Presidential Inauguration Snubs And Flubs

Roundup: Media's Take

Joacqueline Trescott, The Washington Post, 1/15/05

Inauguration Day is a grand public time for the new president and his family. These are not perfect days, however, as history shows. While much of the ritual is scripted and runs tightly on military time, the unpredictable happens.

There are tiffs, there is politics, there are families, and then, for the newly elected, there is just the settling in at a new house. Things can happen that make this day a singular moment for an ordinary guy who just happens to be president.

Inside, glimpses of Inauguration Days, collected from historians, archivists and eyewitnesses.

Sometimes the incoming president -- or the outgoing one -- is still smarting from the slings of the campaign. John Adams left town so he wouldn't be part of Thomas Jefferson's 1801 swearing-in. Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed in his car for a long time in the driveway of the White House on Jan. 20, 1953, before greeting Harry S. Truman. He was fuming over remarks made during the campaign. Then, in the car on the way to the Capitol, Eisenhower -- one of the heroes of World War II -- asked Truman who had released John, Eisenhower's son, from active duty in Korea so he could attend the inauguration. John, a West Pointer, was embarrassed that he had been called home. Truman said he had given the order. Eisenhower was livid.

The walk has become a symbol of the common touch. Thomas Jefferson walked to and from the Capitol on March 4, 1801. Jimmy Carter got out of his limousine on the way to the White House and took a spirited walk on Jan. 20, 1977. George W. Bush took a brisk stroll four years ago.

On Jan. 20, 1965, Lyndon Johnson ate his dinner while having a rubdown. The president did grumble to aides that they were rushing him. Then when he was ready for the inaugural balls, he shouted out:"Tell anybody that wants to go that they better come with me now."

Martha Washington stayed in Virginia when George Washington was sworn in for his first term in New York. Looking dandy in a new brown suit, he took the oath and then went back to his rooms and dined alone. In the evening, he rode in a carriage with his two secretaries to see a fireworks display. But by 10 p.m. the streets of downtown Manhattan were so crowded with partygoers that he had to walk back to his rooms.

After his swearing-in ceremony in 1969, Richard M. Nixon walked inside the Capitol. He needed to sign some documents regarding his Cabinet appointments and the United Nations ambassador. But none of the politicians had a pen. There was an awkward moment, and then Nixon borrowed a cheap fiber-tip pen from his aide H.R. Haldeman to make his first official acts.

While Eisenhower was watching the inaugural parade from the reviewing stand on Jan. 20, 1953, Montie Montana, a famed trick roper, lassoed him. Ike knew it was coming. The Secret Service did not. The agents were not amused.

On March 4, 1873, the day of Ulysses S. Grant's second inauguration, a ball was held not in a building but in a big tent. It was bitterly cold, fur coats were kept on, the champagne froze, and there was a rush for coffee. The planners were going to have singing canaries flying around, but the birds froze.

In the hours leading up to his turning the keys over to Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter spent the night in the Oval Office. Later in the day, 52 American hostages held in Iran were freed.

In 1829 so many people tried to get near Andrew Jackson after his swearing-in at the Capitol that a ship cable intended to separate the official party from the crowd broke. Jackson had to escape on horseback. Then Jackson opened the doors to the White House, and 20,000 people took him up on his open-house invitation. They ate all the cheese, drank punch out of tubs, fell out of the windows and caused thousands of dollars in damage.

When Chelsea Clinton came downstairs to join her parents for her father's second inauguration on Jan. 20, 1997, she was sporting an outfit with a short skirt."Oh, you are not going to wear that!" said her mother. Chelsea, 16, did anyway, occasionally covering it with a coat during the day.

The balls in 1965 were so crowded with Democrats that Lady Bird Johnson recalled her husband saying:"Never have so many paid so much to dance so little! One thing I can say about the Great Society -- it sure is crowded."

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