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Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:

Stories from Camp Read's Past

John Graham

July 25, 2020

When the Turtle Beat the Turkey: A True Tale from Waubeeka

Each year I would cook a ‘Garbage Can Turkey’. Basically a turkey was fastened to a metal pole driven into the ground, it was covered with a metal garbage can, the can was surrounded with hot burning charcoal. After 3 or 4 hours, depending on the weight of the turkey, the can would be removed and the turkey would (hopefully) be cooked.

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During those years the standard Tuesday evening meal at Waubeeka was sliced turkey with gravy, so we just skipped the turkey and got extra fixin’s from the commissary. The staff would be invited and everyone enjoyed a huge turkey dinner.

One year one of our scout parents, Dr. Michael Klemens, a world-renowned herpetologist, came to camp for a few days. The boys loved it as he explained to them everything they ever wanted to know about snakes, frogs, turtles, and salamanders. Dr. Klemens even went to the Nature Lodge as ‘guest lecturer’.


He had heard that the Buckskin waterfront had been terrorized the prior year by a large snapping turtle, so he brought along a turtle trap to catch it. One evening the trap was set in Buckskin Lake, and the following day it was retrieved with a huge snapping turtle in it. That turtle was nearly the size of my garbage can lid.


The turtle was quickly and mercifully dispatched on the chopping block with a swift blow from an axe, and everyone marveled at the severed head still snapping at a stick. Another dad assisted with the necropsy and later all the internal organs were laid out on a cardboard tray. Later when I returned to the site, he excitedly pointed out that the heart was still occasionally beating. The boys were going wild.

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That evening everyone (except myself) enjoyed some fresh (boiled & grilled) turtle meat for dinner.  [Editor’s Note: Bill Langham cooked the Buckskin turtle and ate a piece. Turtle dark meat is tastier than the white meat.]


The following day a second, less impressive, turtle was caught in Waubeeka Lake and similarly dealt with, but no BBQ. The smaller shell was left in the Nature Lodge, and the larger one went to some museum. That was the year when the Turkey dinner was upstaged by the Turtle.

Michael Klemens, Ph.D.: "All the specimens collected at Camp Read, including both snapping turtle shells, were deposited at the American Museum of Natural History where I have been on scientific staff in the Dept. of Herpetology since 1979."

Simon E.L. Riker remembers the execution: "I recall it taking several swings of the axe... "swift and merciful" may be a telling through rose colored glasses."

About the Scout:

John Graham was Scoutmaster at Troop 2 Rye for many years - among his many contributions to the troop, John served as Summer Scoutmaster at Waubeeka during Week II. This delightful story is part of Troop 2’s ancient lore and surely provided many interesting dinner table discussions on “What did you do at camp?”

For generations, summer after summer, scouts have been making memories at Camp Read. In 2020, the pandemic may have forced regular activities to pause, but campers from years gone by are sharing their stories here in an effort to fill in the gap. Read on to get your fix of Camp Read hijinks until we can safely fill a parade ground once more!


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