Turtle Town USA
06/08/2003
This week’s pleasure came from many different folks around the midwest – in fact, car plates from Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, and Minnesota outnumbered our local Michigan tabs. Each and every person became good friends of Brigadoon, and my new motto comes from Mary of Millington, Tennessee: "I never meet a stranger". Boy, is that true in this business, as would-be strangers become part of my ever-extended family.

I do need to tell you about a unique couple from a unique town in Indiana. Jeff & Kathleen dropped in on us for a couple of nights, in a getaway from raising their 4 children. As we talked over breakfast and throughout the day, I came to learn that they consider their lives to be "normal" and "regular", taking place in a small town near Fort Wayne. Not interesting? Not exactly, I said, as they described the history and folklore on which their town of Churubusco is based. You see, the town is known as Turtle Town USA, and this story is quite the interesting and amusing one. This story is authored by Robin R. Plastere of the Commercial Mail & Post - I couldn’t have told it better …

Fifty years ago on March 7 (1949), The Commercial Mail & The Post first reported a story telling about a turtle as big as a dining room tabletop found near Churubusco. The Whitley County Clerk wrote the story and after a Cincinnati man heard of the turtle he placed a top price of $1,800 on it.

The next day the 'owner' of the turtle was revealed as Gale Harris. Bill Kellogg, copy editor of The News~Sentinel gave the turtle the name of "Oscar." The Journal Gazette named him "The Beast of Busco."

It all began on July 27, 1948, when Ora Blue and Charlie Wilson, brothers-in-law of Gale Harris, had their fishing rudely interrupted by Oscar, who suddenly surfaced alongside their boat. They said his back was bigger than the boar and his head the size of a childs.

Oscar Fulk, the original owner of the property, reported seeing the turtle in 1898. Harris and townspeople reported they actually had the turtle trapped in about 10 feet of water off the shore in a trap consisting of chicken wire but Oscar was too strong and broke out.

At the same time, Del Winegardner climbed up in a tree and took films of Oscar. Merl Leitch and Dailey Fogle claim they saw the turtle in the film, that it was clearly visible just beneath the water level and was every bit as big as Blue and Wilson claimed.

Amidst rumors and questioning the truthfulness of the Harris families tale Whitley County Assessor Lewis Geiger, whose home was near Fulks Lake, where Oscar was spotted, he said his neighbors were 'honest people' and spoke 'gospel truth.'

On March 10 Kenneth Leitch, owner of West Side Garage in Churubusco, made the hooks to catch the turtle. Bob Shlater, today a Churubusco councilman, flew over the lake looking for the monster from an airplane owned by Carl Sheldon and Ed Keckley.

On March 11, O.E. Jones, Churubusco, former owner of the farm said some fellows had told him about a big turtle. "I said it was my Black Angus cow swimming around," he had replied. Tracks extending 10-15 feet were found in the mud. It was recommended that Governor Henry Schricker form a "Department of Conversation."

Richard Dueter, a photographer from a Fort Wayne newspaper and former sailor with the United States Navy, suggested fixing a piece of pipe with glass on the bottom to look through the murky water. Dueter and a reporter from the Indianapolis Times said they saw Oscar. Harris saw two different shell patterns.

During the week of March 13 airplanes flew over the small lake on Madden Road, east of Churubusco, cars moved bumper to bumper, tying up traffic in Churubusco. At night two or three dozen men brought lights to the lake.

Ralph Bunn hauled in a 'young silo' of a trap, made from quarter inch pipe fastened to a buggy wheel. The men tore up a fence, pushing the stakes into the lake bottom around the trap. But Oscar escaped anyhow.

On March 14th, Leitch wouldn't divulge his plans for a new trap and when asked if he was getting anything done at his garage he replied, "Gosh, no!"

Elmer Witrout, Noble County Game Warden, gave his OK to the turtle-catching.

On March 15, the Harris family, including Helen, gale, son Vaughn and nephew Keith, expressed they wished people would stop calling him up so he could finish making a rope net.

Controversy surrounded the beast when John C. MacFarlane, general manager of the Indiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said, "Oscar should not be harpooned."

James Kirtley, president of the Churubusco Community Club got 'discouraging' news about his request to the U.S. Coast Guard to borrow an old diving suit. Ben S. Mayno, of Elowah, Tennessee, wrote the turtle was his, that it had escaped from his carnival.

"We get letters from all over," said Helen Harris. "Some of them aren't very nice."

The next day, a diving helmet arrived. Woodrow Rigsby refused to go in the cold water clad only in shorts and grease and full diving suit arrived.

On March 19 the Harris family began selling coffee and hot dogs.

Diver Rigsby went down but the helmet leaked so he came back up. The search was called off.

The Harris's counted more than 400 cars an hour passing by their home.

On March 21, the search resumed with a stovepipe viewer containing a seated beam headlight. Diver Walter Johnson of Chesterton spent two and a half hours in Fulks Lake. He gave up when he sank to his chest in muck.

On March 22, Mike Shea, photographer for Life Magazine took 299 photos, none of which were used.

Later in the spring a female turtle was brought form Florida to lure Oscar whose sex was accepted as male. The lake was drained and the trees fell in.

On September 24, a truck fell in.

A year later a turtle trap was listed among the farm machinery sold at the auction of the Glen Harris farm and was purchased by a man from Chicago.

On August 10, 1955, some 150 yards of Madden Road, which borders Fulks Lake, disappeared into the swampy area. Residents blamed the turtle hunt.

The town hosted a festival the next summer, and does to this day, and dubbed it Turtle Days. The festival is a fundraiser and helped build the Churubusco Community Park. Money raised from Turtle Days goes back to the Churubusco community.


Ah yes, I never meet a stranger at Brigadoon. But then again, I hope I never meet the likes of Oscar either.

Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms. George Eliot

Until next week!

Sherree Hyde
Innkeeper/Owner
Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast
www.mackinawbrigadoon.com