Talkin' Turkey Artwork by Mark Beech

Talkin’ Turkey: Pardoning the Festive Bird

What is the deal with turkey pardons?


My daughters are heavily involved in 4H and I often feel like we practically live in the nearby park-farm where many of the 4H events take place. This farm is also one of the designated locations for the annual pardoned turkeys to live out the rest of their lives. I’ve always wondered where this wacky tradition came from.


The White House website provides a bit of historical insight. Who coined the original pardon is up for debate, with some stories claiming Truman started it in the early 20th century, others claiming the tradition dates back to 1863, when President Lincoln provided a reprieve to a turkey as recorded by White House reporter Noah Brooks.


Officially, the first time the turkey tradition was publicized with the term “pardon” was in 1963 when The Washington Post used the term for President Kennedy. George H. W. Bush revived the official “pardon” in 1989 because animal rights activists were picketing near the White House, so he joked, “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.”


The turkeys, once pardoned, have been sent to a variety of locations, including Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, where we basically live. They’ve also been sent to Mt. Vernon and in the past have even had the opportunity to serve as the honorary grand marshals of the Disney Thanksgiving Day Parade in California or Florida. Because once you’ve lived a full turkey life, and get pardoned by the President of the United States, there’s only one thing for a turkey to say… “I’m going to Disney World!”


[Editor’s Note: Here’s a free story about another turkey that got a pardon: The Turkey We Saved from Thanksgiving by Marlene Bateman Sullivan is just an example of the kind of wonderful stories you’ll find in CRICKET magazine. Be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss even one. And don’t forget, this holiday season, if you buy a subscription for a child you love, Cricket Media will donate one to a child in an under-served community. It’s an easy way to double the giving and bring the gift of CRICKET to even more children.]


Cricket Media Mama doesn’t eat meat so she “pardons” a turkey every year. The tofurkey, on the other hand, had it coming.