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Turkeys to Take Posh Turn Ahead of White House Pardon

November 17, 2021 by Dan McCue
Peanut Butter and Jelly take a star turn at the Willard Hotel. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A pair of winged celebrities are scheduled to check in to the posh Willard Hotel tomorrow as they prepare for an all-important meeting with President Biden on Friday.

We’re talking, of course, about the turkeys who will be pardoned by the president ahead of the nation’s Thanksgiving holiday.

This is the 74th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, during which one turkey is officially pardoned and the other is pardoned as its “alternate.” So far the names of the honorees are being kept under wraps.

The Rose Garden ceremony on Nov. 19 will be the first turkey pardoning of Biden’s presidency.

Last year, former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump pardoned “Corn” and “Cob,” a pair of turkeys from Walcott, Iowa.

What we know about this year’s pardonees so far is this: The lucky pair were raised by Indiana turkey grower Andrea Welp under the supervision of National Turkey Federation Chairman Phil Seger. 

Seger serves as vice president of live turkey operations for Farbest Farms, Inc. headquartered in Jasper, Indiana. 

The turkey’s arrival in Washington will be accompanied by a press conference Thursday morning in the grand ballroom of the Willard Hotel. The event is not open to the general public, though it will be livestreamed here.

Following their pardon, the pair will reside in the Animal Science Research and Education Center at Purdue University.

According to the university, they will reside in a separate enclosed indoor setting with access to a shaded grassy area.

A bit of trivia: Indiana is the fourth largest turkey producing state in the nation and ranks first in duck production and second in egg production. In addition, the poultry industry contributes more than $12 billion in total economic activity to Indiana and employs more than 12,000 people.

Though the tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey is often said to have started with President Abraham Lincoln’s clemency of a Turkey in 1863, the White House Historical Society says the practice did not become an annual event until the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

In between, some presidents pardoned turkeys — John F. Kennedy did — and others didn’t.

But somehow turkeys always seemed to be around the White House this time of year.

The tradition of giving the president and the first lady a turkey was begun by an enterprising Rhode Island poultry dealer named Horace Vose. He began sending plump birds to the White House in the early 1870s and continued the tradition through 1913, when he died.

From 1914 onward, the opportunity to give a turkey to a president was seen as a big deal, and the poultry gifts that arrived often came with patriotic or partisan flair.

In 1921, an American Legion post furnished bunting for the crate of a turkey en route from Mississippi to Washington, while a Harding Girls Club in Chicago outfitted a turkey as a flying ace, complete with goggles, the White House Historical Society website says.

For years, many people credited Harry Truman for starting the modern tradition of turkey pardons, but alas, he was heard to quip in 1948 that the birds he received that year “would come in handy” for Christmas dinner.

Truman did establish one precedent, however. He was the first president to receive a turkey from the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation, a tradition that carries through to today. 

In the final years of the Nixon presidency, First Lady Pat Nixon accepted the turkeys on behalf of the president and in 1973 sent the bird to the Oxon Hill Children’s Farm in Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

The 1978 turkey, presented to First Lady Rosalynn Carter, met a similar fate when it was sent to Evans Farm Inn in Tysons Corner, Virginia, to live in a small zoo.

After 1981, the practice of sending the presentation turkey to a farm became the norm under President Ronald Reagan. 

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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