Historical inaugurations

Published 7:53 pm Monday, January 19, 2009

Editor’s note: These are vignettes from other inaugurations of presidents at crucial times in this nation’s history

Staff and wire

It was the Great Depression and a bank crisis that greeted the new president in 1933.

Email newsletter signup

Lorena A. Hickok was a reporter for The Associated Press and a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s incoming first lady. They talked, and this is what the first lady told her friend, “”One has a feeling of going in blindly, because we’re in a tremendous stream, and none of us knows where we’re going to land.”

Because of her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, Hickok saw the inaugural speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt the night before he took the oath of office as the two women sat alone in a Mayflower Hotel room.

“It did not even occur to me at the time, but I could have slipped out to a telephone after she read the inaugural address to me and could have given the AP the gist of it, with a few quotations,” Hickok wrote years later. “If I had, it would have been a scoop — the biggest scoop of my career.”

Eventually, Hickok’s close connection with the first lady cost her her career, but that interview the day of the inauguration in which Eleanor Roosevelt talked about the frugality and setting the example for the rest of the nation rings true even today.


A nation divided faced Abraham Lincoln on his inauguration day. But it was the outgoing President Buchanan’s lateness that drew the attention at least of Harper’s Weekly, which devoted much of its March 16 edition to the event 12 days prior.

Reporters from Harper’s said at least 25,000 people showed up for the inauguration, some sleeping in the streets and in the Capitol because the hotels, inns and rooming houses were filled.

Inaugural ceremonies were to have begun by noon, according to custom. However, Buchanan delayed the inauguration by staying in his office and signing bills until 12:10 p.m., according to the reports.

Harper’s revealed, “It was not till ten minutes past twelve that he left the Capitol. He drove rapidly to the White House, entered an open barouche with servants in livery, and proceeded to Willard’s. There the President-elect, and Senators Pearce and Baker of the Committee of Arrangements, entered the carriage, and a few minutes before one the procession began to move.”


Known by many historians as the coldest of the cold warriors, John F. Kennedy took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1960.

His installation marked the coming of a new generation, tempered by World War II and the awful destruction of a people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It also marked the drawing of a line between East and West; communism and democracy.

But he never used the word communism or communist when Kennedy addressed the nation: “”To those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: That both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.”

A side note: Like Lincoln’s inauguration, Kennedy’s taking of the oath of office was late by about 20 minutes. Nobody seems to know why. Both Kennedy and outgoing President Eisenhower were on the dais, chatting with one another and others.