President Barack Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, right, with Cobbler the turkey at the White House on Wednesday. (lex Wong / Getty Images via Cobbler lives! Obama gives a turkey something to be thankful for - PhotoBlog)
It’s a weird tradition, isn’t it?
National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation – Wikipedia: The origins of the tradition of pardoning the White House turkey are unclear. Many credit President Harry Truman with starting the informal and lighthearted tradition in 1947. However, the Truman Library says that no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs or other contemporary records are known to exist that specify that he ever “pardoned” a turkey. The Eisenhower Presidential Library says documents in their collection reveal that President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his two terms. President John F. Kennedy spontaneously spared a turkey on Nov. 18, 1963, just four days before his assassination, but did not grant a “pardon.” The bird was wearing a sign reading, “Good Eatin’ Mr. President.” Kennedy responded, “Let’s just keep him.” President Ronald Reagan deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking about pardoning a turkey named Charlie, who was already heading to a petting zoo.
Since 1989 when the custom of ‘pardoning’ the turkey was formalized, the turkey has been taken to a farm where it will live out the rest of its natural life. For many years the turkeys were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. From 2005 to 2009, the pardoned turkeys were sent to either the Disneyland Resort in California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, where they served as the honorary grand marshals of Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2010 and 2011, the turkeys were sent to live at Mount Vernon, the estate and home of George Washington.
The turkeys are raised in the same fashion as turkeys designated for slaughter, but are selected “at birth” for pardoning and are trained to handle loud noises, flash photography and large crowds. Because most Thanksgiving turkeys are bred and raised for size at the expense of longer life, they are prone to health problems associated with obesity such as heart disease, respiratory failure and joint damage. As a result of these factors, most of the pardoned turkeys have very short lives after their pardoning, frequently dying within a year of being pardoned.
Photos: The Annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey