The Pilgrims Didn't Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving; It Was Goose, Argues Quill Penmaker Glaser
One of the prized perks of the U.S. Supreme Court is an unfailing supply of goose quill pens, similar to those used by the Founding Fathers. Nib supplier to the Court since 1954 has been Lewis Glaser, 80. Although he whittles seven days a week in his Charlottesville, Va. workshop, and turns out some 50,000 quill pens a year, Glaser groans that the demand is insatiable.
Chief Justice Burger, one of Glaser's chief honkers, likes to hand them out as mementos and once gave a goose quill pen to Soviet Chairman Brezhnev. And of the 20 quill pens Glaser supplies to the Court each day, 18 are purloined by visiting lawyers before nightfall. (No one on the Court actually uses them because inkwells are unavailable.) Congress gobbles them up at bill-signing time; a U.S. senator once gave Glaser an urgent order for a batch of 100. One of Glaser's happiest moments was being present in July 1976 when House Speaker Carl Albert presented Queen Elizabeth with one of his goose quill pens, just like the one used by her ancestor George III.
Nor are quills the end of Glaser's goosemania. As Thanksgiving approaches, he enjoys trundling out his arguments that on the first one in Plymouth the Pilgrims ate goose, not turkey. He waves aside Gov. William Bradford's statement, in his History of Plimoth Plantation, that in 1621 "ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many." The only record of what the Pilgrims actually ate during their three-day outdoor feast comes from another Pilgrim, Edward Winslow, who lists venison, duck, goose, clams, eels, corn bread, leeks, watercress and "sallet herbes," topped off with plums and dried berries, all washed down with wild grape wine—but no turkeys.
"The turkey then didn't weigh more than five pounds," Glaser contends. "It was a wild, poorly nourished woodland bird." All that running through the woods made its meat tough and fibrous. "There is as much difference between the turkeys then and now," he declares, "as between the Mayflower and the Concorde."
Raised in a Chicago orphanage, Glaser met his first goose while working on a farm in Wisconsin as a teenager. After graduating from the University of Illinois College of Agriculture in 1922, he took a job in New York writing ad copy for farm products. Weekends he raised geese on an upstate farm. When World War II cut off imports of goose down for aviator suit linings and sleeping bags, Glaser helped New England farmers breed geese. After the war he studied the art of quill making, and in 1954 President Eisenhower invited him to the White House and urged him to turn full-time quill maker, saying, "It might help give our young people a better sense of American history." Says Glaser: "I accepted this as an order from my Commander in Chief."
One of his first requests came from the U.S. Supreme Court, which since 1801 had been using 10-inch white quill pens until their London supplier died in 1945. These days Glaser, a widower since the 1940s (he has one son, William, 53, a professor at Columbia, and three grandchildren), is choosy about his clientele. He is willing to sell to historical societies and buffs ($15 for matched quills in a pewter inkwell) and finds what he calls "cheap Coney Island" mass trade as repugnant as the ball-point pen. "Oh, they work sometimes," he sniffs.
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