Abraham Lincoln gave the first Washington clemency to a turkey in 1863, according to White House records. Since then, ceremonies involving turkeys have taken place around Thanksgiving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but pardons became a yearly event under Ronald Reagan in 1981.
So where do the turkeys go after they are pardoned?
Instead of heading into the wild, the pardoned turkeys go to a retirement community dedicated to the fowl in Virginia.
The turkeys pardoned by President Obama in 2016, Tater and Tot, went to live out their years in a place called Gobbler’s Rest, an area of Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where the birds are cared for by students and veterinarians in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences.
The turkeys that President Trump pardoned in 2017 joined Tater and Tot at Gobbler's Rest.
The 2015 turkeys pardoned by Obama, Honest and Abe, went to Morven Park, the historic estate of former Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg. The turkeys from 2013 and 2014 also live there.
Prior to Reagan, pardoned turkeys were sent to either zoos or farms at the discretion of the president or first lady. But Reagan began placing his all of his pardoned turkeys on farms and his successors have followed suit.
At the 1989 turkey pardon, President Bush had to assure those in attendance that the bird was going to a farm when the event was picketed by protesters.
“But let me assure you, and this fine Tom Turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table — not this guy — he's granted a presidential pardon as of right now — and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here,” Bush said.
Virginia is not the only place where turkeys go to retire. Some have gone to locations including Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland in California, and New Jersey.