The 15 Weirdest Presidential Inaugurations in US History
Later today (Jan. 20), Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in the country's 58th inauguration ceremony, and over the years, the otherwise serious ceremony of swearing in the president has had a few odd moments. From Dwight Eisenhower being lassoed by a cowboy to Richard Nixon's dead birds, here are some of the most bizarre swearing-in days in U.S. history.
During Dwight Eisenhower's 1953 inauguration, the American infatuation with on-screen cowboys was at such a peak that Montie Montana, a rodeo rider and movie star, was included in the ceremony. Though Montana initially suggested presenting the president with a 10-gallon cowboy hat, this idea was bucked for a lasso. Montana rode up to the inaugural parade stand on horseback and lassoed the newly sworn-in president in front of the crowd.
During his second inauguration, the nation's first president gave the shortest inaugural address. With a succinct 135 words, George Washington thanked the American people for the distinguished honor and reminded them of the oath he would take — short and to the point.
Bill Clinton prioritized diversity for his inaugural celebration. Rather than the traditional parade marchers of military cadets and equestrian teams, Clinton included a reggae band and lawn-chair drill team — members drill with lawn chairs — in his inauguration parade. The procession also included an Elvis Presley impersonator on a float with members of the late musician's original band.
Theodore Roosevelt was greatly inspired by Abraham Lincoln — so much so that during his second inauguration in 1905, Roosevelt wore a ring containing a lock of Lincoln's hair. The ring was gifted to him by Secretary of State John Hay, who was Lincoln's former personal secretary. After Lincoln's assassination, Hay reportedly paid $100 for six strands of hair to be removed from the President’s head during his autopsy. Hay later had one of these strands mounted into a ring under an oval piece of glass.
Barack Obama's first inauguration actually happened twice. During the swearing-in ceremony Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court stumbled over the oath, leading Obama to mix up his words. To avoid any doubt about the legality of Obama's presidency, the two men redid the constitutionally mandated oath the next day, word for word.
In 1865, Andrew Johnson gave a train-wreck of a speech on the big day. The vice president usually gives a short and smooth speech prior to the president's address. But the 16th vice president, who later became the 17th president after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated that year, was ill with typhoid fever and took the medicine of the day, whiskey, the night before. The hangover must have gone to his head: During the speech, he bragged about his humble origins and his triumph over Confederate rebels. Lincoln reportedly looked on in horror, while the former vice president Hannibal Hamlin tugged at his coattails in a failed bid to get him to stop.
Ulysses S. Grant thought that canaries would add a festive touch to his inaugural ball in 1873, the beginning of his second term. Unfortunately, the 18th president failed to anticipate the cold temperatures — the morning low was 4 degrees Fahrenheit (about 15 degrees Celsius), the coldest March day on record. With wind chill, the day felt like a blustery minus 15 F to minus 30 F (minus 26 C to minus 34 C). All told, about 100 birds froze to death during Grant's inauguration.
More dead birds
Birds don't seem to do well on Inauguration Day. During Richard Nixon's Inauguration Day parade in 1973, he wanted to make sure pigeons didn't ruin his big day. The 37th president had a chemical bird repellant sprayed all along the inaugural parade route. The streets were strewn with dozens of dead pigeons.
Grant's inaugurations suffered from several blunders. Not only did he inadvertently lead to mass bird death at the second inauguration, his first inauguration in 1869 saw outright brawls. The people staffing the coat-check area couldn't read the claim tickets, so as people waited ever longer to pick up their outerwear, fights broke out and some guests abandoned their jackets and hats. "Illiterate workers mixed up everyone's coat claims, leading to fights among the men and tears among the women," writes Jim Bendat in "Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of our President 1789-2009" (iUniverse Star, 2008).
Calvin Coolidge, known as "Silent Cal," was notorious for talking little and doing things with no fanfare. That includes the start of his presidency. He was staying with his father in rural Vermont when news came that President Warren G. Harding had died. Because the 30th president's father happened to be a justice of the peace, his father performed the swearing in right there, without an audience.
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