Pardon me, Mr. President
It has been 64 years since Minnesotan Grady McCulley presented the National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry S. Truman. This year, on Wednesday, Nov. 27, National Turkey Federation Chairman John Burkel will be the 12th Minnesota turkey producer to have that honor. Although Burkel received the official invitation in October, he knew that traditionally the NTF chairman has the opportunity to save two birds from a trip to the roaster. So he initially chose 20 four- to five-week-old birds from his flock near Badger. As of Nov. 1, he had whittled the number down to six toms, although hens also are eligible for a pardon.
Burkel, his wife and their five children are flying to Washington to present the now traditional two turkeys to President Obama. The birds will take the more scenic route to the White House, being transported in a poultry company van.
The Burkels don’t get to name the birds. That’s done by online voting. Two years ago, President Obama pardoned two Minnesota turkeys named Liberty and Peace. Last year’s turkeys, Cobbler and Gobbler, came from Virginia.
Although the tradition dates back to the days of President Harry S. Truman, no evidence exists in his presidential library that he every pardoned a turkey. His successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, ate the birds that were presented to him during his two terms in office. President John F. Kennedy spontaneously spared a turkey just four days before his assassination in November 1963. It wasn’t until 1989, though, that the pardon became official when President George H. W. Bush declared it so. Every year, the pardoned turkeys are taken to farms to live out their natural lives.