A Look At Memorable Moments From Past Inaugurations

Stories of complications and quotations abound, from Nixon's second inauguration till today.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Well, from the studio, I'm going to go out again to talk to NPR's Linda Wertheimer. She is at a place that has a very good view of the activities there on the Mall. That happens to be the Canadian embassy. And just one thing: the West Front of the Capitol is decorated in red, white and blue. That is the backdrop for President Obama's second Inauguration. And Linda has seen every Inauguration since the second time President Richard Nixon was sworn into office, his second inaugural. Good morning.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee. We should say that the first Nixon inaugural, NPR did not yet exist.

MONTAGNE: Oh, that would be right.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: I was unable to go to it.

MONTAGNE: I was being born right about that time. Tell us what was important, I gather, at that particular Inauguration. It happens to be a location change.

WERTHEIMER: It was - that location, the East Front of the Capitol, that was where President Lincoln, for example, addressed in his second inaugural, it came from the East Front. And it was turned around after the - Jimmy Carter was, I guess, the last on the East Front. Then they turned it around to the West Front with President Reagan.

What I remember - of course, and what all reporters always remember is what happened to us at the inaugural. In this case, we'd had a heavy snowfall the night before the Nixon speech, and our little perch, which was way up high, was swaying, and the Secret Service didn't want to let us go up stairs. So we had a small fight and a tussle, and we finally got up there.

But there was some concern that it would fall down during the course of the Inauguration. Thank God it did not.

MONTAGNE: Well, these Inaugurations are also fraught with all kinds of logistical issues, and the security measures we're all familiar with now, they're very extensive. But I gather you have seen some moments that have felt risky, and I'm thinking here of Jimmy Carter getting out and walking around.

WERTHEIMER: Well, that's true. Jimmy Carter got out of the car - the first time anyone had ever seen that - and walked around with his wife, Rosalynn Carter, for the last part of the inaugural parade, leading the parade on foot, in fact. And - but the thing is, Renee, you've got to remember that that was before 9/11.

Before 9/11, things were different. Things didn't feel quite the same. I think we've all felt a little tremor of fear every time since then that a president has gotten out of the car. And there was a lot of concern that President Obama would do it in his last Inauguration, and he did. And we assume that he will do it again.

MONTAGNE: And what about memorable - let's say quotations - the beautiful things people have said?

WERTHEIMER: Well, of course, ask not - you know, that was the Kennedy, ask not what you can do - what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Those - I think there are only a very few lines that are really, really memorable from inaugural addresses. And I've seen so many, and I have to say that I'm sorry that I cannot remember very many of the speeches at all.

One of the things, of course, that might be a sort of little, tiny bit of advice from President Lincoln's second inaugural was the way he began it. He said: at the second appearing to take the oath of office of the president, there is less occasion, said President Lincoln, for an extended address than there was at the first. Now, that's good advice for every president who has a second inaugural.

But in my experience, the last two didn't take it.

MONTAGNE: Well just, you know, briefly, Linda, we just have about 30 seconds here: How is the second inaugural different from last time? And not just because it's not as cold as four years ago?

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: That was - well, it was not the coldest inaugural in history. That was when President Reagan's second inaugural, which was canceled because it was too cold to be outside. President Obama's inaugural was very uncomfortable and very cold. But I think that this is - this is the feeling, I think, that we're getting from the president is that he has things left to do, and not as many concerns about - of course, no concerns about being reelected.

MONTAGNE: Right.

WERTHEIMER: And that gives him, that gives the whole thing a kind of a different and perhaps a little more urgent flavor.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Linda Wertheimer at the Canadian Embassy. You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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