Steve Lykken, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, told The Associated Press in an interview last week that the pardons are a “great way to kick off the holiday season and really, really a fun honor.”
The male turkeys, both about 20 weeks old and about 42 pounds (19 kilograms), hatched in July in Willmar, Minnesota. Jennie-O has its headquarters there. The turkeys were part of the “presidential flock,” Lykken said. They listened to music and other sounds to prepare them for Monday’s hoopla at the White House.
The tradition dates to 1947 when the National Turkey Federation first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman. Back then, and even earlier, the gobbler was given for the first family’s holiday consumption.
“They listened to all kinds of music to get ready for the crowds and people along the way. I can confirm they are, in fact, Swifties, and they do enjoy some Prince,” Lykken said, meaning Liberty and Bell are fans of Taylor Swift. “I think they’re absolutely ready for prime time.”
Biden Says The Turkeys Overcame “Tough Odds”
“This is the 76th anniversary of this event, and I want you to know I wasn’t there .. for the first one,” Biden said.
Hundreds of guests, including Cabinet secretaries and White House staff who brought children, watched from the South Lawn as Biden kicked off the unofficial start of Washington’s holiday season. His granddaughter, Maisy Biden, watched from the sidelines with her half-brother, Beau Biden. After the ceremony, Beau was led over to pet one of the turkeys.
“By the way, it’s my birthday today,” the president said, noting that guests with him in the Oval Office before the event sang “Happy Birthday.” “I just want you to know, it’s difficult turning 60. Difficult.”
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They overcame “some tough odds” to make it to the White House, Biden continued, saying, “They had to work hard to show patience and be willing to travel over a thousand miles.”
“These birds have a new appreciation of the word, ‘let freedom ring,’” he said, adding that they love Honeycrisp apples, ice hockey, a thousand lakes, and the Mall of America — all things the Midwest state is famous for.
But by the late 1980s, the tradition had evolved into an often humorous ceremony in which the birds are given a second chance at life.
Before issuing the pardons, Biden said Liberty and Bell were Minnesota natives. However, they are named for the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Lykken introduced Liberty and Bell on Sunday at the Willard Intercontinental, a luxury hotel near the White House. The gobblers checked into a suite there on Saturday following their red-carpet arrival in the U.S. capital. The trip from Minnesota in a black Cadillac Escalade took a couple of days.
More On The Thanksgiving Tradition
This year, the event coincided with President Joe Biden’s 81st birthday. First, Biden — the oldest president in U.S. history — wanted to make light of his age.
Liberty and Bell will now be cared for by the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences.
“They were raised like all of our turkeys, protected, of course, from weather extremes and predators, free to walk about with constant access to water and feed,” Lykken said Sunday as Liberty and Bell strutted around the Willard’s newly renovated Crystal Room on plastic sheeting laid over the carpet.
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He also noted that the presentation of a National Thanksgiving Turkey to the White House has been a tradition for more than seven decades.