Turkeys Can Fly! – It’s the Annual Essex Turkey Trot

Essex’s trot is said to be the oldest continuously running Turkey Trot in the US


Thanksgiving is upon us, and that can mean only one thing—it is time for the annual Essex Turkey Trot.  

Always the Sunday before Thanksgiving, this year, that means Sunday, November 19.  The set-up has become routine after decades of stewardship by the Essex Lions Club.  Registration and kick-off at Woodman’s draws crowds of all manner of runners.  Many are runners, for real, showing up in appropriate performance clothing and running shoes.  Then there are the families, with eager parents and kiddos excited to run their little hearts out (regardless of actual speed).  There are the walkers, out to enjoy a community event together with others.  And, finally, there’s the category that pulls through all of these: the costumers, who show up in turkey hats and crazy costumes or accessories to emphasize what the Essex Turkey Trot is all about: a whole lot of fun.

Turkey Trots have been around for a long time.  The concept’s roots lie in 1896 in Buffalo, NY when the local YMCA hosted a cross-country Thanksgiving Day race that only four participants could complete.  Over time, Turkey Trots have become popular as a way to get a literal jump on big holiday eating with a healthy run.  Essex’s trot, which began in 1978 is, allegedly, the oldest continuously running Turkey Trot in the United States.  

The original idea came from Dick Cairns of Essex, high school English teacher and cross country coach, to hold as a fundraiser for the Essex Lions.  Back then the race was an 8k (approximately five miles).  Today, by popular demand, it is a dual 5k race with a 5k fun walk.  

The race begins, as it always has, at Woodman’s on the Causeway.  We had the good fortune of a visit here at The Cricket from Bill Bradford (fun fact: former longtime Gloucester Daily Times reporter Taylor Bradford’s grandfather) who has been helping out with the Trot for 45 years. 

Bradford shared that back in the 1970s when the race first began, Dick Cairns had the idea to release live turkeys at the starting line.  This led to the suggestion to use Dick’s grandfather’s blunderbuss gun to begin the race.  (What could go wrong?)

Turkeys were acquired from Boundary Turkey Farm out on Choate Street in Essex.  Several wooden crates, each with approximately five unassuming plump white turkeys, were picked up.  On the day of the race organizers opened the crates at the starting line and shot off the gun to kick off the runners and the birds.  The organizers didn’t count on what happened next.  To summarize, well, in Bill’s words, “Turkeys can fly!”  

And so they did, landing on top of the Woodman’s building, on top of several other roofs, and in the Essex river; they were everywhere.  Luckily, all the startled birds were found and safely returned to their crates.  

That was the first, and last, time live turkeys attended the race.

This year’s trot has a new starting time, so take note!  The fun run will begin at 10 a.m., and the race at 11.  T-shirts are guaranteed for those who pre-register online, the cost for both the run and walk is $20.  If you sign up the day of, the price increases to $25 and a t-shirt is not guaranteed.  After the race, results are tallied and the prizes begin, including quite a few 15lb. frozen turkeys.  Woodman’s chowder is available for free to race participants, and all proceed from the race go to the Lions Club of Essex, which helps them to host their annual seniors’ dinner that celebrates all Essex high school seniors, regardless of where they attend school.  It’s good all around.  Registration and details can be found at essexmalions.com.