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Turkey Pardons, The Stuffing of Historic Legend

President Truman kicked off the tradition of receiving a Thanksgiving turkey but evidently never pardoned one. Most likely they ended up on his table.
President Truman kicked off the tradition of receiving a Thanksgiving turkey but evidently never pardoned one. Most likely they ended up on his table. (By Abbie Rowe -- National Park Service/courtesy Harry S. Truman Library)

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up for a little Thanksgiving tale. You think you've heard it before, but never quite like this.

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Yes, it starts the same as it does every year.

Yesterday morning in the Rose Garden, surrounded by gourd-and-corn-husk decor best described as "harvest plenty," President Bush promised May the turkey that he would not be served with a side of yams on Thanksgiving. Nor would May's pal Flower.

These names were "certainly better than the names the vice president suggested, which was 'Lunch' and 'Dinner,' " the president joked.

Chuckles from the audience. Gulgulgulgulguls from the turkey. Such a happy day.

The Thanksgiving presidential turkey pardon. It's a tradition, major newspapers have reported for years, that began in 1947 with President Harry S. Truman -- a sentimental reprieve from the man who had thumbs-upped two atomic bombs.

"To paraphrase Harry today," Bush said, "you cannot take the heat -- and you're definitely going to stay out of the kitchen."

Americans gobbled up this annual parable of mercy.

But like any masterly misdirection, like a fake FEMA news conference, like a government-produced "news" segment, ah, the turkey pardonings are not what they seem.

* * *

The photos of Truman pardoning his turkeys looked real enough -- live turkey, live prez, grandly extending his hand toward the tom's wattle in a gesture that surely said Emancipation! Liberation! Freedom!

Except it didn't.


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