November 25, 2009
The annual turkey roll became one of Aspen’s most enduring and endearing holiday traditions. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks sponsored it as both a fundraiser and a fun night that uplifted community spirit in the cold dark days of November.
Few annual events attracted as many locals as the Elks’ turkey roll. For many years the event was held at the Elks’ lodge, then it outgrew that space and moved to a larger space in the Aspen Block. Paepcke’s Aspen Company had remodeled the new site to provide dining room for Music Festival students.
Organizers scheduled the event a few days before Thanksgiving allowing enough time for a load of prize turkeys to be delivered and close enough to the holiday for a single turkey to occupy home refrigerator space without displacing too many preceding meals. Late in the 1940s, the rolls offered a chance to win one of 60 turkeys for a 75 cent admission that included the first five rolls.
I remember attending the rolls with my mother. Although I’m sure that she hoped we would return with a turkey, I also know how she relished playing bingo. The balls would roll in the turning cage and someone would pull one out, and then the caller would enthusiastically (never routinely) announce each letter and number. When a lucky player shouted ‘Bingo’! it seemed the whole room celebrated with the winner; however, if a player won a second or third time, murmured moans of jealousy crept across the room.
I never did pursue formal education in statistical odds, but I did observe turkey roll strategies. Some players kept the same bingo card for the whole night, figuring that it would be the lucky card at least one time. Others switched cards for every roll, figuring the previous card was a loser and a new one would certainly be the next winner. Several adopted the “more is better” approach by playing several cards at one time.
Most Aspen family events centered around the school, emphasizing children. Adult-oriented family activities welcomed children as an afterthought. As a youth, the Elks’ turkey roll, like the St. Mary’s annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner, gave me insight into the adult world while simultaneously providing a fun child’s evening.