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Timeline of a Turtle Hunt

Reprinted from  the Indianapolis Star,  with the kind permission of author John Gutowski. The bold green print indicates events depicted in some form in Turtle Soup.

1898: Reports of a giant, prehistoric turtle in Oscar Fulk’s lake.

CroniesJuly 27, 1948: While fishing in the lake, Ora Blue and Charley Wilson report seeing a giant turtle.

March 10, 1949: After another sighting by Gale Harris, the first press accounts surface, reporting that Oscar the giant turtle had escaped a net made of chicken wire.

March 11: Harris rigs up a periscope for turtle-spotting, using pipe and a piece of glass. Harris vows: “I’m gonna get this doggone turtle out if I have to drain the lake. I’ve been called a liar long enough.”

March 12: As the news spreads via newspapers and radio around the world, 3,000 people watch attempts to snare the turtle.

March 13: Oscar again escapes a makeshift trap; crowd grows to 5,000.

March 14: Local community club votes to help, provides boats, lumber and pipe. It also vows to provide a home for Oscar; a “Turtle Committee” is established.

divingMarch 16: The Chicago Sun-Times donates Navy-surplus diving gear so Fort Wayne diver Woodrow Rigsby can search for Oscar.

March 18: Rigsby goes under, but the helmet leaks and he abandons the dive; two days later, Rigsby disappears.

March 20: Truck headlights added to the periscope for night surveillance.

March 22: Another diver, Walter Johnson, Chesterton, spends more than two hours underwater but has to be rescued when he sinks into the muck of the lake bottom up to his chest.

floating trapMarch 31: Harris signs a contract with professional turtle hunters from Tennessee, bars all spectators from the lake for at least two weeks.

April 4: Trappers devise a funnel-shaped wire trap, baited with rabbits and fish.

April 14: Trappers abandon their efforts; frustrated Harris vows to catch Oscar if he has to dive in himself.

April 16: Rigsby reappears with Johnson. Both spend 90 minutes underwater but see nothing.

April 20: Harris decides to try a commercial fishing net.

April 24: Harris’ net apparently entangles Oscar at the bottom of the lake.

April 27: Oscar tears through the net to freedom.

May 5: Harris announces he may just drain the lake after all.

May 8: A 225-pound female sea turtle is placed in the lake to attract Oscar.

May 12: Harris decides she does nothing for Oscar and goes back to using nets.

May 19: Abandoning nets, Harris begins to drag the lake with nine long hooks welded onto a 2-foot pipe; meanwhile, the strain of staring through the periscope for hours on end begins to give Harris eye trouble.

May 26: An eye specialist orders Harris to give the periscope a break and says he could go blind.

June: Harris takes a break and begins to farm.

July 9: Armed with a harpoon, Harris hooks Oscar; the turtle proceeds to pull Harris’ boat toward shallow water and breaks the line.

July 12: Another sighting is reported when onlookers see the turtle attack a pen of live ducks, which had been placed over a trap.

pumpingSept. 14: After a summer of frustration and constantly accused of being a liar, Harris begins to drain the lake. With permission from the state, he pumps water into a nearby ditch that flows to White Lake. Crowds return to watch.

Sept. 21: Twenty-four-hour pumping lowers the lake from 65 feet to 25 feet. The droves of people watching all summer have left much of Harris’ crops in a shambles.

Sept. 22: The lakeshore begins to sink: Banks cave in; deep fissures open in the land around the shore; a pickup sinks into the muck. The 7-acre lake is reduced to a 2-acre lake while more than 500 watch.

Sept. 24: A Chicago Tribune reporter barely escapes death when he falls into a 12-foot-deep crevice and is buried in the muck; it takes five farmers to pull him out.

Sept. 29: Harris captures a 52-pound turtle in a trap baited with beef lungs, but it’s no Oscar.

Oct. 2: With Fulk Lake down to 1 acre in size and 20 feet deep, the tractor engine running the pump breaks down.

Oct. 9: Harris once again turns to a harpoon and claims to hook Oscar but loses him, again, when his boat is nearly overturned; with pumping resumed, the lake is barely 5 feet deep.

Oct. 20: As the water drains away, a 17-ton crane is positioned on shore to raise Oscar from the muck, using steel nets. “T-Day” is set for Oct. 23; crowds are estimated in the hundreds during the week and more than 2,000 on weekends.

Oct. 23: Attempts to maneuver the crane fail.

Nov. 3: The operation is halted when bearings on the crane burn out.

Nov. 20: Harris is hospitalized with appendicitis.

Dec. 19: Recovered, Harris resumes his search, looking for a hole in the ice that covers what is left of the lake.

Jan. 5, 1950: A dam used to hold water back from the lake gives way, sending pipes, boats, traps and a tractor rushing back in. Heavy rains and melting ice continue to refill Fulk’s Lake.

Aug. 23, 1950: Harris, deep in debt, must auction off his 120-acre farm and lake; listed on the items to sell: one large turtle net, 200 feet long by 32 feet wide.


Source: Star clippings and John Gutowski

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