When I was growing up our family had a place in northern Minnesota. In addition to the usual scenic up north things-lakes, woods, deer-this area had a bunch of "World's Largests"
For some reason in the early 1960s there was a civic craze going around. Every small town had to have an outsized animal totem erected in their local park. Vergas got a Loon. Pelican Rapids a somewhat less impressive pelican. Fergus Falls had a bunch of high school kids build the World's Largest Otter which is my personal favorite. (see Roadside attractions link at sidebar for pix of these!)
Frazee was something of a latecomer to the World's Largest arms (or fins, wings, etc) race. But according to their web site in 1984 "a group of interested turkey growers and committee members" met and proposed the creation of a giant turkey, emblematic of the importance of turkey farming to the community. Meetings were held. Funds were raised. A turkey was built.
The above history of the original Big Tom is actually surprisingly frank. In addition to cement the construction contained fiberglass, insulation and-huge red flag here-cardboard.
His color faded quickly requiring a re-paint in white. And there were "frequent repairs".
I started taking my own growing family on the long trek to this area beginning in 1987 when Big Tom was still pretty new. But I do not recall visiting him until some years later, in the mid 90's. Oh, he cut a fine figure to be sure, but he did not seem to have the same construction standards as that snappy Loon over in Vergas. On the ground scattered around Big Tom there were chunks of some kind of white stuff. Yes, Big Tom was molting. Or leaving droppings.
My kids did not care, they were there to enjoy the park which featured a scary zip line and some old style swings where you could really get some air. But the civic fathers and mothers of Frazee had enough concerns about their community "spirit animal" that something had to be done....
One year we went to Frazee,- it was the summer of 1998- to look upon our old friend Tom, but he was gone! Nothing remained but a circle of ash and charred cement bits. The kids were dumb struck.
As it happens the situation with Big Tom had gotten so bad that a replacement turkey had been ordered. A three man crew was detailed to take down the old statue shortly before our visit. A fellow named Burt Larson was actually inside the big bird wielding a cutting torch when catastrophe struck. Remember that cardboard?
A horrific image. Thank goodness none of the workers came to grief.
At the time I was an occasional contributor to the Bulletin Board section of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The final line of my "obituary" for Big Tom read:
"I think, perhaps, it was the way he would have wanted to go. But since nobody had the presence of mind to send for the World's Largest Meat Thermometer, it is quite possible that he was overdone."
Happy Thanksgiving all. Don't use the cutting torch on the turkey.