Clinton spares 'Jerry' the turkey in annual Thanksgiving rite
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Marking his final Thanksgiving in the White House, President Clinton pardoned Jerry the turkey on Wednesday, sparing the life of the 45-pound gobbler as Americans prepared millions of his kin for the annual holiday feast.
Carrying on a tradition started by President Harry Truman in 1947, Clinton accepted the National Thanksgiving Day turkey and pardoned it from the ultimate sacrifice.
President Clinton pardoned Jerry the Turkey Wednesday.
"President Truman began the tradition of keeping at least one turkey off the Thanksgiving dinner table and I am very pleased to follow in his footsteps and to hereby officially pardon this turkey," Clinton told young children and other guests on the eve of Thanksgiving Day.
With White House credentials hanging around his pink wattle, Jerry the turkey kept silent and still during the Rose Garden ceremony, shivering either from the cold or fear.
After pardoning Jerry, Clinton visited a nearby food bank and announced new initiatives aimed at improving nutrition of senior citizens and poor families.
Up to 90 percent of American households will eat an estimated 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, a yearly tradition honoring the 1621 feast enjoyed by the Pilgrims - early settlers from England - after a successful harvest in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Clinton said experts were still debating when the first Thanksgiving was actually held, noting that some believe it started in 1513 when Ponce De Leon landed in Florida.
"The expert opinions about that are divided, and the recount is still under way down there," Clinton quipped in a reference to the controversial vote recount in Florida to decide who will become the 43rd U.S. president.
Using the ceremony to get in a plug about his legacy, Clinton said Americans should be thankful this Thanksgiving with the economy so strong and unemployment at record lows.
"We should also be grateful for the strength of our democracy and the freedom we enjoy, thanks to the courage and the patriotism of our men and women in uniform, and the strength and abiding power of the Constitution and the rule of law," Clinton said.
Presented to Clinton by the National Turkey Federation, Jerry was hatched on June 5 and raised near Barron, Wisconsin. An alternate turkey was brought along in case of mishap.
Both Jerry and the alternate, which was not named, will be sent to Kidwell Farm's petting zoo in Herndon, Virginia. Clinton said they would live out their lives in "peace and happiness."
In past years, turkeys brought to the White House have gotten unruly. One fluttered mightily when appearing with President Ronald Reagan, prompting the White House to sedate the animals.
Jerry barely moved throughout the ceremony despite the noisy crowds. Clinton praised the big bird for being "very well behaved".
The president made a visit to the Capitol Area Food
Bank and then planned to travel to Camp David, the wooded presidential retreat in western Maryland, later in the day for the holiday weekend, where he will mark Thanksgiving with his family.
Reuters contributed to this report.