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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

JD Estes
November 21, 2003

JD Estes
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. It is good to be here today on Ask the White House. The annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey will occur this Monday. You can watch it live on the White House web site. Speaking of the web site, before I answer any questions -- please vote for the name of the Thanksgiving Turkey and its runner up. With that -- let's "talk turkey"................

Alex, from New York City writes:
Has the Vice President ever accepted the Thanksgiving turkey on behalf of the President? If so, Why?

J. D. Estes
Since 1947, Vice President Richard Nixon was the first Vice President to accept the National Thanksgiving Turkey in 1954. President Eisenhower was recovering from a heart attack in Denver, Colorado at the time.

Another Vice President that has accepted the Thanksgiving Turkey was Vice President Walter Mondale on behalf of President Carter in 1977. We also believe that the first First Lady to receive the Thanksgiving Turkey since 1947, was Mamie Eisenhower in 1957.

I'm, from Denver, CO writes:
Have the turkeys ever become unruly during the ceremony? Isn't it risky to have live animals involved in a carefully choreographed presidential event?

J. D. Estes
This would be a great question to ask President Reagan. In 1981, the Thanksgiving Turkey got a little nervous during the ceremony and went haywire!

The turkey was flapping his wings and kind of got out of control. I will post a photo of President Reagan and a couple of his ceremonies -- check back soon.

The photo op with the Thanksgiving Turkey is the only part of the ceremony that makes me really nervous.

Tracy, from Texas writes:
Why do you need a runner-up for a Turkey pardoning? And when is the Turkey swimsuit competition?

J. D. Estes
There is a runner-up just in case the National turkey is unable to fulfill its duties, just like in the Miss America contest. The closest I can get to a swimsuit contest or reference, is in a Washington Post article in 1982 by James Lardner that said, "Tom, meanwhile, stood as stiffly as one of the last five Miss America contestants waiting for the results."

Amanda, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa writes:
How do you make sure the turkey does not fly away on the President?

J. D. Estes
Since the turkeys were born they have been given very special treatment and have been in constant human contact to help prepare them for their big day.

The turkeys usually arrive an hour before the event and are allowed to roam freely in the Rose Garden. During the event, the National Turkey Federation provides two turkey handlers to help make sure the turkey remains calm.

However, as some Presidents have experienced in the past, you never know what the turkey is going to do when the spotlight is turned on them.

Jennifer, from Washington, D.C. writes:
Can the turkeys be walked on leashes?

J. D. Estes
The only leash that I have seen at the White House has been for Barney, which is used when the President takes him on the helicopter (known as Marine One). The turkeys that have come to the White House in the past have preferred to roam freely in the Rose Garden before the event.

John, from Texas writes:
Who named the turkeys before this year and how long does a Turkey live?

J. D. Estes
From our discussions and research we have found that after 1995, when President's restarted naming the National Thanksgiving Turkey, the Chairman of the National Turkey Federation named the turkey. Like last year, the turkeys were named Katie and Zach for the chairman's kids.

Commercially raised turkeys have a life expectancy up to two years.

younes, from writes:
I am a third grade student at Lincoln School in Edison, NJ.My teacher, Mrs. Jensen showed us this website and we learned all about the White House turkey. I want to know, if any turkey has ever bitten a President? Thank you. Younes

J. D. Estes
Hi Younes and hello to New Jersey. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm not aware of a turkey-biting incident, but sometimes the turkeys get frazzled and nervous. They may just peck at you and that doesn't hurt.

Dave, from Mineola, Texas writes:
How many bites does it take to get to the bone in a turkey leg?

J. D. Estes
The world may never know........

Sam, from Lubbock, Tx writes:
How many National Thanksgiving Turkeys have been pardoned? and How do you get chosen for this job of Turkey Guy?

J. D. Estes
They started officially pardoning the turkeys in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush. So I guess we are up to 15 now.

When starting the tradition, President George H.W. Bush said, "this fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now."

But you can go back to President Lincoln when he pardoned a turkey to make it a pet for his son Tad.

President Bush referenced the Lincoln story in his 2001 turkey pardoning speech -- click here.

Thor, from Norway writes:
What happens to the Turkey's after they are pardoned?

J. D. Estes
Hello Thor

After the ceremony, the turkeys go to Frying Pan Park out in Herndon, Virginia. It is a petting zoo, so you may be able to see this year's thanksgiving turkeys after the event -- it is on 2709 West Ox Road in Herndon.

By the way, the turkeys don't have a name yet -- so vote now. Click here. I personally like Pumpkin and Cranberry. I hope I'm not influencing the polls at all -- but I'm just being honest.

Throughout the years, the turkeys presented to the Presidents were dressed (if you know what I mean). But President Kennedy on November `19, 1961 spared the life of a 55-pound tom turkey in the Rose Garden. Despite the gold ribbon hung around the turkey's neck saying, "Good Eating, Mr. President," Kennedy saw the turkey and simply said, "We'll just keep him." The turkey was returned to its farm home.

I think we have a photo of this turkey and I'll try to put it up.

Mildred, from Wyoming writes:
Once a turkey is pardoned, would killing it be considered a Federal crime?

J. D. Estes
Well, once the turkeys are pardoned, they go off to a petting zoo -- so that won't happen. But I'll take your question as a hypothetical. I will ask Judge Gonzales and report back.

Timothy, from Traverse City, MI writes:
Hi, I'm thirteen years old, and I'm wanting to know why you don't eat the turkey? Have a happy Thanksgiving

J. D. Estes
That's a good question -- in the past, they used to. But, the ceremony wouldn't be quite as festive. It's a great tradition.

Beverly, from Austin, Texas writes:
When someone e-mailed the website to vote on the names for the turkeys I thought it was one of the most fun things I had received in a long time.

I have now sent it to everyone in my address book and they all loved it

Great job, J.D.

Who submitted the names for the turkeys? They are wonderful

J. D. Estes
Hello Texas!!!

Thank you for voting. Please remind all your friends to keep voting. It is a true battle right now between "Stars and Stripes" and "Pumpkin and Cranberry".

In the past week, Pumpkin and Cranberry usually have a lead in the morning. But by mid-afternoon, Stars and Stripes makes a big push and is number one.

Polls close at 5pm on Sunday -- that's Eastern Time.

As for who named these turkeys, it was done by the National Turkey Federation. They provided the six pairs of names.

Jasper, from Atlanta, GA writes:
Are the turkeys sedated before meeting the President?

J. D. Estes
That was a rumor that started after the turkey wigged out on President Reagan in 1981. The fact is -- turkeys have never been sedated, but that incident led to the current practice of giving the turkeys added interaction with people when they are being raised.

Actually, they are pretty calm and well-behaved. After all, they are getting pardoned. They're psyched.

Clancy, from Pheonix, AZ writes:
Has the President ever pardoned any animal other than the turkey?

J. D. Estes
Not that we have been able to determine. But I will consider this my top priority to find out.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi J.D., It is such an important tradition--the pardoning of the White House Turkey, that it correlates with what the true meaning of Thanksgiving is: peace, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness to one's neighbors. I cannot think of anyone who encompasses this better than President Bush. May he, Laura, and all of his family experience the kind of Thanksgiving that personifies the spirit of fellowship (and that goes for you too J.D., and the rest of the administration) I appreciate you letting me comment.

J. D. Estes

Thanks for your comments. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Oliver, from Washington, DC writes:
It was once mentioned in The West Wing, the TV show, that the Press Secretary leads some kids in singing. Is that actually true? And does Mr. McClellan also pick the turkey? Thank you

J. D. Estes
I've never seen Scott singing with children in the West Wing. And, he doesn't select the turkey. By the way, congratulations to Scott who is getting married.

Scott, from Fort Worth, TX writes:
Hey, Turkey Guy Here's my question: What are the staples of a Thanksgiving turkey's diet? Are they franks and beans?

By the way, did you know that Benjamin Franklin was displeased when the bald eagle was chosen over his proposed "original native" turkey as a national symbol. He said the turkey is a more respectable bird and a true original native of America.

J. D. Estes
Hello Scott

Turkeys enjoy corn and soybean meal along with fresh water. Yum.

I dug up a Washington Post article in 1905 which says the turkeys presented to the President that year (by Charles B. Palmer from Connecticut) primarily ate crackers and milk.

Todd, from Washington, DC writes:
How much energy does it take to properly roast a turkey that can meet USDA food safety standards (160 degrees)?

J. D. Estes
Thanks Todd. For all your turkey preparation needs, please go here:

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Paula, from Danbury writes:
I wondered if along with the turkey pardoning the President would make public his Thanksgiving proclamation? We read it at our church service on Thanksgiving day and the last proclamation I saw on the website is related to Farm week.....(that's appropriate:D) I'd appreciate it if it could be posted... of course along with the favorite turkeys Thanks and happy Thanksgiving

J. D. Estes
Click here to read the proclamation. Happy Thanksgiving. Don't forget to vote.

Kelly, from Shreveport, LA writes:
Turkey Guy, I notice there are two turkeys that get named for the pardoning. When one gets pardoned, does the other one get taken to the turkey farm to become someone's turkey dinner? Or does that one become the turkey at the President's dinner?

J. D. Estes
They are both pardoned.

Lenny, from NY, NY writes:
What do Turkey's like to listen to? are they fans of my music

J. D. Estes
They like the Eagles, the Byrds, the Black Crowes, Blackhawk, Robin Gibb, the Dixie Chicks, the Partridge Family and A Flock of Seagulls.

JD Estes
Thanks to everyone for submitting their questions. I had a great time. Thanks for taking the time to talk turkey with me. The pardoning ceremony is on Monday. Voting ends on Sunday evening at 5pm (Eastern Time). You can watch the ceremony and find out what the names are on the White House web site. By the way, White House Chef Walter Scheib will discuss Thanksgiving dinner and provide some tips on Tuesday. Make sure you and all your friends vote.

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