Gobblin’ from South Dakota to DC

There are a few turkeys who made their way to Washington recently and I’m not talking about the ones who won the midterm election.

Two live turkeys traveled from Huron, South Dakota, to the White House just before Thanksgiving, stopping at local elementary schools along the way to refine their temperament around large groups of humans and spread the word about turkey farming.

The birds were driven in style in the back of a Suburban across the country, documenting their travels on the National Turkey Federation’s Instagram. Their favorite road trip snack was soybean and corn trail mix.

Once they made it to Washington, as the annual tradition goes, the two birds stayed the night in a swanky suite at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, just steps from the White House. I’m doubtful they fully appreciated the digs.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, these birds were the second set of Thanksgiving turkeys to be pardoned by President Donald Trump and the first time that South Dakota birds received a White House Thanksgiving pardon.

The pardoned turkeys are typically from the home state of the National Turkey Federation’s current chairman. The federation spearheads the process to get a turkey or two pardoned by the president of the United States each year.

The tradition of a presidential pardon started in 1947 under President Harry Truman. In recent times, two turkeys have been pardoned. One is the official turkey, and the other is an alternate in the event that one of the birds gets sick.

In addition to a rigorous journey across the country, the turkeys go through a rigorous naming process. This year, the South Dakota Department of Tourism gathered names for the duo from public submissions, but their monikers are ultimately narrowed down and chosen by the White House. The 2018 birds are names Peas and Carrots. Last year’s birds were named Drumstick and Wishbone.

According to KSFY, the turkeys’ grower, Ruben Waldner, trained the turkeys to stay put when placed on a table. Just before presentation to the president, the turkeys were dusted with baby powder to make them look shiny for the cameras and adoring fans.

These two turkeys were raised away from the rest of the grower’s flock. While in isolation from other birds, they were picked up and handled often by humans, according to National Turkey Federation Chairman Jeff Sveen.

The National Turkey Federation once again this year partnered with Virginia Tech, where the two birds will live out their days after the pardon. At “Gobbler’s Rest” on campus, they’ll be under the care of the school’s veterinarians. Virginia Tech is about a 4 1/2-hour drive from Washington, so the long part of the birds’ journey is behind them.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, the Virginia Tech mascot is the HokieBird, and the sporting teams were once called the “gobblers.” Though HokieBird has evolved to look less like a turkey throughout the years, I’m hoping that they’ll bring the original costume out to welcome the pardoned turkeys one of these years.

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.