History of the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot

Ray Barbuti

The Turkey Trot, which in recent years begins and ends at the Morris Memorial on Park Row in Chatham, has been a fixture in the Chatham community from its inception at the Chatham Fairgrounds by founder Bill McDowell. The course in later years ran from Crellin Park through the streets of Chatham until several years ago when it was moved to the Morris Memorial.

Bill McDowell got the idea for the race from a news article that was written about Ray Barbuti by a local writer. Rather than going to races outside of the Chatham area on Thanksgiving, he thought it would be fun to organize his own.

The very first Turkey Trot took place on the horse track at the Chatham Fairgrounds in 1977. Local Chatham High School student and runner, John Stimmel, ran solo in the one mile event and Bill McDowell was the lone participant in the 3-mile race, while two spectators, Ray Barbuti and Coach Ed Knight looked on. Bill happily phoned the race results in to a local radio station declaring himself and the young Mr. Stimmel the winners of the first annual Ray Barbuti Turkey Trot! The rest is history.

The race draws most of its entries from the local communities around Chatham and holiday visitors. The race features families who have made this event an annual Thanksgiving tradition.

For many years Kim Costigan, a Chatham elementary school teacher, local resident and a neighbor of Mr. Barbuti’s while growing up, had her fourth grade students create handmade awards to be given to top finishers of the 1 mile and 3 mile event. In recent years, participants of the Morris Memorial’s free after school program have carried this tradition forward. These coveted awards have become a special part of this time-honored event.

The event is named for Ray Barbuti, the 400 meter gold medalist in the 1928 Olympics in Germany, who made his home in Chatham later in life. He lived first on Kinderhook Street in Chatham and later moved to Queechy Lake in Canaan. Mr. Barbuti died at the age of 83 in 1988.