Buzzard Day in Hinckley – 1976
Our intent with the Buzzard as our mascot was to maintain its mystique. The character was depicted in all sorts of ways through print ads, animated TV spots, and merchandising. We eventually added our Buzzard van and giant inflatable – and sponsored a Buzzard racecar and speedboat. By the early eighties, we even had our Buzzard prominently displayed on Pat Brady’s traffic-reporting airplane. Artist David Helton occasionally made personal appearances to draw and sign Buzzards.
One real problem with the Buzzard came up, unintentionally – and ironically, when we tried a partnership with Hinckley – the Medina County township, 20-miles south of Cleveland, that officially observed the annual return of its buzzards, which are actually turkey vultures, with Buzzard Day. Since the late 1950s, it’s been a folksy event featuring a pancake breakfast sponsored by the chamber of commerce at the local elementary school. Celebrated on the first Sunday closest to March 15th, the “official” date, some see the buzzards return as a first sign of spring. It ‘s Hinckley’s version of the swallows returning to Capistrano, California. It seemed like a natural for us.
The choice of the Buzzard as the WMMS mascot had nothing to do with Hinckley. In fact, we did not learn of Hinckley’s Buzzard Day until a listener from the area tipped us off to it.
We pitched to become an official sponsor in 1976, which amounted to contributing on-air mentions of it. For doing so, we’d get a couple of well-placed WMMS banners at the event. We didn’t make a big deal of it, but we tried to find a place in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Hinckley Reservation for an appropriate acoustic musical performance. We didn’t succeed in that, but Hinckley was excited about our participation. Neither they nor we had any idea what it would bring to a typically gray March day.
It literally became a victim of its own success. An unprecedented crowd – tens of thousands – arrived, and the two-lane road Hinckley came to a gridlocked standstill. The park was jammed. To the regulars, it was an invasion. So many gave up trying to get into the all-day pancake breakfast that it did less business than usual. It was like Woodstock had come to town, complete with long-haired pot smokers. Rumors spread that John Bassette would be performing with Alex Bevan, or that a rock festival was taking place somewhere in the park. Hinckley was furious!
Dan Garfinkel, who was our promotion and marketing director at the time, adds this: I was in Tempe, Arizona that weekend, in my role as Buzzard Film Critic, for a junket during the making of A Star is Born, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. It was only when I came in on Monday morning that I learned of the Vandals and Goths descending on Hinckley to sack and pillage. If memory serves, on Thursday of that week, I showed up at the Hinckley Town Council meeting with a check for $5,000. The check was still warm from my hands when I was in my car and headed out of town in a cloud of dust. That was March, 1976.
The following year, the Buzzard had no part of Buzzard Day. We were asked not to even mention it. At Hinckley Elementary School, where drawing a buzzard was an annual assignment, a parent told me kids were warned that anyone drawing the WMMS Buzzard would get an automatic D.
Here’s a video from a former WMMS listener who was living in Hinckley on that Buzzard Day in March, 1976. You’ll enjoy it.
Here’s some local news footage of a recent Buzzard Day.