Inauguration history

inauguration-quarrel When major historical events happen before our eyes, it can be fun to turn to the wayback machine and explore what it was like in the past. Thanks to the Historical New York Times database, I can take this trip down the collective memory lane.

As the U.S. prepared for Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration in 1953, Gerald W. Johnson wrote about "Nine Inaugurations, Nine Turning Points" for The New York Times. The article starts out with a comparison between inaugurations and coronations. I find this fascinating, as the first article I looked at, "Coronations & Inaugurations" from 1883, focused solely on this comparison as it related to Russia and the United States. Even today, the fear that a U.S. President will act as a monarch permeates the American consciousness.

Johnson writes Eisenhower's inauguration is the 10th turning point in U.S. inauguration history, describing how each president faced dramatic transitions from the one before. (History repeats itself, yes?)

In 1945, Bertram D. Hulen described how "An overnight storm had left a light fall of snow, which glistened on the ground and on the leaves of the near-by magnolia trees." Despite the weather, the headline said, "Shivering Thousands Stamp in the Snow at Inauguration...President Smiles Broadly." The inauguration described was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fourth. (Yes, fourth! Presidential term limits weren't ratified until 1951.)

That lovely prose crushes the stodgy words from Arthur Krock's piece from 1965: "In the Nation: Even Providence Can Be Tempted Too Far." In Krock's defense, the Civil Rights-era election of Lyndon B. Johnson that year came less than two years after President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

President George H. W. Bush lit an Olympic-style torch to begin the inauguration celebrations in 1989. On their inaugurations, Presidents Harrison, Grant, and Garfield got to sit in George Washington's inaugural chair. And Thomas L. Friedman wrote in 1992, "Clinton inaugural planners are promising the most folksy inauguration since Andrew Jackson threw open the White House doors on March 4, 1829, and was almost crushed by enthusiastic supporters, who made of with his chinaware and left muddy footprints on the satin-covered chairs."

Oh, and, President Wilson wept on President Harding's inauguration day.

Call it a scholarly distraction or trivia gold--digging into the Historic New York Times database can be a delight.


By G. W. (1953, Jan 18). Nine inaugurations, nine turning points. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

By BERTRAM D HULEN Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (1945, Jan 21). Shivering thousands stamp in the snow at inauguration. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

By, A. K. (1965, Jan 21). In the nation. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

By MICHAEL ORESKES Special to The New,York Times. (1989, Jan 19). Lights! action! inauguration is under way. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

By THOMAS L FRIEDMAN Special to The New,York Times. (1992, Dec 03). For clinton inauguration: A plain and fancy affair. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

By POLLIO. (1921, Apr 19). WHY MR. WILSON WEPT ON INAUGURATION DAY. New York Times (1857-1922) Retrieved from

Recent News

Add new comment