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The Making Of The Presidential Turkey, 1997

By Alain L. Sanders/TIME

WASHINGTON (Nov. 25) -- Ever since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a turkey every year to the President of the United States to mark the Thanksgiving season. The Golden Anniversary presentation this year will be made by NTF Chairman Sonny Faison. Tradition dictates that the chairman oversee the raising of a turkey from his home state, and so this week, a North Carolina tom will become the 1997 National Thanksgiving Turkey. The tale behind the bird:

APRIL: Top-of-the-line breeder-stock turkey hens lay eggs at the Tar Heel Turkey Hatchery in Raeford, North Carolina, and the eggs are placed in incubators. The future national turkey will emerge from here and hail from the nation's largest turkey producing state.


MAY: The eggs begin to hatch and turkey poults weighing approximately 2.2 ounces emerge from the shells. The flock will eventually number 2000 birds.

SEPTEMBER 4: At 16 weeks the first fateful decision is made. Ten candidates are selected from the flock--all toms (or males) because they're bigger. The criteria: Size, feathers, posture, and temperament. The last measure is not insignificant. In 1984, a flustered national turkey flapped its wings in President Reagan's face and leaped off the presentation table in the Rose Garden.

OCTOBER 16: At 22 weeks, the field of contenders is further narrowed. Four birds make it through this crucial Presidential primary.


NOVEMBER 20: The 1997 National Thanksgiving Turkey is chosen. "He stands tall and has good color," says Sonny Faison, noting the very white feathers of this year's bird. By presentation day, the winner will weigh more than 60 pounds. A runner-up is also selected -- to serve in waiting like a good veep. (You never know what might happen to number 1.)

NOVEMBER 25: The national turkey and the runner-up are flown to the nation's capital on Faison's personal jet and whisked by van to the Hotel Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue, where all top turkeys have stayed for the last 30 years. The hotel gives the birds a VIP welcome and ushers them up to their luxury rooftop accomodations. "We treat all of our guests with the same outstanding service, whether they be presidents, ambassadors or turkeys," says J. Troy Cardwell, director of sales and marketing. Dining on the best grain available, the turkeys spend the night next to the hotel's summer kitchen, overlooking a spectacular view of the White House.


NOVEMBER 26: The Big Day. The two birds are driven to the White House. The National Thanksgiving Turkey is escorted into the Rose Garden for the Presidential ceremony. (The runner-up remains in the van. "We tell him not to play the radio," says NTF spokesperson Julie DeYoung). At around 11: 00 A.M., Faison presents the national turkey to the President, with the help of official turkey handler Joel Coleman. The President, who has pardoned 53 humans during his time in the Oval Office, is then expected to grant clemency to the National Thanksgiving Turkey. Last year's executive order: "I am going to keep at least one turkey off the Thanksgiving dinner table by giving a pardon to a turkey from Ohio."

EPILOGUE: Afterwards, both turkeys are taken to the Kidwell Farm at Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Va., a working 1930s model farms, and the retirement home for all recent Presidential turkeys and their understudies. The national turkey will hold a scheduled news conference, conducted for the benefit of young children visitors. Then the two birds will be introduced to their new home, a red barn shed with surrounding pen, where they will share quarters and two meals a day, and gobble up their fame with last year's birds (the only ones still living).

In Other News:

Tuesday Nov. 25, 1997

Reno's Decision Expected Next Week
The Making Of The Presidential Turkey
Study: Money Follows Party In Power
Judge: Paula Jones Can Amend Lawsuit
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Union Board Files Charges Against Carey
Albright To Visit African Countries
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Prudential, Justice Department Settle
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E-Mail From Washington:
Pacific Rim Leaders Endorse Bailout Plan
Senator Decries Violent Video Games
Gore Wants To Attend Kyoto Climate Conference

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