(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden gave the official presidential pardon to turkeys Liberty and Bell on the White House South Lawn on Monday — an event stuffed with jabs at Biden’s age and healthy sides of corny jokes.
Hailing from Willmar, Minnesota, Liberty, weighing 42.5 pounds, and Bell, a svelte 42.1 pounds, escaped the “fowl” fate of ending up on anyone’s Thanksgiving dinner plate this year because of the pardon.
After a morning at D.C.’s Willard InterContinental Hotel, the turkeys received their pardon during a lighthearted ceremony. Biden, who celebrated his 81st birthday on Monday, joked that this year marks the 76th anniversary of the event — but he didn’t attend the first one.
“I was too young to make it up,” he said with a laugh.
Acknowledging his birthday, Biden joked “it’s hard turning 60!”
The president commented that while Liberty and Bell hail from Minnesota, their namesake is the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
“They have a new appreciation for the phrase, ‘Let freedom ring,'” Biden said to the crowd.
The ceremony marks the “unofficial start of the holiday season” and is a time to give thanks and gratitude, Biden said. On a more serious note, the president addressed the spirit of the Thanksgiving, and made reference to the recent death of former first lady Rosalynn Carter.
“This week we’ll gather with the people we love and the traditions that each of us have built up on our own families. We’ll also think about the loved ones we lost, including just yesterday when we lost former first lady Rosalynn Carter, but walked her own path in inspiring the nation and the world along the way. And let’s remind ourselves that we’re blessed to live in the greatest nation on this face of the earth,” he said.
To finish the set dressing, one of the turkeys was hoisted on to a table for the official pardon proclamation.
“I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell,” Biden bellowed, adding, “Congratulations, birds!”
Liberty and Bell were hatched as part of the presidential flock in July — and were prepped for their turn in the spotlight with some hype-up music so the noise and festivities didn’t ruffle their feathers, said National Turkey Federation President Steve Lykken at a news conference Sunday.
“I can confirm they are in fact Swifties, and they do enjoy some Prince,” Lykken said.
The two traveled in style from Minnesota, driven in their own personal vehicle to D.C. ahead of Monday’s event.
After their pardon, it’s all gravy for Liberty and Bell. The two will return to the University of Minnesota and the College of Food, Ag and National Resource Sciences to rest their feathers and live out the rest of their post-pardon lives.
Previous pardon recipients under Biden include Chocolate and Chip in 2022 and Peanut Butter and Jelly in 2021.
History of poultry pardons
The origin of the presidential turkey pardons is a bit fuzzy. Unofficially, reports point all the way back to President Abraham Lincoln, who spared a bird from its demise at the urging of his son, Tad. However, the story may be more folklore than fact.
The true start of what has evolved into the current tradition has its roots in politics and dates back to the Truman presidency in 1947.
President Harry Truman ruffled feathers by starting “poultry-less Thursdays” to try and conserve various foods in the aftermath of World War II, but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years all fell on Thursdays.
After the White House was inundated with live birds sent as part of a “Hens for Harry” counter-initiative, the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board presented Truman with a bird as a peace offering — although the turkey was not saved from the holiday fest.
President John F. Kennedy began the trend of publicly sparing a turkey given to the White House in November 1963, just days before his assassination. In the years following, the event became a bit more sporadic, with even some first ladies such as Pat Nixon and Rosalynn Carter stepping in to accept the guests of honor on their husband’s behalf.
The tradition of the public sparing returned in earnest under the Reagan administration, but the official tradition of the poultry pardoning at the White House started in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush offered the first official presidential pardon. In the more than three decades since, at least one lucky bird has gotten some extra gobbles each year.
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