Take a drive through Old Wethersfield, CT and he's hard to miss. Kevin, the wild Old Wethersfield turkey, puffs with personality. So much in fact that he got 65 votes for different positions in the recent town elections. He also has over 5,000 Facebook followers, with 1,000 of those coming his way over the last month.
"My girlfriend that works with me, she lives here in Wethersfield, and she told us about Kevin and his Facebook,” said South Windsor resident Shauna Silvia. Her daughter-in-law was in town from Washington, D.C., and wanted to see this famous feathered politician.
"It was amazing to see him,” she continued. “He was under the tree over here, and then the traffic just stopped, because it started to get dark. And he walked across the street so he could go to bed."
Todd Winfield was visiting from Mississippi for Thanksgiving. He said Kevin embodies the cultural differences between the north and south.
"Where we're from we shoot 'em,” he said. He had just walked over to Kevin for a quick chat, and a friendly warning.
"I was telling him, ‘It's turkey day, so you better be careful’."
Kevin's become an unofficial mascot for the town, drawing in tourists and inspiring local businesses. On a Sunday afternoon, the Old Wethersfield Country Store bustles with customers. Toward the back -- across from the LEGO display -- there's an entire floor-to-ceiling rack filled with nothing but Kevin-themed memorabilia.
There's little Kevin onesies for babies; there's a ‘This year we'll stick to the veggies plate, Kevin 2017’ platter. There are ornaments, team Kevin shirts, Christmas with Kevin candles, calendar, mugs, glasses, you name it.
"Early September when we saw him down on the intersection near the church, we started selling just a few things as a joke,” said store co-owner Megan Kirk. She guessed that she's sold over 150 calendars and hundreds of mugs since the “joke” started. But now, it's a thriving part of her business.
"So we have a couple of local vendors,” she said. “I do have a school teacher over in New Britain who teaches preschool and she has a very creative crafting, ya know, side hustle business that she does. I do have a local photographer, George Savic, and he does the calendars, puzzles, books. And we use a local graphic designer out of Hartford and he did the T-shirts for us."
Being a turkey, Kevin doesn't get a cut, but he does get free food from residents and tourists. And here's where the controversy starts, because the food keeps him around.
"It's kind of a mixed bag, you know what I mean? He's cute, but he's dangerous,” said Phil Arthmann, a town resident who lives just up the street from where Kevin has been hanging out. "And he just walks into traffic, and people have to go around him, ya know, and he could cause accidents."
It's true. Some people stop in the road to snap a photo, and Kevin wanders up to their window. That's when the traffic starts. And the horns.
Some people want Kevin to stay put, and others want him removed, because he could cause an accident or get himself killed. Both sides say they love Kevin. So what's a town to do?
"Generally, we recommend leaving animals where they are, because animals choose a habitat because it suits their needs,” said Laura Simon, president of the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. "It sounds nice to relocate him to a better area, but relocated animals don't always do well, because it's plucking them out of a habitat they know and putting them in some place foreign."
Officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection agree. They tried to catch and relocate Kevin but he escaped. Now, they recommend leaving him where he is.
But people in town and across the state are still in a heated debate over what to do. Things got so bad that Kevin's Facebook page split into two groups. One of them is a secret page only accessible to members. Members declined to comment for this story, saying they were afraid of backlash.
For now, he’s staying put. With Thanksgiving around the corner, people say he’s been keeping a low profile. He once went missing for an entire day, which led to speculation about his whereabouts.
Shop owner Megan Kirk said Kevin has even inspired some people to go vegetarian for Thanksgiving, or eat a different meat. But she’s staying traditional.
"I'm gonna eat turkey this Thanksgiving, but it's not going to be Kevin, it's just going to be somebody else,” she said.
That turkey probably won’t have a name and a Facebook following.
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.