Many Presidents have been credited with the annual Thanksgiving tradition of our nation’s leader pardoning one feathered, feast-dodging friend. According to The White House Historical Association, President Lincoln’s 1863 clemency is one possible origin for the annual pardoning. It has also been reported that President Lincoln’s young son, Tad, grew fond of the turkey on the grounds of the property and petitioned his father to offer the bird some grace. Beyond that, there are many other explanations and origins. Prior to recent history, reports of turkeys as gifts to the White House during the 19th century have contributed to the ongoing tradition. Over the years, many individuals and organizations have supplied turkeys to the President of the United States, but it wasn’t until 1989 when President George H.W. Bush made the ceremony official. In the spirit of Thanksgiving and showing gratitude for our blessings, it’s doubtful that any President would discontinue the tradition, as it’s one of the few occasions carried out at the White House which is almost completely void of any political contention.
This year’s pardon in the Rose Garden ceremony was granted to 47-pound Drumstick who defeated Wishbone in an online Twitter poll, although both birds will be pardoned with Wishbone being the alternate. Fortunately for Drumstick, no pre-election allegations relating to his sexually deviant past at the farm were brought into play. Both birds enjoyed luxe accommodations during their stay in the Capitol City spending the evening prior to the celebration at the historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel just blocks away from the White House. In true rockstar fashion, the hotel room was adjusted to cater to the birds’ requirements, complete with a twin bed for each bird and a floor covered in wood chips. No word yet on whether their rockstar status caused damage to the room or charges for raiding the minibar. Their vacation came courtesy of The National Turkey Federation who supply two turkeys each year for the ceremony.
In years past, the birds have been shipped off to Mount Vernon to live in a display pen before being moved to more modest accommodations. The National Turkey Federation took exception to their prized gobblers being cooped up and raised a stink. So in 2013, the solution was to ship the birds off to another location. These two lucky birds will live the rest of their existence at Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, although it is unlikely that their existence will be very long at all. Ironically, the Presidential pardoning is almost always a curse. As Alanis Morissette so poignantly sung, “it’s like winning the lottery and dying the next day.” Traditionally, the roughly 30 week old turkeys rarely live longer than a couple years beyond their special day in the Rose Garden. Their fifteen minutes of fame clearly takes a toll on them because sadly, virtually every turkey pardoned by a President is no longer gobbling. Turkeys as recently as 2014 have already passed on to whatever awaits them on the other side of the carving board.
The “D” for death date for turkeys comes even sooner for birds pardoned by Presidents with a “D” by their own name. Popcorn, who was pardoned by President Obama in 2013, lived only 8 months beyond his fateful and celebrated day in the Rose Garden. Both turkeys from 2012, Cobbler and Gobbler, passed 3 months and 9 months, respectively, after their pardon was granted. Peace and Liberty from 2011 are also six feet under.
So, it seems, even if granted pardon and receiving the benevolence of our country’s President, a turkey’s days are numbered. So the question to all you turkeys becomes: would you rather die a martyrs death and serve a purpose as the headliner of the Thanksgiving feast? Or would you rather be pardoned, take your chances, but then intimately die a meaningless death in some wooden crate behind a barn?