Thursday, November 24, 2016

Theater of the Absurd - Presidential pardons for potential Thanksgiving turkeys

This is one of the strangest Thanksgiving customs that we have.  Advertising for the turkey growers.  In 1947, National Turkey Foundation & the Poultry & Egg National Board first presented Thanksgiving turkeys to President Harry S. Truman. According to turkey foundation, Truman was given 1 live turkey & 2 dressed turkeys the week before Thanksgiving in 1947. Tradition says that Truman donated the live bird to a local farm, where the turkey was guaranteed a long life unmolested by stuffing or gravy.  But, truth be told, he probably ate it.

However, there is some controversy about this tale of the 1947 turkey. The Truman Presidential Library says that no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs or other contemporary records are known to exist that specify that he ever "pardoned" a turkey.

The Eisenhower Presidential Library says documents in their collection reveal that President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his 2 terms.

President John F. Kennedy spontaneously spared a turkey on Nov. 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, but did not grant a "pardon." The bird was wearing a sign reading, "Good Eatin' Mr. President." "Let's just keep him." Kennedy just sent him back to the farm. 

Apparently President Lyndon B. Johnson ate his turkey. "I hadn't been quite sure what I was going to eat Thanksgiving," said President Johnson before Thanksgiving in 1964, "but I am glad I can eat turkey instead of crow."

Richard Nixon sent at least one of his turkeys to a petting zoo.

The fate of Gerald Ford's turkey remains unknown.

President Ronald Reagan deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking about pardoning a turkey named Charlie, who was already heading to a petting zoo. In 1981, on receiving a Tom Turkey from the National Turkey Federation, President Reagan was asked what he's going to do with Tom. "Eat him," said Mr. Reagan straightforwardly.

President George H.W. Bush said in 1989, "This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” Since then, the pardoned turkey has been taken to a farm to live out the rest of its natural life. For many years the turkeys were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.

President Bill Clinton saw humor in the tradition, "I think it's kind of funny, and it's an annual ritual," said President Clinton at his first turkey pardon ceremony in 1993.  Clinton said at one pardoning, “We can all be grateful, therefore, that there will be one less turkey in Washington, D.C.”

George Bush's son, President George W. Bush at the turkey pardon in 2001, observed that "our guest of honor looks a little nervous. Nobody's told him yet that I'm going to give him a pardon."  In 2005, Bush accepted the foundation's gift of 2 live birds, named "Marshmallow" & "Yam," in a White House ceremony. Calling the birds "the people's turkeys," Bush explained that they had earned their names through a democratic process—the public was allowed to vote on names for the birds through the White House website. He quipped that the vote had been so close, "you might say it was neck and neck."  Previous votes resulted in names like "Pumpkin & Pecan," "May & Flower," "Marshmallow & Yamy," & "Biscuit" & "Gravy."  Bush's 2003 turkeys were patriotically dubbed "Stars" & "Stripes."

From 2005 to 2009, the pardoned turkeys were sent to either the Disneyland Resort in California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, to serve as honorary grand marshals of Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But according to a Disneyland spokesman, after 5 years of taking in the turkeys, the corporation decided it would no longer be accepting the feathered presidential pardons.  “There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office,” President Obama said at his first turkey pardon in 2009. “And then there are moments like this...”  In 2010 & 2011, President Barack Obama sent the pardoned turkeys to live at nearby Mount Vernon, the home of the nation's 1st President George Washington.  

President Obama's next pardoned turkeys were sent to "Turkey Hill," a historic farm located at the home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg, Virginia.  President Obama used the pardoning ceremonies to poke fun at his critics over his executive actions giving a new legal status to some undocumented immigrants, saying his Thanksgiving pardon of a turkey would doubtlessly be criticized as “amnesty.”  Obama joked that the turkey pardons would be the “most talked about executive action this month” & one that’s “fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democrats & Republican presidents before...I know some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there is plenty of turkey to go around.”

Blessing the Fox Hunt on Thanksgiving

I am pretty certain that I live in a place out of time.  At our church in Northern Maryland, Thanksgiving morning begins with communion followed by a Blessing of the Hunt. As geese congregate to fly overhead in November, fox hunting officially season begins in these parts.

St James Episcopal Church, Monkton, Maryland. 2014

This year's service was rather short, but one of my favorites from a few years ago follows.  The rector Charlie Barton, began, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. As the final echoes of the Lord's Prayer and an Anglican blessing fade from this hilltop into the silence of the trees, the horse and riders will pick up speed, seek a scent, and pass quickly out of our sight."

Informal fox hunts with private packs of dogs were popular in Maryland throughout colonial times, when rural neighbors applauded fox hunting as a husbandry necessity -foxes were destroying livestock. Early Marylanders did not see fox hunting as a bloodsport of the privileged. After the Revolution, the first few formal foxhunting clubs were organized near the towns of Baltimore, Washington, & Annapolis. Contemporary newspaper accounts show that the Baltimore Fox Hunting Club was active near the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1793.

The rector continued, "Into the beauty of God's creation they will move. We will hear them even when we cease to see the red of their jackets or the dark flanks of the very last horse. Even when they are gone from our hearing, we will remember the sound of our voices raised in song and prayer within these walls. And those who go a hunting and those that can't tell a stirrup from a saddle will leave this church today connected through a common cup, one bread broken for us all, and blessings from ancient times that are carried, still, by stories like voices on the wind."

Our local Elkridge Fox Hunting Club was incorporated on March 6, 1878, and is believed to be a descendant of the 18th-century Baltimore Fox Hunting Club. As downtown Baltimore grew, it combined with the more rural Harford Hunt club. Now the Elkridge-Harford Hunt roams over about 120 square miles of rolling farmland, with wooded areas & pastures. It has over 60 hounds in its kennels. Neighborhood obstacles are post-and-rail fences, fallen trees, cold streams,  & board fences.

The rector concluded, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. God's blessing will roll across the landscape, seeking those who would enter a kingdom raised by more than human hands. All we have to do to enter is to be willing to love, willing to risk, willing to ride out and meet God where He dwells. Let us all prepare our hearts for the blessing of the hunt, the search for God. For everyone that draws breath is on this life-long journey. Ride well, and may the peace of God be with you."

1911 Thanksgiving Greetings

Evolving 20C Depictions of America's Thanksgiving

"The unthankful heart...discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!"
..............Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

Thanksgiving 1923 Norman Percevel Rockwell (American artist, 1894–1978) Life Magazine Cover - Ye Glutton

Thanksgiving 1924 JC Leyendecker

Thanksgiving 1928 JC Leyendecker

Thanksgiving 1930

Thanksgiving 1935 Norman Percevel Rockwell (American artist, 1894–1978)

Thanksgiving 1943 Norman Percevel Rockwell (American artist, 1894–1978) Freedom from Want Saturday Evening Post 1943

Thanksgiving 1951 Norman Percevel Rockwell (American artist, 1894–1978) Giving Thanks 1951

Thanksgiving 2003 John Currin (American painter, b 1962), Thanksgiving 2003

Madonnas attributed to Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco (Greek painter, 1541-1614)

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greek (Greek painter, 1541-1614) The Madonna and Child

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greek (Greek painter, 1541-1614) The Madonna and Child 1597

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greek (Greek painter, 1541-1614) The Holy Family in 1590

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greek (Greek painter, 1541-1614) The Adoration of the Shepherds 1614

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.