One of my favorite distinctly American traditions is the annual pardoning of turkey by the president on the day before Thanksgiving. As is usually the case when live television and animals are involved, these corny events typically provide some LOLs (witness the photo above taken at one of former President Bush’s turkey pardonings), and today’s ceremony, video of which is embedded below, was no different. But part of the reason I love this event so much is that it was concieved by a comical misunderstanding during the Truman years: a photo of him accepting a turkey as a gift for the White House Thanksgiving dinner was misreported by the press at the time as him pardoning a turkey.
Reported the Washington Post in 2007:
The archivists at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., have tried to set the record straight. Right there on the Web site is the statement: “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.”
What Truman was doing in the photo, say the archivists, was receiving a turkey, kicking off an annual tradition of presidents receiving turkeys from the National Turkey Federation.
Furthermore, says archivist Tammy Kelly rather gravely, “the Trumans were not animal people.”
For example? They re-gifted a cocker spaniel named Feller intended to be a Truman family pet. “The poultry board gave [Truman] turkeys every year,” Kelly adds, “and we think they probably ended up on the dinner table.”
Is there anything more American than confusion and misunderstanding leading to a hallowed tradition? I think not!
Anyway, here’s video of today’s turkey pardoning ceremony at the White House. The Obama girls look like they were over it before it even began.
And as a little treat, after the jump are photos of past presidents pardoning turkeys, including the one with Truman that wasn’t really a pardon after all, all via Time.