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Goodbye Gobbler Gallery: A Thanksgiving Tribute to Disneyland’s Ex-Turkeys

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Disneyland's Big Thunder Ranch may not draw as much demand as the similarly-named roller-coaster next door, but it's always been one of my favorite places in the resort for catching a quiet moment.

Best known as home to the Happiest Petting Zoo on Earth (featuring a herd of friendly pigmy goats) the Ranch is currently in the clutches of Santa Claus and his elf-managing Mrs.

This year's Jingle Jangle Jamboree features photo-ops, DIY craft stations, and seasonal performance by Billy Hill and the Holiday Hillbillies on the arena stage. But this year, you may notice certain long-running VIP guests are absent.

For starters, even though the kids can still play carnival-style “reindeer games,” Santa's tradition transportation have taken the season off. Live reindeer, who formerly livened up “Santa's Reindeer Round-Up” are nowhere to be found in 2012.

Furthermore, the park's long time turkey population was taken away a few weeks before their favorite festival. In case you weren't aware, Disneyland's turkeys had a prestigious lineage, as key participants in the Presidential pardon Thanksgiving tradition.

The true origin of the United States President commuting the death sentence of a ceremonial fowl is fogged in myth, with Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy commonly cited as instigators. The modern tradition began with George H.W. Bush in 1989, and in 2005 his son W. started sending his pardoned poultry to Disney. For five consecutive Thanksgivings, the nation's officially exonerated birds were immediately escorted via airplane and motorcade to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, where they starred as Grand Marshall in the park's Thanksgiving Day parade before retiring to a pampered life at the ranch.

Unfortunately, as the modern turkey is bred to gain weight quickly and have a short lifespan, the birds sent to Walt Disney World in 2007 died swiftly of natural causes, as have their more recent successors. Happily, the three turkeys at Disneyland have lived remarkably long lives, attributed in part to a special diet the park veternarians developed.

Courage and Carolina, the last governmental gobblers given to Disneyland, were granted clemency by Barack Obama in 2009, the final year Disney participated in the ceremony. In 2010, Disney representatives explained the tradition's end as resulting from their focus on the then-new “Let the Memories Begin” marketing campaign. Since then, Presidential turkeys have taken wing to Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate in Virginia.

Until recently, the remaining turkeys were allowed to live out their retirements in the pen provided for them at Big Thunder Ranch. They were pulled from public view before the Christmas decor was revealed, and while there is no official acknowledgement of their fate, according to MiceAge's Al Lutz they should now be happily housed in backstage facilities. While it's gratifying to know their oversized drumsticks won't be greasily gracing the park's vending carts, that corner of Disneyland will forever feel a little less colorful to those who notice the birds' absence.

As you dig into your Thankgiving repast, take a moment to say a belated bye-bye to our dearly departed feathered friends. Then please pass me the stuffing!


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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

One thought on “Goodbye Gobbler Gallery: A Thanksgiving Tribute to Disneyland’s Ex-Turkeys

  • I’ve always enjoyed seeing the pardoned turkeys at Big Thunder Ranch. I’m sorry that they will no longer be there.


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