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While an estimated 46 million turkeys will be taking center stage at Thanksgiving dinner tables around the US on November 28, 2019, two lucky birds will be happily cackling in retirement. On November 26, 2019, President Donald Trump used his executive powers to pardon North Carolina-born fowls "Bread" and "Butter" from the chopping block. The Presidential Turkeys will spend the rest of their lives with Peas and Carrots, last year's pardoned birds, at Gobblers Rest at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
"Virginia Tech has a long tradition of supporting the turkey industry through research and outreach, so it's fitting that the Presidential Turkeys becoming part of the Hokie Nation is a new tradition," said Rami Dalloul, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in a statement.
As you may have guessed, Bread and Butter, whose names were picked by President Trump and first lady Melania from 15 pairs suggested by the National Turkey Federation, are no ordinary fowls. Selected for their majestic appearance and calm demeanor, the birds were specially raised for the occasion by Wellie Jackson and his family.
The Clinton, North Carolina farmer told reporters he trained the birds to get accustomed to cameras, lights, and dealing with people. "They also listened to music," he said. "They really like classic rock.” The 45-pound Bread also enjoys drinking Cheerwine soda, listening to bluegrass music, and watching college basketball, while the heftier, 47-pound Butter is a big fan of sweet potato fries, bagpipes, and watching NASCAR.
The celebrity birds arrived in Washington, DC, on November 24, 2019, and spent two nights living it up in a luxury suite at the famous Willard Hotel, a block away from the White House. After posing for photographs at a press conference on November 25, 2019, the two made their way to the White House Rose Garden on November 26, 2019, for the official pardoning ceremony. Ending days of speculation, President Trump announced that Butter had won the popular vote for "National Thanksgiving Turkey" and would be the one receiving the presidential pardon. The decision did not seem to bother Bread, who got to enjoy the festivities without having to be on his best behavior.
The origin of this fun tradition is hazy. While some attribute it to President Harry Truman, the Truman library disputed it in 2003, writing: "The Library's staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table."
Others think President Abraham Lincoln freed the first turkey at the request of his 11-year-old son, Tad. However, the bird had been meant for Christmas dinner, not Thanksgiving. President John F. Kennedy is the first on record to let a Thanksgiving turkey go in 1963. "We'll just let this one grow," he said. Though he did not mention the word "pardon," the event was reported by the Los Angeles Times as a "Presidential pardon."
Though President Ronald Reagan did mention "pardon" in 1987 when letting a turkey go, he was merely trying to deflect a question about a serious political matter. The tradition of adding a 'spare' turkey did, however, start that year, after a skittish bird named Liberty escaped during the pardoning ceremony.
Turkey pardoning was finally formalized by George H.W. Bush, during his first year as president. "Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy," he said in 1989. "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." Since then, the event has become an annual White House ritual, one that is attended by family members, government officials, and the news media. In 2012, President Barack Obama added a fun twist by allowing residents to vote for "America's Next Top Turkey" on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
We wish Bread and Butter a long and happy retirement. As for the rest of the turkeys? All we can say is "Gobble Gobble!"
Happy Thanksgiving from the DOGOnews team. We are truly grateful for your love and support!