The 1967 Markley Turkey Hunt
Editor’s Note: Oh, hello. It has been over a year since my last post and as you might have guessed I have largely moved on from the Bakers & Best project. I still make bread, I just stopped writing about it. What have I been doing instead? The post below is a small example of how I’ve been frittering away my time. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, I sure had fun traveling down this particular rabbit hole.
This year the University of Michigan celebrated its bicentennial. Throughout the year there have been lecture series, performances, festivals, and other events highlighting the university’s past while also looking towards its future. As the 200th birthday celebration wraps up I would like to call attention to one event that happened 50 years ago today, and over the past several months has consumed more of my time than I care to admit.
I am of course talking about the turkey hunt that took place in the Mary Markley courtyard on November 17th, 1967.
In January I came across these two photos while browsing through the Bentley Historical Library image bank (the Bentley serves as the historical library and archive for the university). In the past ten months I have told anyone who will listen (and then some) about these pictures. Each time I find myself incapable of fully describing my thoughts on them. Most people react in the way that Ben Wyatt did to Li’l Sebastian. I fear the same will happen here, but I have to try anyways.
I mean, how ridiculous are these? Perhaps it was the fact that it was 4 AM and I had long since given up on falling back asleep, but all I could do when I first saw these was laugh. I was scrolling through a collection of photos from The Michigan Daily, and juxtaposed against campus protests and national conventions they became even more absurd. This feeling of delight and joy quickly moved into deep curiosity. I suddenly had to know everything I could about the story behind these pictures.
Someone had, presumably intentionally, released several turkeys for students to catch in the muddied Markley courtyard. Why? Who sponsored it? Whose idea was it? How many students participated? Where did they get the turkeys from? Was this an annual event?
Some 30 students…celebrated Thanksgiving early yesterday with an Interhouse Assembly-sponsored turkey hunt in the Markley courtyard. Winners were awarded four complementary Thanksgiving dinners – turkey of course – and a splendid time was had by all. – The Michigan Daily, 11/18/1967
From the Bentley Library I knew that both photos were taken by student photographer James Forsyth of The Michigan Daily. Scrolling through several years worth of microfilm turned up an advertisement on November 15th (at right) and a front page photo and description (quoted above) on November 18th. I found no other record in the five years before or after, leading me to believe this was a one-off event. In the spring the Bentley Library completed a project to digitize and make searchable the complete Daily archives. A few quick searches confirmed my earlier research.
I got in touch with Mr. Forsyth, who kindly entertained my strange obsession over a few phone calls and emails. Unsurprisingly after nearly 50 years he had no recollection of the event, though he was gracious in sharing some of his experiences working at the Daily. It was a time of unrest on campus, for the nation, and one reported on by a talented Daily staff. The Daily news desk at the time included Robin Wright and Dan Okrent, among many others. As for the turkey hunt? Mr. Forsyth commented that typically the photographers “might have three or four things to cover in a day, most of which, to be honest, weren’t that memorable.”
A Turkey Hunt was held in the Markley courtyard from 3:30-5:30 on Friday, November 17. The prize was a free turkey dinner. – 11/20/1967 meeting minutes of the Inter House Assembly
My attention turned to the Inter House Assembly (IHA), the group that had planned and sponsored the event. The Fall 1967 edition of IHA News notes that the group coordinated activities around “orientation, service, scholarship, and social functions” and represented students in the residence halls to various university governance groups. The Bentley library houses twelve boxes of IHA and related materials from 1950-70. Naturally, I dove into these. From their descriptions I knew that only four of the boxes could potentially hold what I was looking for but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read up on mid-century dorm life.
The IHA kept impressively detailed financial ledgers, but unfortunately no records for the 1967-68 year existed. So much for finding turkey receipts. The meeting minutes turned up just one mention of the event (quoted above), at the IHA meeting the Monday after the hunt.
My last hope was to track down Fred Feinsod, the IHA Social Chair for 1967-68. He was most likely the person who planned the event. I sent the now Dr. Feinsod a letter in early April with what I had found so far, and included copies of the photos and some IHA documents.
Spring turned into summer, and I never heard back. I started to make peace with the fact that I wouldn’t get all the answers I wanted.
And then, on the first day of August I woke up to find an email from Dr. Feinsod. He wrote “I remember the Turkey Hunt at Markley Hall and can reflect on organizing it with my fellow IHA members”. For the most part, the details are exactly what you would have guessed. Turkeys were released into the courtyard, and students teamed up in groups of four to catch them. The specifics of how the turkeys were acquired may be lost to time, but Dr. Feinsod provided some closure on the subject for me in addition to sharing stories about other IHA events and life on campus in the late 1960s.
When I first saw the photos all I could do was guess the strange circumstances behind the event. But the truth is much simpler than anything I imagined. It was just a Friday afternoon event cooked up by IHA to entertain students before the holiday. But with enough time the unremarkable became, at least to me, something special.
For anyone interested in learning more about the past student experience at Michigan, I recommend starting with a look through the Michigan Daily Alumni Photographers database. Most importantly, I am exceptionally grateful to Mr. James Forsyth and Dr. Fred Feinsod for their time, kind responses, and generosity in sharing stories of their time at Michigan.