What Happens to the Pardoned Turkey?


Tony Ureste, Contributor

Every year for Thanksgiving, one of the many traditions Americans everywhere seem to love is the annual pardoning of the turkey. Every year for Thanksgiving, the president chooses a turkey, and sometimes two, lucky turkeys to be saved, or pardoned, from being cooked for the presidential Thanksgiving dinner. But what happens to these turkeys? And when did the long tradition of saving a turkey begin?

The history of saving a turkey from being eaten, dates back as early as 1863, when president Abraham Lincoln, pardoned a turkey from being dinner, after his son Tad begged his father to spare the turkey. And while Lincoln was the first recorded president to pardon the turkey, the official tradition didn’t start till later. Other presidents, such as, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, have been reported to send their turkeys to different farms and petting zoos.

The first official pardon that was a public event didn’t happen until 1989 from President George Bush. This was an effect when animal-rights activists showed up to the White House on Thanksgiving to protest the turkey presentation that takes place annually, Bush assured the activist that the turkey would not be harmed and would be sent to a good farm where it would receive intensive care. “‘Reprieve,’ ‘keep him going,’ or ‘pardon’: It’s all the same for the turkey, as long as he doesn’t end up on the president’s holiday table,” George Bush told reporters in response to the protesters. And thus, a new American tradition was born.

Every year for Thanksgiving the National Turkey Federation chooses one or two lucky turkeys for the annual pardoning. The turkeys are chosen based on their appearance and they will need to be able to handle large crowds and loud noises for the pardoning ceremony. Most turkeys that are chosen are a rare albino breed with white feathers and paleish features. Once the birds are chosen, they’re taken to a high end hotel in the D.C. area for press events during the week before Thanksgiving.

Over the years, the pardoned turkeys have been known to be sent to different farms and petting zoos all over the country. “He’s granted a Presidential pardon as of right now, and allow him to live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here” George Bush stated, before sending his turkeys to George Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon, where other presidents have sent there turkeys. Including Presidents Barack Obama’s turkeys during his second term, Tater and Tot in 2016.

Since 2016 however, the pardoned turkeys have been sent to Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life in Gobbler’s Rest, an area where they’re cared for by professional veterinarians and vet students in training. Each year the college hosts an open house around Thanksgiving for the public to meet the special turkeys.

While their life expectancies have improved in recent years, most turkeys don’t live long enough to see next Thanksgiving. This year, Tater will have lived for more than 3 years, making this year a special one for a pardoned turkey from long ago.