The annual presidential turkey doesn’t only get the gift of a traditional Thanksgiving pardon from the commander in chief.
Before President Trump pardons a turkey on Tuesday, the two birds in the “presidential flock” selected to come to Washington, D.C., will gobble up swanky accommodations in their own room at the historic, five-star Willard InterContinental Hotel near the White House.
The National Turkey Federation, a trade association that represents more than 95% of the turkey industry, says it has provided the president with a Thanksgiving turkey each year since 1947. The tradition of the “turkey pardon” started in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush but has roots in President Abraham Lincoln sparing a turkey from his Thanksgiving table because his son had grown to like the bird and asked him not to kill it.
Two presidential turkeys, only one of whom normally gets an official presidential pardon, travel with their farmers who raised them across the country each year. This year, turkeys “Corn” and “Cob,” raised by Ron and Susie Kardel, came from Walcott, Iowa. And like all White House guests, they need somewhere to stay before the official pardoning ceremony.
What better spot for the portly poultry pair than the hotel that has hosted heads of state and historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr.?
Janet Scanlon, senior marketing manager at the Willard InterContinental, said that the relationship between the Willard and the National Turkey Federation “began in a very organic manner.” The group needed space for a press conference to introduce the turkeys plus guest rooms for those involved in the pardoning production.
“From what we can ascertain, we know the turkey has stayed in a hotel since at least 1991, and we believe before then as well,” Beth Breeding of the National Turkey Federation told the Washington Examiner.
Corn and Cob weigh 42 pounds and 41 pounds, respectively, which is above the hotel’s listed 40-pound weight limit for dogs. An exception is made for the VIP duo, though.
“Traditionally, the turkeys stay in a spacious deluxe guestroom, with two beds, that has a connecting door to the room in which the turkey farmer resides,” Scanlon of the Willard told the Washington Examiner. “The turkey farmer assumes that responsibility and cares for them while with us, just as he has been while raising them on their farm.”
Photo-ops this year show the birds walking around the five-star room or lounging on the beds, but that is more for show.
“When in private, they actually stay in one section of the room that has been prepped especially for them, complete with wood chippings, water/food, etc.,” Scanlon said.
That also means the risk of turkey droppings on the Willard’s luxury sheets is not much of a concern and makes cleanup after the turkey stay, during which the room is taken out of service for three days, more manageable. Plastic tarps and rubber mats also help keep the room clean.
“The National Turkey Federation does an absolutely fantastic job in ensuring the condition of the room is kept to what it was upon arrival,” Scanlon said. “They have a very tenured staff that have worked on this event over the years and have the room prep and room tear-down down to a science.”
The Willard has not always had the honor of hosting the presidential flock, though. The nearby W Hotel put up birds Apple and Cider in 2010, Liberty and Peace in 2011, and Cobbler and Gobbler in 2012.
“The W Hotel’s really putting them up? It’s great advertising,” President Barack Obama said during the 2010 pardoning ceremony. “It makes you want to stay at the W.”
The turkeys returned to the Willard in 2013.
Photo-ops of the birds in their private hotel room before pardoning didn’t regularly make it into public view until 2016. The Trump White House in 2017 started releasing highly produced videos of the turkeys’ arrival at the Willard.
Breeding of the National Turkey Federation said that the rise in glamorizing the presidential turkey accommodations has been a natural result of the public becoming more interested in the birds in the age of social media.
The turkey lobby group covers the cost of the turkey stay, along with that of the farmers and others from the group who stay in the hotel, though the Willard declined to disclose the price of the stay. Rooms at the hotel currently start at $195 a night — a lower pandemic-era rate. In previous years, room rates the week of Thanksgiving were around $350 per night.
The final bill, according to Breeding, depends on “what kind of damage the turkeys did to the minibar.”
After the pardoning ceremony, Corn and Cob will live the rest of their lives at Iowa State University.
Turkeys in the presidential flock from prior years have gone to live at Virginia Tech University. The birds from 2018 and 2019 are still alive and “doing well,” David Linker, Virginia Tech’s agricultural program coordinator, told the Washington Examiner earlier this month.