Each year before Thanksgiving, the President of the United States formally pardons a live turkey presented to him by the National Turkey Federation. It’s a tradition that’s seemingly been around forever, and while the NTF has been supplying the White House with holiday birds since the 1940s, the pardoning bit is actually a pretty new development.
A lot of people point to Harry Truman as pardoning the first turkey in 1947, but the record keepers at the Truman Library can’t find any “documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records” tying Truman to the custom. What’s more, the first turkey Truman supposedly pardoned wasn't even for Thanksgiving — it was given to him at Christmas. The Truman family ate it.
Another origin story says that Abraham Lincoln interrupted a Cabinet meeting in 1863 to grant a turkey named Jack, which his son had befriended, an order of reprieve for “execution” in the kitchen. As with Truman, though, there’s no documentation supporting the story, and it may be just another Lincoln tall tale.
The first president after Truman to spare a turkey was John F. Kennedy. But JFK did not grant a formal “pardon” to the bird presented to him the week before Thanksgiving in 1963. He simply suggested the family “just keep him” and announced he would not eat the bird. ("It's our Thanksgiving present to him," Kennedy said.) According to a contemporary New York Times report, the bird was returned to a farm for breeding. Kennedy tragically didn't live to see Thanksgiving — he was assassinated on November 22.
Ronald Reagan spared a turkey named Charlie from the White House kitchen, but only joked about giving it a pardon as he tried to deflect questions about the Iran-Contra affair. Formalized turkey pardoning, it turns out, has only been around since 1989, when President George H.W. Bush looked at his turkey and said, “Let me assure this fine tom he will not end up on anyone's dinner table. Not this guy. He's been granted a presidential pardon as of right now, allowing him to live out his days on a farm not far from here.”
Since 1989, the tradition has been cemented and the president has pardoned a turkey (and its alternate) each year.
Until 2004, the spared turkeys were sent to Kidwell Farm, a petting zoo at Frying Pan Park in Virginia, where they lived out the rest of their lives in the Turkey Barn. From 2005 to 2009, the turkeys went to either Disneyland in California or Disney World in Florida, where they served as honorary grand marshals in Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade and then retired to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch.
In 2010, Disney stopped taking pardoned turkeys and President Obama’s birds were sent to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia — which is where this year's turkeys will spend the holidays, too. The pardoning ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday in the Rose Garden, and the White House social media team really went overboard this year:
The turkey with the less-popular Twitter hashtag will be killed and eaten, right? No, according to the White House, "both turkeys travel to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens where they will be on display for visitors during 'Christmas at Mount Vernon.' The turkeys will then travel to their permanent home at Morven Park's Turkey Hill, the historic turkey farm located at the home of former Virginia Governor Westmorland Davis in Leesburg, Virginia."
Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year. But the day after? Leftover central. Instead of pushing untouched stuffing and turkey into the depths of the fridge, try out these Thanksgiving leftover ideas to spread Turkey Day cheer a little bit longer.
The Classic Approach: Incorporate Leftovers Into New Meals
After a day or two of gut-busting meals, salads can help clear out your system. Leftover greens need to be used up before they wilt, and when topped with shredded turkey, nuts, and veggies like roasted carrots, this post-Thanksgiving salad just needs a stellar dressing to top it off. Luckily, using up leftover cranberries to make a vinaigrette takes about 10 minutes and clears the fridge at the same time.
2. SHEPHERD'S PIE
Stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey can come together for a quick shepherd's pie that clears out multiple side dishes all at once. And unlike pot pies, there's no need to roll out a crust—just top with extra gravy for a complete meal.
Stir-fry can easily be tailored to whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Turkey and Brussels sprouts work well together, but any vegetables will do. Leftover wine can be used as a turkey marinade, making use of half-empty bottles that could otherwise go bad. The key to making a great leftover stir-fry is having a hot pan, and using meat that has warmed at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Thanksgiving pizza quickly clears out leftovers—that’s because many recipes call for mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Substitute gravy for marinara, and don’t stress about making a crust from scratch; refrigerated dough (perhaps from any unmade crescent rolls) makes this leftover innovation a much faster meal.
The classic casserole is one of the easiest ways to get rid of leftovers, and that’s because it can be thrown together quickly and baked with little oversight (a much-needed cooking style after a big Thanksgiving meal). Even leftover casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be worked into a new dish. The trick for casserole success is creating layers, similar to lasagna, instead of blending all ingredients together.
Make Next-Day Breakfast Even Better
Thanksgiving dinner can easily make its way to the next day's breakfast without picky eaters even noticing. Muffins made from sweeter leftovers, like whole or sauced cranberries, offer up a seasonal flavor while clearing out the fridge. And cooks can even sneak in a few veggies, such as carrots, for an added nutritional boost.
7. FRENCH TOAST
Turn carb-heavy dinner breads or dessert loaves into breakfast treats with a stovetop or baked version of French toast. This quick-cooking breakfast clears out leftover bread, and can use up cranberry sauce, too, when used as a topping or filling.
8. POTATO AND STUFFING CAKES
Leftover mashed potatoes can be repurposed in many ways, but what about stuffing? Two cups of stuffing, an egg, and butter are all it takes to make stuffing cakes—à la potato cakes—that fry up for a lunchtime snack. If you want to carb-load for a second day in a row, you can mix mashed potatoes and stuffing for a similar pan-fried patty.
Pumpkin pie can be transformed into pancakes for an easy breakfast following a big day of cooking. Beat two slices of pie into pancake batter for festive fall breakfast, and top with leftover fruit or cranberries.
Whip Up A New Dessert
11. DESSERT CRISPS
Fruit crumbles and crisps became popular during World War II when food rationing made it difficult for home cooks to craft elaborate desserts. Luckily, these recipes are perfect for after Thanksgiving, because they require minimal effort and few ingredients, all while using up leftover cranberry sauce, apples, and other fruit dishes.
12. DAY-AFTER PIES
Sure, Thanksgiving is known for its standard pies: pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. But chances are, those pies don't make it to day two. Clear out your leftovers stash and fulfill a sugar craving with a cranberry pie—a lighter, whipped version with marshmallows is easy to make after a whole day of cooking, or a slab-style pie hits the spot if your oven's still begging for attention.
Sip Your Leftovers
13. PIE SMOOTHIES
If you somehow have leftover pumpkin and sweet potato pies but no whipped topping, no worries. Pie smoothies are as easy to make as they are to sip—simply toss leftover pie, sans crust, into a blender with milk or yogurt for a smooth way to savor Thanksgiving leftovers.
After a long day of fielding personal questions from distant relatives, you may need a stiff drink. And yes, you can use Thanksgiving meal remnants to unwind. Candied yams, Cognac, and hazelnut liqueur combine for a "Candied Yam Libation," while a "Turkey Tippler" blends turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, and celery for garnish. Feeling hesitant about meat-infused alcohol? Washington D.C. bartender Justin Hampton recommends the "nice mouthfeel."
15. SIPPING VINEGARS
Like other home-brewed drinks, sipping or drinking vinegars are beginning to see some popularity. And, they're easily made at home. Combine leftover fruits (cranberries or fruit tray leftovers are a great option) with apple cider vinegar in a jar, leaving the mixture to ferment for a week before straining out fruits and sitting for another seven days. After two weeks, a small amount of drinking vinegar can be mixed with soda water for an effervescent treat that's ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
16. INFUSED LIQUORS
If you're up for experimenting (and a bit of a wait), leftover fruit can be put to good use infusing and flavoring alcohol. Fruits like cranberries, apples, and pears work best, and even ingredient scraps like orange peels can be used to flavor vodka for homemade seasonal liqueurs.
Make Soul-Warming Soups
Soups are one of the easiest ways to clear out a refrigerator bursting with leftovers. Turkey is easy to add to almost any soup and can be frozen until you're ready to cook again. And, leftover soup can even be frozen for another cold day, though broth-based soups without pastas or creams store best.
Soup purists know that stew is not the same; it generally contains less liquid than a soup, has a thicker mixture of ingredients, and has a longer cook time. And while any combination of leftover vegetables and meat can make a great post-Thanksgiving stew, consider trying out Sobaheg, a dish culinary historians believe could have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey meat, beans, hominy, green beans, and squash make up this historical stew.
Instead of dumping leftover vegetables and meat bones in the trash, toss them into a stockpot with water for a hearty homemade stock. Even better: fresh stock can be frozen for the upcoming wintry days that require a hot bowl of soup.
Prep Snacks For The Rest of the Weekend
20. QUICK DIPS
Hosting family or friends for the entire holiday weekend? There's no need to worry about having extra snacks or appetizers on hand. Turn leftover beans or sweet potatoes into spreadable, hummus-style dips by blending with olive oil and seasonings of your choice.
21. DEEP-FRIED APPETIZERS
Uneaten green beans don't have to rot in the fridge. Instead, toss in a cornmeal batter before frying for a crunchy leftover snack. As many Midwestern state fairgoers know, the deep-frying doesn't have to end there. Get creative and toss leftovers into oil for a hodgepodge of Thanksgiving fritters. Don't forget the ranch dip!
Roasted turkey is easy to add to anything, tortilla chips included. While you can opt for traditional nachos with melted cheese and a turkey garnish, there's another option to clear out your fridge even faster: a Thanksgiving-style nacho using leftover gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. Mashed potatoes take the place of refried beans, and gravy is substituted for melted cheese, while stuffing creates a thicker base layer (along with the chips).
When You're Really Tired of Turkey
23. FREEZER MEALS
If you've spent all day in a hot kitchen basting a turkey, chances are after the big meal's served, you're already tired of looking at it. But don't let those pounds of extra meat and sides go to waste. Instead, package up plated meals for the freezer, which can be quickly defrosted and reheated on a day you really don't feel like cooking. Many Thanksgiving side dishes freeze and reheat well—such as stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, and breads. For best results, avoid freezing dairy-heavy dishes and casseroles with crunchy toppings that have a tendency to get soggy (such as green bean casserole).
24. SWAP LEFTOVERS WITH A FRIEND
Does a friend have a great recipe that you love…but you won't get to gorge on thanks to Thanksgiving meal logistics? Consider sharing it the next day. Swapping a plate or dish with friends or family is one way to share a meal together, while also saving you from a week's worth of grandma's famous potatoes.
25. SEND IT ALL HOME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
If you're dining with a large crowd, consider letting friends and family clear out your fridge space. Etiquette says it's up to the host to determine if leftovers will be dished out and shared, so don't be afraid to prepackage leftovers for guests, or simply let them have at it themselves. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing with family and friends—both the love and the food.
I don’t remember much about being seven years old, but I’ll never forget Thanksgiving Day, 1990, at my Uncle John’s house on Staten Island. While the adults were in the dining room drinking and laughing, I was glued to the television, watching my heroes Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and the Legion of Doom. It was WWF’s Survivor Series pay-per-view, and it was basically the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
But that night was memorable for another reason: It was the debut of one of the most celebrated wrestlers in history, a man who’d go on to win seven WWF (now WWE) Heavyweight Championships, as well as an unprecedented and inimitable 21 straight Wrestlemania matches. This man was not a man at all, but an undead monster. A “Phenom,” as WWE announcers would go on to call him.
On that day, the world got its first glimpse of the Undertaker.
This is not his story.
No, this story is about another debut from that night. One that was so perplexing that, more than a quarter-century later, fans are still scratching their heads.
I am talking about what is considered one of wrestling’s worst gimmicks: the Gobbledy Gooker.
WHAT'S IN THE EGG?
The Gobbledy Gooker was actually the most anticipated part of that evening, which only adds to the mystery of how this happened. For the unfamiliar, the Gobbledy Gooker started its life as an egg, hyped heavily on televised WWF broadcasts in the weeks leading up to Survivor Series. The world would find out what's in the egg, it was promised, during the big pay-per-view event on Thanksgiving.
When Survivor Series finally aired, all was revealed. “Mean” Gene Okerlund, the voice of the WWF in the 1980s and early 1990s, enhanced the drama. “Is it the playmate of the month?” Gene asked, to the cheers of men across the arena. “The way it sounds to me right now, the speculating is all over!” I couldn’t handle it anymore. Break open, already, dammit. Break!
When the egg finally did break open, few in the crowd at Connecticut's Hartford Civic Center could believe what was inside: a man in a giant, cartoonish turkey costume.
To say fans were unhappy is an understatement. Watching the video now, you can immediately hear the boos. As the turkey climbs off its platform, “Mean” Gene tries to sell it to the fans. “Take a look at it ladies and gentlemen!” Okerlund exclaims. “Feathers, a beak, a little rooster tail on top. You’ve got a pair of legs like my mother-in-law, pal.”
The Gooker leans in and gobbles into Okerlund's microphone.
"What is with the gobbledy?" Okerlund asks. "Don't tell me you're the Gobbledy Gooker?"
The Gooker grabs Gene, and the two walk to the ring, run the ropes, and dance the show off the air to a cheesy version of “Turkey in the Straw.”
At the time, I was confused, though not as angry as most of the fans in attendance. Looking back, I still don’t see what kind of sense it was supposed to make. After about a month or so, the Gooker was all but gone, little more than a bizarre, tryptophan-aided memory.
If he was supposed to wrestle, the entire costume seemed unreasonable. If he was meant as a mascot, who was he representing? And why did Vince McMahon, who had just hours earlier introduced the great Undertaker, follow it up with this?
I had to know.
So I asked.
THE MAN BEHIND THE BEAK
The Gobbledy Gooker, it turns out, was a wrestler named Héctor Guerrero, a member of the famous Guerrero wrestling family; son of the great Gory Guerrero, brother of Chavo, Mando, and Eddie Guerrero. While not the surefire hall-of-famer Eddie was, Hector’s career was nothing to sneeze at. He won more than two dozen titles across the country, including multiple tag titles, an NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship with Crockett Promotions, and an NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship. In 2007, he moved into the broadcast booth, joining the Spanish commentary team for the Total Nonstop Action promotion, where he remained until 2015.
Most wrestlers have had a gimmick that doesn’t work, or one that they’re embarrassed by. For example, hard-nosed British technical wrestler William Regal was once known as “The Real Man’s Man,” a guy who chopped wood and wore a hard hat. The Undertaker’s in-character brother, a demon from hell named Kane, was previously a wrestling dentist. It’s all part of the business.
But over the phone from his Florida home, Hector doesn’t sound embarrassed. To him, the entire Gobbledy Gooker thing was a missed business opportunity, one he says could have worked if it was given the right venue. He’s vehement that, in front of the right crowd, it would have been recognized for exactly what it was: Something fun to entertain the kids. “It was always for the children,” Hector told Mental Floss. He says he was not ready for the rowdy northeastern crowd he faced that night in Hartford, and thought that a more kid-friendly audience would have been more appropriate.
“It was not a kid crowd,” he laughs.
GOOKER'S ORDERS FROM THE TOP
Hector started receiving calls from the WWE in early 1990, months before Survivor Series. He was not immediately responsive. Years prior, he says, he had a brief but antagonistic encounter with one of the company’s agents, so he didn’t pay the calls much attention. He eventually relented, however, and soon he was speaking directly to the man in charge himself, current WWE CEO Vince McMahon. The two had a cordial conversation—McMahon was reaching out because wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes had vouched for Hector.
The idea, as Hector remembers, was a fun mascot for kids who would eventually start actually wrestling. Months after getting the call from Vince, Hector tried out for Gooker in person.
There was some initial hesitation about Hector's body type. The WWE was fresh off a 1980s era that prized the godlike physiques of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan. Hector, who had just gone on two tours with the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, was smaller than most of the roster.
The Guerrero family, from Mexico City, was known for melding the exciting, Mexican lucha libre-style of wrestling—athletic, fast-paced, freeform, and acrobatic—with a traditional American style inspired by old school wrestlers like Dory Funk Sr. Years later, when Hector’s brother Eddie and other lucha-style wrestlers became stars with the WCW, they were exclusively part of the company’s cruiserweight division—wrestling that often demanded a smaller physique.
“They had expected to see me bigger, but at this time, when this all happened, I was on a very strict diet,” Hector says. “They didn’t realize that us light guys could do things that could maybe draw money.”
Nonetheless, Hector credits his small, athletic build and quick skill set as the impetus for WWF’s call. The work he did with WCW as “High Flying” Hector Guerrero was innovative to American audiences, and despite his smaller-than-average size, Hector impressed during his WWE Survivor Series tryout—all while performing in full turkey getup.
He was asked to put on the costume and show what he could do in the ring, and he bounced from rope to rope, doing flips and cartwheels. To see, Hector had to look through two holes drilled into the giant turkey mask's bulging plastic eyeballs, which was extremely difficult. To look left or right, he had to rotate his entire head. Still, he nailed the audition and landed the gig.
Hector started to receive a stipend and began working as part of the company. When wrestler Tito Santana was to debut a new character, El Matador, WWE wanted native Spanish-speaker Hector in Mexico to help film vignettes. And having been in the business since he was a teenager, the 36-year-old Hector also knew a few friendly faces in the company. His traveling companion, Terry Szopinski—better known to wrestling fans as the Warlord—helped him bulk up on the road. Even he and the Undertaker, who would later debut on that same Thanksgiving night, shared a brief history in WCW, where Hector was impressed with the agile big man’s work.
GOBBLEDY GOOKER'S BIG NIGHT
On Thanksgiving 1990, Hector huddled in a box underneath the giant egg for four hours—enough time so that no one entering the Hartford Civic Center could see him before the show. He was given a TV monitor, a light, and some drinks and snacks. The crew pranked him by pasting pornographic photos inside the box. (Hector, who says he was by then a devout Christian, was not amused.)
The night went on, and Hector waited patiently for his moment. Suddenly, Gene Okerlund began to talk about the egg, and Gobbledy Gooker knew it was time to hatch.
“As I stepped down to talk to Gene, the more boos I hear,” he says. “You know, I can’t hear the kids screaming that they like it, but I can hear the people, because there’s more adults. And they’re booing the heck out of it.”
Okerlund put the microphone down, and said to Hector, “We’re going to put it over,” meaning they were going to try to make it work. They marched to the ring and Okerlund, to his credit, did his best Charlie Chaplin routine, stumbling, tripping, and falling. Someone later told Hector that Okerlund woke up the next day with bruises all over his body from trying so hard to sell the routine.
As the Gobbledy Gooker made his way backstage after his performance, Hector felt the stares and immediately felt like a pariah. “I worked pretty hard,” he says. “I put my 110, 115 percent, like all my matches. I put all of my ability into it.”
“It was an egg,” he adds, exasperated. “What’s going to hatch out of an egg?”
THE GOBBLEDY GOOKER'S END
Hector continued touring with WWF for a month without incident, save for one. Hector was again asked to do his Gobbledy Gooke routine, this time at Madison Square Garden. The crew told him they would shine a spotlight as he approached the ring. He agreed.
When announcer Howard Finkel called out the Gooker’s name, the familiar “Turkey in the Straw” beat dropped. Hector was ushered through the curtain by stage hands. That’s when he says he knew he was in for some trouble.
Hector walked through the curtain into pitch darkness. Suddenly, he was hit with a spotlight. It shined through the large white eyeballs of the costume's mask, and he couldn’t see a thing.
In his telling, he says he was hurried down the aisle by crew members, feeling his way as he went. He eventually got to the ring, busted his knee on the steel steps, climbed to the apron, and, unable to see what he was doing, flipped over the top rope and came crashing down to the mat with a thud.
“All I can see is white,” he recalls. “I can’t see where the ground is. I can’t land on the ground, because I see white. So I landed on my butt. “
The main lights were eventually turned on, and a frazzled Hector finished up his routine. Backstage, he was greeted by an upset Vince McMahon, who simply walked away from him. He was later approached by the legendary announcer “Gorilla” Monsoon.
“You couldn’t see, right?” Gorilla asked.
“Yeah,” Hector responded.
“We figured that out,” Gorilla deadpanned.
It was an impossible situation, according to Hector. About a month after his debut at Survivor Series, he was out of a job. He said there was no formal conversation. The company just stopped booking and paying him.
Looking back on the incident decades later, Hector isn’t bitter. This was not always the case. Losing the WWF opportunity was tough on him and his family, and he went to work as a gymnastics coach before wrestling again for other, smaller companies. Around Survivor Series 1991, he says he was again offered the Gobbledy Gooker gig. He did not accept.
As time went on, Hector’s outlook changed. He now considers any alleged slight as “water under the bridge.” His younger brother, the late Eddie Guerrero, and his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., both went on to become WWF stars. He’s happy with the way his family was later treated by the company, has no ill will, and characterizes most of his experiences working with McMahon and others as very professional. After ending his tenure with Total Nonstop Action in early 2015, Hector started a wrestler consulting business and hopes to use the skills he learned under his father and through his more than 30 years in the business to help other wrestlers succeed.
In 2001, Hector even agreed to don the Gobbledy Gooker suit in Houston for Wrestlemania X-Seven, in a “gimmick battle royal” with 18 other gimmicky wrestlers from WWE’s past. It was an over-the-top-rope elimination match, and he was eliminated by Tugboat, a heavyset wrestler known in the 1980s for dressing like a sailor.
At the 2006 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, Hector Guerrero sat in the crowd to watch the induction of his late brother Eddie.
That same night saw the induction of “Mean” Gene Okerlund, who recounted that infamous experience he and the Gooker shared 27 years ago.
“Hector, we had a lot of fun,” Okerlund said. “But all is forgotten.”
Sorry Gene, but the Gooker lives on. And Hector wouldn’t have it any other way.