The leader of the free world will receive the National Thanksgiving Turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he will grant it a pardon and send it, and its alternate, to live out the rest of their days at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s family estate.
A White House statement described the event as the 64th annual turkey presentation, citing President Harry Truman’s reception of a bird in 1947 as the tradition’s starting point.
While it is true that President Truman took time out from the increasingly tense early Cold War period to meet with the turkey, the story ends rather less happily than its saccharine current incarnation: the man from Missouri is thought to have simply eaten the bird.
President Truman’s successors continued the tradition, although Jimmy Carter avoided it as much as possible, delegating instead to his wife Rosalynn.
The first instance of a turkey being spared the executive chop is thought to have come with John F Kennedy. In the days before his assassination, Kennedy apparently spontaneously decided to let a turkey live.
The bird was wearing a sign that read: “Good eatin’ Mr President.” The young Democrat looked at it and apparently told his aides: “Let’s just keep him.”
The decision to officially pardon the turkey seems to have come from an unlikely source: the stiff and patrician George H.W. Bush.
In 1989, the first year of his presidency, Bush Snr. told onlookers: “He will not end up on anyone’s table – not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon.”