Learn more about an extreme example of that famous New England thriftiness in this look back at the New Hampshire Roadkill Auction.
By Joe Bills
May 16 2019
From the early 1980s until the mid-1990s, the New Hampshire Roadkill Auction appealed to a very special sort of bargain hunter.Photo Credit : Pixabay
When it comes to Yankee frugality, my home state might just take the cake — especially if that cake is made with highway-harvested ingredients. Welcome to the wonderful world of the New Hampshire Roadkill Auction.
Right from the start, I should admit that the roadkill auction has not been held in many years. But it was popular in its day, and when Jud Hale, Yankee’s longtime editor and an all-around font of New England lore, mentioned this macabre fund-raiser during a recent staff meeting at Yankee, my morbid curiosity demanded the details.
Back in 1990, Yankee devoted most of its September issue to celebrating the sometimes-outrageous thrift of New Englanders, including gems like imaginative uses for earwax, and meals that actually get better when served as leftovers. After it was published, there was a flood of letters from readers who felt that their creative recycling of worn-out socks and cotton from pill bottles might earn them, too, a spot in the pantheon of cheap. Yankee received so many tips and tricks, in fact, that the editors decided to make a contest out of it all. The grand prize? A some-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl of Thrift: the New Hampshire Roadkill Auction.
As far as I can tell, the first roadkill auction was held in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1981. It was successful enough to warrant a sequel, which in turn drew a somewhat larger crowd. And so it went, with each annual event outdrawing its predecessor.
Throughout the year, the animals that Fish and Game officials collected from New Hampshire roadways were frozen and stored until auction day, when they’d be browsed by potential buyers. Deer and moose were typically excluded, as usually they were given to the motorist who hit them or butchered and donated to soup kitchens.
When Jim Collins wrote about a visit to the auction in the December 1993 issue of Yankee, he observed that the frozen bobcats were “cute,” and one of the gray foxes was “gorgeous.” But, he continued, “I couldn’t look at the bears, at least not for very long. They were the first thing I saw as I turned from the hallway into the viewing area… five rows of frozen, rigid lumps of black fur on the cement floor, 31 bears in all…” He goes into more detail, but I think you can probably visualize the scene well enough. Let’s just say the animals were sold “as is.”
Bidders came from near and far. Many were taxidermists (amateur and professional), and some were seeking furs or scientific specimens. Some were just curious. And a few, ignoring the state’s repeated warnings against consuming purchases, were looking for cheap food.
Sealed bids were collected for each carcass, with the results tallied at the end of the event. The year that Collins attended, the auction raised nearly $5,000, a new record. Proceeds benefited “natural history education,” although nothing I read detailed exactly what that meant.
The fun (if that’s what it was) wouldn’t last, however. A mid-1990s rabies scare hit the roadkill auction where it hurt most: in the pocketbook. The cost of protecting participants and employees from the disease would be prohibitive, the risks too great. So, just like that, New Hampshire’s strangest fund-raiser was gone.
Our roads have only gotten busier in the years since, of course, and budgets have gotten tighter. Nationwide, the Humane Society estimates that one million animals have fatal encounters with vehicles every day. Roadkill laws vary widely from state to state, but it isn’t uncommon for game wardens to have lists of people and organizations that would have use for deer, or bears, or moose. As far as I can tell, however, New Hampshire still stands alone when it comes to places that have cashed in on its dead.