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From the Funny to the Tragic: Moments from Past Inaugurations


As the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump follows his predecessors with traditions set long before him. That provides an opportunity to look back at some of the historic moments from past inaugurations.

Jane Hampton Cook, author of The Burning of The White House, and historian Tevi Troy, author of Shall We Wake the President?, discussed some of the history behind other presidents' inaugurations.

Inauguration History

"The first inauguration took place in New York at Federal Hall, with George Washington. That was where the Capitol was located in the early days of our republic," Cook told CBN News.
"George Washington gave a speech. It was a very short speech by today's comparison," she noted. "He took the oath. He put his hand on the Bible. He even kissed the Bible at the end, which we don't see today."

Troy also talked about memories of past inaugurations of U.S. presidents.
"FDR's 1932 inaugural was a big deal and widely paid attention to," Troy said.
"He criticized the money changers in the temple, which was a dig at Herbert Hoover, who was his predecessor and was sitting right there so that was a little bit of an awkward moment," he added.
"What I remember about President Obama's inauguration was the energy in Washington and around the country. People were so excited -- not just because he was a popular candidate but because of the historic nature of his presidency," Troy said.

Transition of Power
Cook also notes that "the purpose of inauguration is to show that peaceful transfer of power."
"One of the first transfers of power from one party to another was after the election of 1800 and 1801 when John Adams was the outgoing president. He lost a tough election to Thomas Jefferson," Cook said.

"On the one hand he gets a lot of credit for passing on the baton and not resisting and staying in office like some people had urged him to do," she continued. "But he did not stay for all of the inauguration festivities. He left town and went to Boston so he didn't have to see it."

"When his son, John Quincy Adams, left power, he did the same thing and did not watch Andrew Jackson, who was his bitter rival take over. So I think poor sportsman may have run in the Adams family," she added.

Inaugurations in the Technology and TV Era

Troy also brought up the history of Calvin Coolidge and his time during a new technology era.
"So Calvin Coolidge, when he was inaugurated he spoke and his speech went out on radio, which was a relatively new technology," he explained. "And via radio he could reach more people. Interestingly, even though he was known as 'silent Cal Coolidge,' he was actually pretty good on the radio."  

Eisenhower also faced new technology: television.
"Eisenhower now comes in the television age. At the same time Eisenhower was being inaugurated there was the famous 'I Love Lucy' episode in which Lucy gives birth to little Ricky," Troy said. "Of course, they didn't show this on screen -- it was the 1950s -- but it was a really big deal at the time."

"The numbers for that 'I Love Lucy' episode were much larger than the inauguration," he noted. "So 10 years after, when Eisenhower was no longer a president, he sees Lucille Ball and he goes up to her and says, 'Is this the little boy who took away the attention from my inauguration?'"

Cook also mentions another beloved president, Ronald Reagan, who made a huge step with television, specifically CNN.
"You look at Ronald Reagan and his was the first to be carried by a 24-hour cable news outlet, CNN," Cook said.

What They Wore

CBN News White House Correspondent Jennifer Wishon noted the public is always captivated by what the first lady will wear.
"The biggest memories of the balls is always the first ladies' gowns. Everyone wants to know what the first lady is wearing," she said. "I remember President Obama's first inaugural -- Michelle Obama wore the white flowing gown. They looked very beautiful together."

Cook shared a funny story about former first lady Barbara Bush's inaugural ball gown.
"The designer of Barbara Bush's gown wrote about how he sold the gown to another lady. It was before Barbara Bush picked it, so he had to pick up the phone and say, 'Darling, wear the red gown you bought from me and not the blue one.' And he couldn't say why. He couldn't say because Barbara Bush has chosen the blue one that I designed," Cook said.

In 1961, however, it was President John F. Kennedy's choice of wardrobe that was the talk of the town

"So John F Kennedy famously did not wear a top hat when he was inaugurated. He went bare-headed and that was a big deal. It also harmed hat sales going forward," Troy said.

Inaugural Flubs

"It's a big event. Invariably something goes wrong," Cook said of the inauguration process. "During John F. Kennedy's inauguration, the podium, the lectern caught fire when the cardinal was speaking."  
Recalling President Barack Obama's inauration, Wishon noted, "President Obama actually took the oath of office twice because when he took it the first time at the Capitol he transposed some words because he was prompted incorrectly by Chief Justice John Roberts," Cook told CBN News.

"So after the inauguration his lawyers talked to him and said, 'We think this is legal; you're still president. But just in case someone was to come back and challenge the legitimacy of your presidency, let's do this again,'" she said.

William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, died just one month after taking the oath of office.
"William Henry Harrison was a war hero," Cook shared. "The war of 1812, he became president and he gave an hour and forty-five minute speech."

"It was bitter cold; it was outside, and he died of pneumonia a month later," she said. "Some historians say there was a correlation that he was out too long, in the cold, speaking too long."  

The weather during Obama inauguration was also less than desirable.
"President Obama's was freezing. That's all I have to say about that," Wishon recalled, laughing.

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