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Bringing the party to the people

A history of our Inaugural West Swingers and White House Hoedowns
By KARA BASKIN  |  January 19, 2009


Are there any jobs on Earth more virile-sounding than commander in chief? Even the Beltway acronym used to refer to the president of the United States — POTUS — is bursting with, well, potency. Being sworn in as POTUS, as BARACK OBAMA will be in a few days, is in many ways the coronation of the ultimate macho man. Some past presidents have risen to the occasion, stiff to the January wind. Others have shriveled in the snow. A history of inauguration moments.

Cloak and swagger
Frigid temps have managed to ruin many an inauguration. Or, in some cases, lives. In 1841, our ninth president, WILLIAM HENRY "TIPPECANOE" HARRISON, in a misguided act of machismo, braved an icy climate to appear before his adoring public sans overcoat. The 68 year old flexed his macho muscles and waved to the crowd like a pre-Botox Miss America, before delivering what must have been an unbearable 100-minute address. But Harrison proved he was no Washington outsider: the coatless near-septuagenarian contracted pneumonia, and expired a mere 32 days into his presidency.

Coats have continued to wreak havoc on Washington's quadrennial fête ever since. In 1985, Colleen Beveridge, a former schoolteacher from Virginia, made news when she enlisted police aid to help her locate an $8000 mink stole lost in the shuffle at a RONALD REAGAN inaugural ball. In 1989, for GEORGE H.W. BUSH's inauguration, people stormed cloakrooms in what later became known as "The Bastille Day Coat Check" affair at the Texas State Society Tie and Boots Ball. And at a 1997 BILL CLINTON ball, police were summoned for garment control.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, meanwhile, refused to acknowledge the irony of asking a man named Frost to read at his frigid inauguration. That would be, of course, esteemed poet Robert Frost, but, sadly, the elderly wordsmith couldn't keep his composure in the chilly temps. He attempted to read a poem penned for the occasion, called "Dedication," but was distracted by the sun's glare reflecting off the snow. He eventually abandoned this effort and recited another poem, "Happy Birthday, Mister President," from memory while whispering lewdly. (Just kidding. He read "The Gift Outright.")

Men of the people
Loose cannon JIMMY CARTER, the same guy who sent his campaign staff into a tailspin after proclaiming to Playboy that he had "looked on a lot of women with lust," threw his Secret Service entourage into a frenzy on his inauguration day. After being sworn in, the simple peanut farmer from Georgia abandoned his secure limo and ambled up Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife and family. Luckily for him, no one seemed to care.

Other presidents, meanwhile, knew how to mix it up with their constituents. On the night of his inauguration, ANDREW JACKSON (whose wife smoked a pipe) turned 1600 Pennsylvania into a Delta House–level fraternity riot. Throngs of revelers rushed the White House from the streets to party with Old Hickory, resulting in stolen liquor, broken furniture, and soiled floors. Americans ultimately rewarded him for the mayhem by sticking his mug on the $20 bill.

A similar incident is rumored to have occurred after ABRAHAM LINCOLN's second inauguration, but, of course, if you were married to an insane woman with 10 personalities, you'd probably binge drink, too. GROVER CLEVELAND, never known for self-control (he's best remembered for marrying the daughter of his law partner, who was nearly 30 years his junior), treated his ball guests to 150 gallons of lobster salad and 1300 quarts of ice cream. GEORGE WASHINGTON went slightly more low-key, topping off his inauguration with fireworks bankrolled by taxpayers.

Petty offenses
We like to think of our presidents as mature and humble statesmen, but truth is, they're just as catty as girls at a sorority mixer. En route to his inauguration in 1869, rumor has it that ULYSSES S. GRANT refused to ride in the same carriage as predecessor ANDREW JOHNSON. (Maybe he just wanted to hit the flask alone.) And sometimes the outgoing guy has given the cold shoulder to the new kid, as HERBERT HOOVER did to FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT while the two men rode together to the latter's 1933 moment in the sun.

while riding to his inauguration in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, arguably our most loquacious leader, was given the cold shoulder by outgoing prez Herbert Hoover.

First ladies, too, have displayed less than diplomatic behavior. DWIGHT EISENHOWER's wife, Mamie, not known for mental stability (she was often seen wobbling in public, due to an "inner-ear problem," and she was addicted to the color pink), invited Jackie Kennedy to tour the White House shortly before her husband took office. Jackie had recently given birth and could hardly walk. Pregnancy be damned, Mamie allegedly marched Mrs. Kennedy through the entire mansion and instructed her staff to hide her wheelchair behind a door. Ever regal, Kennedy managed to endure the tour and later collapsed into her station wagon, either fatigued or shocked by Mamie's atrocious taste in home dûcor.

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Related: Jim nauseam, Hoover? Damn!, President Obama, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln,  More more >
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