S.C. 'King of Box Call' to receive folk award

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Mon, Apr. 22, 2002  

S.C. 'King of Box Call' to receive folk award

Master turkey caller one of five selected for Folk Heritage Award at State House this week

By JEFFREY DAY, The State.com Staff Writer

In the world of people who want to attract wild turkeys, Neil Cost is called "The Stradivarius of Turkey."

He's also been dubbed "King of the Box Call" for the turkey calls he makes.

"I haven't made one in three years, it's over and done with," said Cost, 78, of Greenwood.

Failing health, including poor vision in his one remaining eye, has brought to an end nearly 70 years of making the turkey calls.

"No call maker has had more influence on the craft than Neil Cost," said Donna Branch of the National Wild Turkey Federation, based in Edgefield. "He's known all over, but I don't think he's been recognized as well as he should be."

South Carolina will remedy that when it honors Cost, who's lived in the state since the 1940s, along with four others with an S.C. Folk Heritage Award. The awards were created by the state Legislature in 1986; this year's will be given at noon Wednesday in the State House.

The South Carolina Folk Heritage Award is nothing if not broad in its recognition of the state's artists and craftsmen.

Other winners this year are R&B legend James Brown of Aiken, the Together as One Hymn Choir of York County, sweetgrass basket maker Harriett Bailem Brown of Mount Pleasant, and instrument builder Jennings Chestnut of Conway.

"A soul singer and a turkey call makerthat takes it," said Cost, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who served in World War II and the Korean War. "When I was a little boy, it was hard times. To think I could ever go this far is unbelievable."

Cost grew up in Oklahoma, where he shot his first wild turkey at age 7.

"I didn't even know what it was," he said.

No one was using calls to lure the birds to hunters in his area, but American Indians used a combination of methods. They'd make sounds with their voices, by blowing across leaves, and by rubbing sticks together. "They could make most any sound," Cost said.

Cost made his first call when he was 12. A few years later, he made a box or boat-paddle call, the kind of call for which he's become famous. It's a hollow, wooden box across which a scraper is drawn.

Cost, who is also an author and a conservationist, has made about 5,000 calls in his career.

He made them for fun and for friends, but he kept getting requests. Trying to discourage all the interest, Cost started charging for them, $3.25 each. When that didn't work, he raised the price to $3.75.

"They wanted them even worse," said Cost, who spent 20 years in the Army.

The price kept going up. So did the demand.

"The last one sold for, well, it sold for a hell of a lot of money," he said with a laugh. "But I gave away more than I ever sold."

Cost's calls have brought $15,000 at auction.
 

Don

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I read about Neil Cost when I first started turkey hunting.  I thought at the time how I would like to have one of his calls.  Then I found out he had stopped making them and how much they now cost.

It's great to see that someone involved with the sport of hunting receiving an award such as this.
 

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