The turkey day game was already a tradition of 28 years' standing when Harry Kaufman played in his first one, for Kirkwood, back in 1935. He played again the next year. He's now 85 and lives in University City, just a few miles away.
"We wore leather helmets, shoulder pads, canvas pants and wool jerseys," Kaufman says. "I wore these big clodhopper cleats that must have been a half to three quarters of an inch long. I was a running back. We used a T formation, and the coach had me call the plays even though Fred Shans was our quarterback. Thousands of people came to the game even then."
Kirkwood lost both Turkey Day games in which Kaufman played; in fact the team failed in both games to score a point. Kirkwood was terrorized by a Webster player named Gale Keane, who was recently inducted into his school's Hall of Fame.
"We beat Kirkwood three times while I was playing," says Keane, who is also 85. "We didn't have a quarterback. I was more of a running back, and the center just snapped me the ball. Sometimes I threw it. We had this one play where I would get the snap, turn around like I was going to hand it to someone else and then just run backward through the hole up the middle. Worked like a charm. I also remember intercepting a lot of passes. I don't know how I did it, because I was half blind even then, and I couldn't play with my glasses on, and sometimes it would be almost dark by the time the game ended. But I was bigger than most of the other fellows, so it was pretty hard for them to stop me." Keane settled in Kirkwood, where he raised two sons and a daughter who attended Kirkwood High. Given the closeness of the communities, many people have switched loyalties over the years.
Elaine Jenkins remembers her husband throwing the dramatic winning touchdown pass to Kay Felker that won the 1939 game for Kirkwood. Harold Jenkins was also Kirkwood's quarterback in '38 and '40. He died 13 years ago. He rarely missed a Turkey Day game once he returned from World War II, and his family treasures its scrapbooks of news clippings about his high school heroics. "Even back then, everybody went to Turkey Day," Elaine says. "You wouldn't even think about not going. It cost 50 cents to get in, and there would be thousands of people. I was dating Harold, but I think he was dating every other girl in the high school."
She lost track of him when he joined the Navy as a pilot after graduation. But after the war they met again at a Kirkwood swimming club, married and had two daughters, one of whose sons now marches for the enemy. "My grandson Michael Barry marches in the Webster Groves High School band!" Elaine says. "I look at those colors, black and orange, and I can't get used to it. I never thought I'd live to see the day!"
In 1951 Robert Stone, vice president of the Frisco Railroad Company, contacted Kirkwood principal Murl Moore and offered to give the school the 400-pound bell from an old steam locomotive that was being retired. They decided to make the bell a symbol of Turkey Day victory. Stone presented it to both schools at that year's game. The Pioneers trounced Webster, rang the Bell (as it came to be known) and then displayed it in the Kirkwood High foyer until the next Turkey Day. The Bell stayed put the next year, when the Turkey Day game ended 0-0. Webster first claimed the prize in '53 after walloping Kirkwood 33-13-During the game the Bell is rung repeatedly on the holder's side of the field. When it changes hands—which has happened 33 times—the winning team and its fans typically sweep across the field after the game to lay claim to it.
There is a loser's prize as well, the banged-up Little Brown Jug, which is supposed to be displayed by the defeated school until the next Turkey Day. This tradition actually predates that of the Bell by more than a decade. Both schools have a tendency, however, to misplace the Jug. "I think somebody spotted it in a closet earlier tins year," said Mike Havener, one of the Kirkwood coaches, earlier this season. "I'm sure we'll find it in time to return it to Webster after this year's game."
Great pains are taken by both communities to stress the friendliness of this local feud. The first Turkey Day game was arranged in 1907, it is said, by school administrators looking for a constructive alternative to gang fights in the cornfields among teenagers from the two towns. The tradition used to include pranks. Webster students, the proud orange and black, would scatter the hallways of Kirkwood High with rotting oranges and pumpkins. Kirkwood students countered with tomatoes.
For many years in the 1970s, Carl's Drive Inn, a popular eatery on Manchester Road about halfway between the two schools, was divided right down the middle. Kirkwood students had one half of the restaurant and Webster students the other, and neither group would cross the invisible line, even if the other side was empty. Each group even had its own door. Sometimes food fights would erupt between the rival groups, and sometimes fistfights. In recent years, however, both schools have worked hard to eliminate the more unseemly aspects of their rivalry.