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Free bird: Thanksgiving turkey pardons

By: Russell McLendon on Nov. 15, 2018, 5:02 p.m.
President John F. Kennedy during the first unofficial presidential turkey pardoning in 1963.

Photo: National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

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The first turkey 'pardon'

In 1963, John F. Kennedy became the first president to publicly let his Thanksgiving turkey off the hook, although he didn't actually use the word "pardon." Kennedy simply announced in the Rose Garden on Nov. 18, 1963, that he didn't plan to eat the turkey, saying "Let's just keep him." But newspapers reported the next day that Kennedy had "pardoned" the bird, a concept that would stay in the American consciousness for decades.