With his daughters by his side President Obama gave the executive order on Wednesday to pardon two turkeys from becoming part of someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. The birds named Liberty and Peace were the 23rd and 24th recipients of the annual tradition.
President Obama said, “Thanksgiving is one of the best days of the year to be an American. It’s also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey. They don’t have it so good.”
Then with a wave of his hand, the President spared Liberty’s life in front of the cameras and news media. Offstage he pardoned Peace, who was selected as the understudy. Both birds will spend the rest of their lives wandering the grounds of Mount Vernon.
Liberty and Peace were handpicked for the potential honor along with 32 other turkeys from a commercial farm in Willmar, MN. Minnesota is the largest producer of turkeys. An estimated 46 million of the birds are expected to be eaten by Americans on Thanksgiving.
Liberty and Peace were born on July 7 and sent to be specially trained at 5 weeks-old with student members of Future Farmers of America. Both birds are currently 19 weeks-old and weigh 45 lbs. In addition to raising the birds and keeping them healthy, the students taught the turkeys how to remain calm around crowds and cameras.
“Now, I’m told that in order to prepare Liberty and Peace for their big day the students exposed them to loud noises and flash bulbs so that they’d be ready to face the White House press corps,” Obama said.
Liberty sat peacefully for the cameras, but this has not always been the case. One turkey got sick just before the pardon ceremony and another panicked and had to have his feet nailed to the stage. So now an understudy is picked each year and the turkeys receive extra training.
History of the Pardon Tradition
The official ceremony to pardon one or two turkeys is relatively new, but the tradition of bringing a prized bird to the White House goes back to the beginning of the country. Typically a turkey was brought for Christmas rather than Thanksgiving and it ended up on the dining table of the President and his family.
The first rumors of saving a bird came during President Lincoln’s term when his son Tad begged his father to release a Christmas turkey. Lincoln agreed and the turkey lived.
Then in 1963, the National Turkey Federation sent a live turkey as gift to President Nixon. He sent the bird to a petting farm.
The first official turkey pardon was held by President George H.W. Bush in l989. He shipped the freed bird to the unfortunately named Frying Pan Park in Virginia which is actually a historical farm. Pardoned turkeys continued to go there until recently.
The 32 other turkeys that were specially trained by the student members of Future Farmers of America, but did not receive a pardon are on their way to a slaughterhouse. Their meat has been donated to a local shelter that is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.
Photo from myrnalitt via flickr. Photo of turkey pardon courtesty of Associated Press.