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Arthur (Turkey) Gehrke

1883 - 1942


"Turkey's Roost" 416 E Main


For more than 25 years Arthur E. (Turkey) Gehrke had been in the habit of

going to bed early in November and staying there until April. 

Turkey”gained wide fame from his hibernating practice.


This mural depicting highlights of the life and career of Arthur "Turkey" Gehrke graces the wall of his former tavern. 

Turkey's claim to fame was he slept through the every winter, never rising from his bed until spring.

Mural painted by Vance Hull and Sherry Ertl.


416 E Main (1977)


Portion of image WHS_005_837


1936      Death of Grace Gehrke

02 24     Leaving Bed is an Ordeal, Turkey Finds. 

Arthur E. (Turkey) Gehrke, whose annual hibernations was broken for the first time yesterday when his wife, Grace, 48, died unexpectedly of a heart attack, was up today and making arrangements for her funeral.  It was the first time in about 25 years that he had left his bed in winter to resume normal hours.  It was evident he found it an ordeal.  Cold weather makes him feel ill.  He went to the Nowack Funeral Home and to the parsonage to arrange for the burial service, but he traveled in an automobile equipped with a heater.


In the 22 years of their married life, Gehrke depended upon his wife to manage his tavern business during the winter.  Gracie, as his wife was affectionately known, always defended his hibernation.


The Rev. K. J. Berbner of the Immanuel Church will officiate at the services tomorrow.  The Woman’s Relief Corps and the Royal Neighbors of American, in which Mrs. Gehrke held membership, will attend.   Milw Sentinel



12 13       “Turkey Acquires Galoshes, Ready for Colder Days

It begins to look as though the annual hibernations of Arthur (Turkey) Gehrke, Watertown tavern keeper, are at an end – he’s bought a huge pair of galoshes.


For 27 winters Turkey has dived beneath the blankets each fall when the cold winds howled and the mercury shriveled, and stayed in bed until spring.  Today he expressed confidence he would stay up all winter.  He has a bet of $25 that he will be up and around on New Year’s Day and he says it’s “in the bag.”


Each morning Turkey arises at 6 o’clock and strolls around town before he takes up his stand behind the bar. 


He’s proud of the galoshes – the first pair he has owned in more than a quarter of century.


“Believe me, I’ll be using them plenty,” he grinned.


He resumed bowling recently for the first time in 27 years and has been getting a lot of fun out of it.


Besides, he’s been going to wrestling matches with Tubby Reinhard.   WDT



01 16 1942


For more than 25 years Arthur E. (Turkey) Gehrke of Watertown had been in the habit of going to bed early in November and staying there until April.  Last November Gehrke took to his room above his tavern here, but the 59 year old tavern keeper will not be up again in April. He died at the Watertown hospital.


Gehrke, whose sleeping habits earned him international fame, was suffering from an anemic condition at his death, a physician said.  The once portly tavern operator had shrunk to less than 150 pounds.  Emil Kwapil, his bartender, said that Gehrke had begun to complain of not feeling well last summer.  He began to lose weight but refused to summon a doctor.  Early in November he took to his room.  Two weeks ago he gave in to urging of his sisters and friends and a doctor advised that he enter a hospital. Gehrke refused until the night before his death.


Gehrke gained wide fame from his hibernating practice.  A Dr. Samuel Plahner, a psychiatrist, had visited Gehrke in September, 1935.  Dr. Plahner heard Gehrke explain why he took to bed every winter to keep from getting sick and having an operation and dying.  Dr. Plahner reported that the 215 pound tavern keeper was a "typical case of mixed compulsion and anxiety neurosis" because of a shock experience resulting in an illness from a liver ailment.


Because Gehrke found that staying in bed for a few weeks allayed his suffering, the psychiatrist added, he came to believe that the advent of cold weather, when his attacks recurred annually, meant that he should go to bed to prevent them.  Retiring to his room each winter made Gehrke unhappy because it cut him off from the community and condemned him to inactivity, Dr. Plahner said.  Gehrke would lose about 10 pounds each winter.


The story was widely circulated by press associations in this country and Gehrke subsequently was asked to appear on radio programs. The London (England) Times even called Gehrke by transatlantic telephone to verify his story in connection with another man, a Norman justice of the peace, who also had gained fame by staying in bed for long periods.


Few occasions ever caused Gehrke to interrupt his hibernations. Some years he would not go to bed until after the November elections.  Once he was forced to report for jury service but was excused because of illness.  Another time he left his room to pay a court fine for a liquor violation.  And he stayed up through New Year's Eve one year to win a $25 bet.


Gehrke was proud of his late wife's forbearance, often declaring that she understood why he had to hibernate every year and made no effort to dissuade him from the practice.  She died about five years ago.


He got his nickname, "Turkey," when he was a boy because it happened to occur to one of his pals that "turkey" rhymed with his name, he once explained.


Buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. 



When “Turkey” Visited New York


Death of Arthur “Turkey” Gehrke today

recalled his visit to New York with a

Watertown bowling team in April, 1937


  Watertown Daily Times, 01 17 1942

    Article includes group photo in front of café/tavern


Watertown’s most renowned resident, Arthur E. “Turkey” Gehrke, died at St. Mary’s hospital at 7:50 o’clock this morning.  He had entered the hospital last night, being taken there in the Krueger ambulance after he had been ill at his apartment, above his tavern at 416 Main Street, since November.  He died in his sleep.


In 1935 he won almost universal attention as the “human hibernator” and as a result was publicized in newspapers all over the world, in addition to an avalanche of national publicity which he received in this country from newspapers and press associations.


Always “afraid” of hospitals, he had resisted being taken to one until his condition he was critically ill. His condition was described as acute anemia.  For years he had complained that cold weather gave him severe stomach pains which could be relieved only by a long sojourn in bed.  Thus he developed the habit of retiring annually with the first sign of severe cold and of remaining in bed until spring when the first thaw marked the breakup of winter.


Won Fame in 1935


Prior to 1935 this had been his habit each year for something like 25 years.  It attracted only passing attention in Watertown and some of his friends looked upon it as something a little queer, but not too much out of the ordinary for a man like Turkey who was so situated that he could go to bed and stay there as he pleased.  His tavern business continued to run without him. 


It was in 1935 that the habit was publicized and the next day Turkey awoke to find himself a national figure.  Soon after the press of Europe, carrying stories about him, made him a sort of international news figure and one day he was aroused from his hibernation to answer a long distance telephone call.  He heard a voice say: “Hello I say, are you there, Turkey?  Are you in bed?”


The call was from London.  The famous newspaper, the London Times, known as “The Thunderer,” had become interested in Turkey’s case and put in a trans-Atlantic telephone call for an interview.  The paper had first called the Watertown Daily Times which had the call transferred to Turkey’s home.


“I could hear the man just as plain as though he was calling me from a phone next door,” Turkey said after the interview.


German newspapers, as well as papers in Poland, Hungary, Russia, Italy and from countries all over the globe, printed stories about “the man who slept through the winter like a bear.”


Tourists Demand a Look


Turkey’s fame spread Tourists began to read and talk about him, heard about him on the radio and many routed their trips through Watertown to visit his tavern which became familiarly known as “Turkey’s Roost.” They all wanted a glimpse of the rotund and jolly figure of Gehrke.  He was up and about most of the spring and summer and early fall. He loved big league baseball games and it was his contention that he was up with the crack of the first bat against a ball in the spring training of the major teams.  He was a follower of the Chicago Cubs and saw a number of big league games each season over a period of many years.


Gehrke was born in Watertown 59 years ago.  He was a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. August Gehrke, the family being well known and highly regarded in the community.


There are four sisters, Mrs. August Melcher and Mrs. Arnold Gauerke, Watertown; Mrs. August Krueger, Mankato, Minn., and Mrs. Albert Radke, Waupun.  A brother and three sisters preceded him in death.


His wife, the former Grace Schramck of Milwaukee, died in 1936.


Part of City’s Saga


Turkey became part of the legend of Watertown, famous for its quiet and friendly humor of a comfortable and placid community where “Gemuetichkeit” is the watchword.


There have been many accounts of how he acquired the name “Turkey.” He wasn’t sure himself, but he believed it resulted from a small boy’s version of how to pronounce Gehrke. The boy, a favorite of Gehrke’s, was with him so often that patrons of his place picked up the nickname and made it stick.






Watertown Daily Times, 01 10 1967


The Turkey Gehrke Story, the saga of Watertown’s famed hibernating tavern keeper, has broken into the news again, this time in the National Observer, a weekly newspaper which reprints the article that Robert W. Wells wrote for the Milwaukee Journal some months back.


The story has been told and retold many times in the Daily Times over a period of many years but first attracted national- and international-attention in 1935 after the late Richard S Davis of the Journal made a trip to Watertown to see for himself and write the story of Turkey Gehrke.


The Wells article as it appears in the National Observer follows:


It has been 25 years since the death of Turkey Gehrke, but his name still comes up in Wisconsin about this time of year.  Since the white men settled this north country under the misapprehension that it was habitable the year around, Arthur E. Gehrke was the only one to figure out a satisfactory way to deal with a Wisconsin winter:  He would hibernate-stay in bed-from November to April.


The overweight tavern keeper from nearby Watertown attained some prominence in his day. Each winter, when he took to his bed, the papers dutifully noted the fact as a sure sign of snow and sub-zero weather ahead.  The notion of a hibernating human attracted interest as far away as London, where the Times recorded Turkey’s habits as an example of what goes on in the former colonies.


As with many men who have attained their goal in life, Turkey had the help of a good woman.  His wife, Grace, accepted his hibernation without public complaint and brought him the one meal a day he ate during his dormant period.


When Grace died, there were those who supposed that Gehrke would become like other Wisconsinites, suffering through a season not fit for man or beast.  But when next November came, he crawled between the covers of his bed in a room above his tavern. The bartender of the establishment known as “Turkey’s Roost” sent him two sandwiches and a glass of milk each day on a dumbwaiter rigged up between the bar and bedroom.


Gehrke was about 30 when he started his annual hibernations and kept them up until he died at 59. He began in a small way. The first year, he went to bed for only a few weeks during the worst of the weather.  But before long he had the hang of it and was able to fight down any foolish impulse to get up and fire the furnace or shovel the walk.  On one occasion, a building next door caught fire during his hibernation.  Friends shouted to him to run for his life.  He rolled over, looked out the window, decided the tavern probably wouldn’t burn down, and stayed where he was. 


It is also recorded that he was once subpoenaed to testify before a Federal court.  He sent back word that he’d be glad to testify, providing they’d carry him there in his bed.  The lawyers decided to let the matter drop.


There is a myth that he stuck with his hibernation no matter what happened. That is not quite true.  One year he stayed up until New Year’s to win a $25 bet.  Once he had to report for jury duty, but was quickly excused and hurried back to bed.  On another occasion he had to leave to pay a fine for a liquor violation.


But three instances of backsliding in 29 years only show the man was human.  The bear stirs out of its den now and then in winter too.


As for Turkey Gehrke’s record, it seems safe.  Each year, when the wind begins to howl outside Wisconsin homes and taverns and the snow comes slanting across the streets and fields, some of us consider following his method.  So far, it is just talk.  It is too hard to find a wife that understands.


Mr. Gehrke died on Jan. 16, 1942 at what was then St. Mary’s Hospital here after a brief illness. He was 59.


How did he get the name “Turkey?”  It was because a little boy  in his neighborhood couldn’t pronounce the word :Gehrke” and called him what sounded like “Turkey” and the name stuck




Kiessling, Elmer C., Watertown Remembered (Watertown: Watertown Historical Society), 1976, p 137-38


In 1935 the name of one of our citizens became a household word on two continents when it was revealed that Arthur "Turkey" Gehrke, a jolly, rotund tavern- keeper, had been hibernating like a bear each winter for 25 years. He used to creep under the covers in the middle of November and emerge each spring when the baseball teams began practicing, for he was a great baseball fan, the Cubs being his favorites. 


A Chicago Daily Times reporter first heard about the strange phenomenon and mentioned it to some newsmen in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Journal sent out its star reporter, Richard S. Davis, with a cameraman, to get the details. Turkey was a bit suspicions at first, but soon warmed up to the affable questioner and provided Davis with all the material he needed to write a rattling good story. It was printed in the Journal and was picked up by newspapers all over the country and Europe.


The dignified London Times called up Turkey by telephone, greeting him with these words: "Hello, I say, are you there, Turkey? Are you in bed?" A famous London haberdashery sent him one dozen fine silk pajamas. Robert L. Ripley persuaded him to come to New York to appear on his' "Believe It Or Not" radio program. Turkey made a surprisingly good impression. People stopped in at his tavern, popularly called "Turkey's Roost," just to see what a human hibernator looked like, and Dr. Samuel Plahner, a Milwaukee psychiatrist, came out to give him a psychological once-over. Plahner concluded that "Mr. Gehrke is a typical case of mixed compulsion and anxiety neurosis." He used to suffer from cramps and pains every November until he went to bed for a few days. It seemed like a good idea to forestall the aches and pains by going to bed in the first place and staying there.


Turkey was fond of children, even though he had none of his own, and one little boy who was a good friend unwittingly gave him his nickname when he mispronounced Gehrke as Turkey. During the time of his annual dormant state, Turkey's wife carried on the tavern business. But when she died in 1936 [Gehrke, Grace F., b. 1888, d. 1936], he had to depend on employees. In 1940 November was mild, and Turkey thought he might be able to break his habit, but he failed. The following year he returned as usual to "the pleasant land of counter-pane" at the onset of cold weather. But after a snooze of only two months he became ill and had to be taken to the hospital, where he died in his sleep, at 59, January 16, 1942.


Cross References:

   WHS_005_837   James D. Kehr, Charles Kehr, “Turkey Gehrke,” Orville Kehr standing in front of cafe at 416 Main St.   07 20 1937


“Watertown was home to hibernating ‘Turkey,’”  Wisconsin State Journal article, Doug Moe, 10 16 2008