While nearly 50 million turkeys will end up on our dinner tables this Thursday, for two very lucky turkeys, Thanksgiving means freedom -- as well as a few minutes in the national spotlight.
Historians trace the first White House turkey pardon to the 1860’s, when Abraham Lincoln granted a pardon to a pet turkey belonging to his youngest son Tad. Moments before the bird was to be executed as part of a holiday meal, Tad barged into a cabinet meeting and between sobs told his dad, “he's a good turkey, and I don't want him killed!” Lincoln then took out a card, and on it wrote an order of reprieve -- thus saving the turkey’s life.
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But turning the act of "pardoning" a turkey into an annual White House tradition actually took quite some time to take hold. During Dwight Eisenhower’s first year in office, the National Turkey Federation began the tradition of presenting the president with a turkey each Thanksgiving. But instead of pardoning the turkey, Dwight Eisenhower merely ate the bird -- as well as every single turkey presented to him during both terms in office.
Finally, in 1989, during George H.W. Bush’s first Thanksgiving in office, the modern-day presidential turkey pardon tradition finally took hold. When presented with a potential oven roaster, President Bush responded, "He will not end up on anyone's dinner table -- not this guy," Bush said. "He's granted a presidential pardon as of right now."
The Presidential turkey pardon is now a staple of the holiday season -- complete with a Rose Garden press ceremony. This year’s turkey pardon will take place on Wednesday, when two birds raised on AgForte farm in Willmar, Minnesota, will share a few minutes in the limelight with President Obama. There’s still time to decide on a name for this lucky turkey pair.
Then, after the ceremony, instead of going to Disneyworld as in years past, these birds will take a short trip to Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens, where they'll be on display to visitors through January 6.