- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Liberty and Peace, a pair of 19-month-old turkeys, were recently plucked from their Minnesota farm and brought to the District, never to see their friends or family members again.

Lucky birds.

Rather than ending up on a Thanksgiving dinner table, the two 45-pound turkeys will live out their years at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate after being pardoned Wednesday afternoon by President Obama across the Potomac River.

“The turkey is a respectable bird of courage,” said Tom Plott, who plays the role of Tom Anderson, President Washington’s legendary farm manager at Mount Vernon. “He shall live out the rest of his natural life on this fine estate.”

The birds arrived in Mount Vernon with less fanfare than for their presidential pardon, but were welcomed by more than 100 staffers and visitors during a brief outdoor ceremony at the Virginia estate.

Liberty, who attended both ceremonies while Peace waited in undisclosed locations, was wheeled by horse-drawn cart to a courtyard, where he sat serenely in a wooden crate as tourists crowded about 10 feet away to snap pictures.

“We just happened to be visiting Mount Vernon, and they told us today that he was coming,” said Todd Schmidt, visiting from St. Louis with his 11-year-old daughter, Ellie. “So we thought we’d stick around and see him.”

The National Turkey Foundation began presenting a National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president in 1947, but official pardons for the birds are a relatively new tradition started by President George H.W. Bush.

Liberty and Peace were among 35 turkeys considered for this year’s pardon, all of whom came from the same farm in Willmar, Minn. The other 33 birds will now be processed and donated to a local food pantry.

The two winning turkeys were raised for the past nine weeks by four students at Willmar High School, under the supervision of NTF chairman Richard Huisinga.

The students, members of Future Farmers of America, helped tame the birds and were in charge of “handling them, and making sure they had food, water and bedding,” said Preston Asche, 16, who attended Wednesday’s ceremonies with his three classmates.

“It was really fun seeing our hard work pay off,” he said.

The turkeys will be on display at Mount Vernon from Friday to Jan. 6, after which they will retire to the estate’s livestock facility.

The birds will live to charm many more people, but don’t expect too many visitors to swear off eating their feathered brothers or sisters.

“I like turkey,” Ellie Schmidt said. “”I was going to be a vegetarian, but meat is just too good.”

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