Entertainment Break: From drunk vice presidents to White House ragers, here are the most memorable inauguration moments

by Peter Heck · Jan 20th, 2021 8:57 am
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Last Updated Jan 20th, 2021 at 7:05 pm

With Joseph Biden's inauguration as America's 46th president scheduled for noon on Wednesday, emotions are going to be high regardless of what side of the political aisle you call home. So let's ease the tension with a look at some of the lighter, and more curious moments in U.S. presidential inauguration history.

  • On March 4, 1793, George Washington reluctantly took the oath of office a second time. All he had wanted to do was retire to Mount Vernon, but his fear that the feud between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson would tear the infant country apart brought him back for one more term. But he didn't have much to say about it. Washington proceeded to deliver the shortest inaugural address in history. It was 135 words. Needless to say, that's one precedent of George Washington that American presidents haven't chosen to follow.

  • On March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson was inaugurated as the country's 7th president, but it's first "outsider" president. Jackson relished the role as a man of the people rather than a man of "special privilege." So, after a brief swearing-in at the Capitol, Jackson threw open the doors of the White House and invited the common man in to celebrate. About 20,000 showed up. The alcohol flowed freely and things got so rowdy that the newly seated president was forced to escape out a window and spend the night at a hotel.

  • On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan experienced the warmest inauguration day in American history. At the time he took the oath of office at noon, temperatures in D.C. had soared to 55 degrees. Four years later, on January 20, 1985, Ronald Reagan experienced the coldest inauguration day in American history. As he took his oath for a second term, officials had moved the events indoors as the temperature plunged to just 7 degrees with wind chills at 20 below zero.

  • On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower surprised those gathered with a moment of personal piety. Though references to God have always been common in inaugural addresses, Eisenhower asked the audience to bow their heads with him, asking "would you permit me the privilege of uttering a little private prayer of my own?" Afterwards, in the reviewing stand watching the parade, Eisenhower became the first president ever lassoed by a cowboy who rode by.
  • On March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison took the oath of office and proceeded to deliver an 8,445-word inaugural address. At 1 hour and 45 minutes in length, it was the longest address in American history. Despite a howling and wet snowstorm, Harrison refused to wear an overcoat or hat during the ceremony. He came down with a nasty cold shortly thereafter which soon turned into a major respiratory infection, likely pneumonia. He was dead within a month.

  • On March 4, 1909, William Howard Taft might have met the same fate as Harrison, but he was forced to take his inauguration indoors. That's because a storm blew through D.C. and buried the entire city under a blanket of 10 inches of snow. With drifts piling up multiple feet on roadways, the event was almost called off. But nearly 6,000 shovelers took action, clearing the area between the White House and the Capitol to make sure Taft made it home okay.

  • No president has ever been sloshed at his own inauguration, but the same can't be said for vice presidents. On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln's vice president, Andrew Johnson, had sought to settle his nerves with a bit too much whiskey. When it was time to take his oath, he was obviously drunk and slurring his words. As Lincoln stood with his eyes shut, waiting uncomfortably, Johnson rambled on incoherently for nearly 20 minutes.

Will January 20, 2021 appear on this list one day for any bizarre reason? We'll know soon enough.


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