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Where's Sully?

No one has seen Southie's plucky turkey in weeks. Is he one of the departed?

By Billy Baker
Globe Correspondent / November 23, 2008
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Sully, the wild turkey who has become a celebrity in Southie, has not been seen in over a month. On the street, speculation about his whereabouts is rampant. (Chatter about the location of missing characters is, after all, a time-honored tradition in Southie.) With Thanksgiving approaching, things do not look good. Either the turkey's gone on the lam before it got too late, locals say, or it's already too late.

Sully reportedly arrived in the neighborhood more than six months ago with a half-dozen other turkeys, but they all left and he stayed behind and set up a territory in the area around Dorchester Heights. His fame was immediate - There's a wild turkey! Living in Southie! - but the more he hung around, the more he endeared himself. There have been increasing reports of wild turkeys settling in urban areas, but locals say this was no ordinary turkey.

He had a certain strut about him, an attitude. He was cocky. As he made his daily strolls through the neighborhood, he would often stop for long periods to admire his own reflection on car doors. If you stared at him, he would stare right back. He wasn't overly friendly, but he wasn't rude. If you left him alone, he would do the same. And, they say, he was fearless. Barking dogs and beeping cars did nothing to ruffle his feathers. He was, many locals say with pride, a Southie turkey.

"When he first got here, it was like this mania," said Tracy Falcone, who lives on East 6th Street in the heart of Sully's territory. "People would stop their cars. You'd see 20 people taking pictures. Everyone was talking about it. 'Did you see the turkey? Did you see the turkey?' "

Sully spotting became a game, and he made it easy because he seemed to go everywhere. He cruised Broadway; he strolled along L Street; he went to the beach.

When someone posted a fake notice in May in South Boston Online, a local weekly, claiming that the turkey was lost and there was a reward for anyone who found him, the paper received dozens of phone calls from people who complained that the 800 number in the ad didn't work. (They missed the fact that the ad was a joke for someone's birthday, and that the 800 number contained four too many digits.)

On East 8th Street, Sully, and his nonchalant jaywalking, became a part of the daily ritual for those who rode the No. 11 bus in the mornings. "It just fascinated everyone," said John Keller, who drove the morning shift on the No. 11 all summer and estimates he saw Sully between 40 and 50 times. "Everyone would rush to the front of the bus in amazement. The thing was huge, at least three or four feet tall. Sometimes, he'd just be standing there in the middle of the street, in no hurry to move. All the bus drivers liked him; we'd tell each other when he was out so we wouldn't run him over."

On his Facebook page, where "Sully Theturkeyfrom Southie" has nearly 400 "friends," people posted pictures of Sully and left comments urging him to be more careful - "I saw [you] on Columbia the other day, you really should use the traffic lights to cross the street" - and accusing him of infidelities - "Sully, why won't you call my sister back? The baby [probably] isn't even yours . . ."

His presence became so ubiquitous that a local blog, "Platinum Elite," which had gushed over Sully in May and posted photos of the crowds that followed him, pronounced him overexposed in August. "What was once a novelty - almost an anomaly - has become mundane," the blog wrote.

But as summer turned to fall, people on the streets, and on Facebook, became concerned for their new friend. "Hope you have a good hiding spot so you don't become dinner this Thanksgiving," someone joked on Facebook. And sure enough, as the holiday approached, it happened. The turkey disappeared.

Now the big question is: Where's Sully?

On a recent day, a tour of Sully's old stomping grounds found dozens of well-wishers who wanted to show off pictures on their cellphones and share Sully stories. They used to talk about where he came from; now the mystery is where he's gone. Some say he's probably in a freezer. Others claim he moved to Dorchester and is hanging with some other turkeys that have been seen near UMass-Boston. Many, many people offered variations of the same Whitey Bulger joke: Sully got a tip that people were coming for him and took off.

But with the jest there is a real sadness. Sure, he scratched up some cars roofs and pecked on a few windows, but, by and large, people liked this turkey. He'd become a regular, if improbable, part of life in the neighborhood. One parent said his 2-year-old daughter was sad that she couldn't go "turkey hunting" anymore. Frances Zerveskes, an 89-year-old who has lived on East 8th for 60 years, was so worried when she saw him roosting on her neighbor's chimney one cold night that she woke up early the next day to check on him.

"He was still there, but all I could see was his chest and head. The rest was down in the chimney keeping him warm," she said with a palpable pride in the resourcefulness of her feathered friend.

But Zerveskes, like many of the people talking about Sully, seemed genuinely worried that Southie has lost an icon. "He hasn't been around in a month. I hope he's OK," she said, and then her eyes glazed over nostalgically.

"To see him walk down my stairs, like a man, it was . . . It felt impossible. Like something that couldn't be done. A turkey in Southie! I could never believe it."

Billy Baker is originally from South Boston. He can be reached at BillyBaker@gmail.com.

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