey

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Big Tom, symbol of the USABig Tom, symbol of the USA’s turkey supremacy, is the World’s Largest.

Frazee, Minnesota

July 1, 1998. Frazee, Minnesota. On a hilltop overlooking the western entrance to this peaceful town, three civic-minded volunteers are laboring under Big Tom, a 22-foot-tall statue – the World’s Largest Turkey – which is the symbol of this Turkey Capital of North America. They are cutting the bolts at his feet – with a blowtorch.

Billboard outside town promotes the WorldBillboard outside town promotes the World’s Largest Turkey.

Suddenly, calamity!

An errant tongue of superheated flame ignites Big Tom. Within seconds the giant gobbler is wrapped in a death mantle of black smoke, his body feeding the fire like grandpa feeding Thanksgiving turkey scraps to the family dog. The fire department arrives – too late! The volunteer workers are unharmed, but all that remains of Big Tom are bits of charred metal and a pile of unrecognizable giant turkey ash.

Small turkey statue downtown resembles FrazeeSmall turkey statue downtown resembles Frazee’s original big bird.

“It was gone in minutes; people were shocked,” said former Frazee mayor Hank Ludtke, recalling the roasted turkey that briefly brought national headlines to his town. “I thought to myself, well, how the heck did the damn thing burn? What happened?”

Footprints lead to the giant gobbler on the hill.Footprints lead to the giant gobbler on the hill.

In hindsight, the turkey’s fiery exit shouldn’t have shocked anyone.

Despite his impressive size, Big Tom had already worn out his welcome in Frazee, although he was only 12 years old. Locals were unhappy with his shape, which was not properly turkey, and his construction, which was falling apart. “It was made of fiberglass insulation, papier-mache, chicken wire,” said Hank. “Some of the feathers were cardboard.”

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The harsh truth is that the volunteers were cutting Big Tom’s bolts that day to take him down, and his flimsy body, weather-eaten with holes, became a chimney when touched with the torch. Fire merely hastened Big Tom’s departure. Hank called it “a big oops,” and 25 years later the volunteers who cooked the turkey still get a good-natured ribbing around town. “If you want something burnt,” said Hank, “call those guys.”

July 1, 1998: Original Big Tom goes up in flames.July 1, 1998: Original Big Tom goes up in flames.

Big Tom II has stood twice as long as his roasted predecessor.Big Tom II has stood twice as long as his roasted predecessor.

Fortunately for Frazee, a new and improved Big Tom was already in the works, and was bolted into place on the same hilltop spot on September 19, 1998. Although this turkey is two feet shorter than the burned bird (“We didn’t want it bigger, just better,” said Hank), it is still the World’s Largest. Big Tom II weighs nearly three tons, with a steel skeleton and 4,000 individual fire-resistant feathers – once again providing visual gravy to Frazee’s meaty boast. And unlike the previous Big Tom, which was fashioned after a farm-reared white turkey, the new one was modeled on a dark, wild turkey. “The state had started releasing them,” said Hank. “You would not believe how many wild turkeys we have running around this place now.”

Frazee’s turkey farms still produce millions of eggs and tons of turkey meat every year, and it’s a testament to local pride (and prosperous turkey farmers) that the town has had the resources to erect not one, but two World’s Largest Turkeys. “This second one is nowhere near as combustible,” said Hank. “We might have messed up once, but we aren’t gonna do it twice.”

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This turkey served as the model for Big Tom II.This turkey served as the model for Big Tom II.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>