We think of Thanksgiving as one of the most wholesome secular holidays—if not the most wholesome—but if you were to ask turkeys how they feel, they might not be so kind in their assessment. And if you asked the turkeys depicted in these holiday greeting cards from the early 20th century, I’m sure they’d be happy to talk your ear off about our national preoccupation with torturing fowl.
Vintage Thanksgiving illustrations first came on my radar today with this Yahoo slideshow, which features a young girl riding a pumpkin, drawn by a captive turkey, and brandishing super-sized cutlery. “They don’t make them like that any more!”, the article read, and indeed, the more I looked, the more I agreed. These Thanksgiving greeting cards—most dated 1908 or 1909—reveal that the autumnal holiday serves as a locus for Americans’ fascinating and fucked-up relationship to turkeys. Just look at these kids, trying to snatch up this poor, unsuspecting bird with their slight of hand and trickery!
These doe-eyed, cherubic kids cannot be trusted. They may look cute, but as the cards demonstrate, they have other plans for their flighty friends, and those plans involve killing and eating them. Run away!
Not every turkey is lucky enough to escape. This turkey has the great misfortune of meeting this kid in pantaloons. An axe hangs menacingly in the background. It’s called foreshadowing:
This turkey knows what’s coming, and I feel sorry for him:
RIP, gone before his time:
I will not soon forget the level of detail that went into this turkey’s sad, resigned face (its eyes are CLOSED) as this child chef, who cannot be more than 10 or 12 years old, prepares to eat him:
As you might expect, there are some images of turkey resistance in these greeting cards. This turkey’s had enough of children’s antics, and its friend in the background doesn’t look too happy either:
And of course, there are images of normal turkey life, undisrupted by devilish children, hidden in these archival illustrations. This is what we stand to lose when children are given carving knives and allowed to run amok among the wildlife: a happy turkey and his happy turkey wife going to work in a car:
In short, children should not have access to farm tools and turkeys should be allowed to roam free. Vive la résistance!