What do you do when you’re only the second largest city in Becker County, Minnesota? You focus on your strengths of course. What object might properly honor a robust rural heritage, provide an iconic emblem of efficient poultry production and attract connoisseurs and aficionados of roadside kitsch from around the globe? The natural choice would be the world’s largest statue of a turkey. This morning I salute the town leaders of Frazee, Minnesota for commissioning an unrivaled avian masterpiece.
Regular readers of the Twelve Mile Circle know that I am being sincere. This is not sarcasm. I’d go out of my way to see it without a moment’s hesitation if I were in the area. I love this stuff. I actually drove through Becker County a few years ago — darn, I wish I knew the statue existed at the time — another lost opportunity.
Behold Big Tom
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It is Thanksgiving(1) and I have been searching for a suitable theme for the day. I extend my apologies to my readers who live outside of the United States. Feel free to review a brief description of the holiday on Wikipedia if you are interested. I suspect you’ve already developed a good working knowledge of this annual event based upon movies and television shows that have been forced upon you over the years. Sorry about that. Some of those shows are dreadful.
For the remainder of the audience, those of us preparing to spend some qualify dysfunctional time with our extended families by gorging ourselves to the point of gluttony on fatty foods and (American) football, behold Big Tom the World’s Largest Turkey.
Is he actually the world’s largest turkey? I have no idea and I don’t claim to maintain any standards of journalistic ethics or credibility either. Frazee says it’s the largest, it’s on the Internet and I’ve never seen a bigger one so naturally it must be true.
The current incarnation of Big Tom dates to 1998. He’s an intimidating 20 feet of molded fiberglass and steel reinforcement weighing in excess of 5,000 pounds, standing atop a hilltop just outside of Frazee’s southern border. Magnificent.
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Big Tom represents the town’s agricultural heritage, and not too surprisingly, one can observe many large sheds dotting the nearby landscape. I am going to assume that these are turkey sheds, or at least some kind of poultry shelter due to their elongated shape and feed silos. Otherwise, why erect a gargantuan overstuffed bird on the town’s doorstep?
Big Tom’s Tragic Past
When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.
I know, I know, quoting from Monty Python and the Holy Grail extends way beyond cliché. Normally I would avoid it like the plague(2) but this repeatedly came to mind as I researched the Big Tom saga. He has experienced tragedy before although perhaps not quite as severely as the King of Swamp Castle, but he’s raised Phoenix-like(3) from the smoldering ashes of despair to resume his triumphal roost.
An earlier version of Big Tom graced the hilltop beginning in 1986. That Tom required frequent repairs and he looked a bit out of proportion according to his detractors. He simply wasn’t delivering the proper level of satisfaction or respect that people expected. Frazee decided to replace him in 1998. Workers disassembling that earlier Big Tom sparked a fire which completely engulfed him. The City of Frazee posted a photo of his final moments and a dramatic eyewitness account,
“We were using a cutting torch,” said Burt Larson, who was on the three man removal crew. “We cut the front legs off and nothing happened. We cut the wings, and as soon as the torch hit it, the whole thing went. It was hollow on the inside. It acted like a chimney.”
That was the end of Big Tom. He transformed instantaneously from the World’s Largest Turkey into the World’s Largest Peanut Oil Fryer Accident(4) on July 1st, 1998 at 2:15 pm. Unbowed, the residents of Frazee commissioned and erected a brand new, better designed Big Tom later that year.
What the Frazee?
Unusual town names fascinate me and Frazee is right up there on the list. I discovered from the city website that it’s named for Randolph Lafayette Frazee (1841-1906) an early settler of the area who came to Minnesota in 1866. The town believes Mr. Frazee’s surname originated in Fraisse, France.(5)
By happenstance I see an odd coincidence that ties to one of my other hobbies, genealogy. I have a distant relative who went through life with the first name Frazee. I always found that rather unusual. Who would name their kid Frazee? Now I’m wondering if perhaps I might have some very obscure connection to Big Tom. Wouldn’t that be grand?
an additional item of note…
Frequent commenter "pfly" has just started a geographic blog called Toponymia. One possible focus will be the etymology of place names, which as one can tell from my posting above will be of great interest to me personally. It’s just getting started but I’ve already subscribed to the rss feed and look forward to watching it as it evolves. I hope you will enjoy it too. Check it out!
(1) I was wondering why my access stats were in the toilet this morning. Did I post something awful that offended and scared away my readership? No, the rss subscriptions were still the same. Then I remembered that most everyone was probably stuck on the road trying to get to grandma’s house last night. That means I can post anything I want today and nobody’s going to notice because nobody’s going to be reading some obscure geo-oddity blog today. I can even write a bunch of footnotes — something I sometimes enjoy doing when nobody is paying attention — and have a little fun. What’s your worst Thanksgiving travel memory? Mine goes back to the mid 1990’s when I was trying to get to North Carolina and the NC highway department decided to leave construction cones in place over the holiday weekend, restricting Interstate 85 to a single lane. I hope that guy was fired.
(2) Or the swine flu, which I had recently – I don’t recommend that as a the optimal weight loss program. Did you notice that some of the posts about three weeks ago were a little odd? Yeh, that was the fever.
(3)Turkey-like? Definitely some kind of bird.
(4) No actual peanut oil was involved but if you’ve seen a deep-fried turkey catch fire you’ll know what I mean.
(5) Unfortunately I see several towns with that name in Google Maps so I can’t narrow it down or confirm it.