American Thanksgiving

The American Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday. It is celebrated by many as a time to look around and consider the things you may be thankful for. It is condemned my others as a time to remember the injustices committed by the Europeans who colonized the lands of the indigenous peoples.

It is a time of unbridled consumerism with the following day known as Black Friday when store offer some of the lowest retail prices of the year (or so they claim). It is a day that many gather around the TV and watch football. And it is a day that many families come together and revel in their common ancestry or perhaps struggle though as forced day where dysfunctionality and rancour reign supreme.It is also a time when miscalculations have resulted in both catastrophe and humour have combined for centuries (actually, the following tale involves a Christmas turkey, but it seems appropriate for today.

In December 1750, Franklin learned one lesson the hard way, when he shocked himself while trying to electrocute a holiday turkey. Franklin believed electrocuting the turkey made it uncommonly tender….

In a letter dated 25 December 1750, Franklin describes his

Robert Feke, “Young Benjamin Franklin,” c. 1748.

attempt to electrocute a turkey, which didn’t work out as he had intended, “I have lately made an experiment in electricity that I desire never to repeat. Two nights ago, being about to kill a turkey by the shock from two large glass jars, containing as much electrical fire as forty common phials, I inadvertently took the whole through my own arms and body, by receiving the fire from the united top wires with one hand, while the other held a chain connected with the outsides of both jars.”

The audience for this accident reported that they had seen a great flash and heard a loud crack, but Franklin didn’t notice this, having been shocked senseless. He did record that “the first thing I took notice of was a violent, quick shaking of my body, which gradually remitting, my sense as gradually returned.” Franklin felt some numbness for a short while afterwards, and experienced some soreness for a few days, but otherwise, he suffered only from embarrassment at his mistake. He made an effort to warn others against making a similar mistake when conducting such dangerous experiments.

One of his previous attempts at using electricity in a social setting was a much greater success.

For instance, in the early summer of 1749, somewhat disappointed at not yet having produced anything of great use to mankind with electricity, Franklin hosted an elaborate electrical barbecue. He killed a turkey by electrical shock, then roasted it using the electrical jack, an electric device he invented that would rotate the turkey as it roasted before a fire, which was kindled by an electrified bottle. Guests drank from electrified glasses that gave them a small shock as they sipped their wine, and were entertained as sparks were sent across the river. Franklin also devised a game called “treason,” which involved an electrified portrait of the king, with a removable gilt crown. The picture was rigged so that anyone who tried to remove the crown while holding the gilt edge of the picture would be shocked.

Celebrate or hate, the day is yours. Use it as you wish.

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