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Inauguration Trip-ups, Oddities and Excesses

From the chaotic to the comic, the event has had its moments

william harrison pneumonia long speech died

President William Harrison fell ill after an especially long-winded inaugural speech and died of pneumonia a month later. — Bettmann/Corbis

First cure for inaugural insomnia

William Henry Harrison's 1841 inaugural address lasted for one hour 45 minutes, a record for long-windedness that has never been broken. In it, he promised not to seek a second term. He died of pneumonia a month later.

Hail to the chief?

New York Democrats were unquestionably upset over the questionable defeat of their governor, Samuel J. Tilden, in the 1876 presidential election. Rutherford B. Hayes' inaugural speech the following March was punctuated by rude outbursts from the audience, the first (and, presumably, last) time Bronx cheers were heard at a swearing-in ceremony.

I love a parade but not at that price

After being told that there would be no "freebie" tickets to President Jimmy Carter's 1977 inaugural parade, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger was reported to have said: "If I have to pay $25, then I'll charge Carter $50 to swear him in."

If he said march, we'll march

George H.W. Bush (Yale, '48) requested that a band from his alma mater be included in his inaugural parade in 1989. Complication: The Yale Precision Marching Band doesn't have uniforms and doesn't even really march (it's a scatter-style ensemble that performs halftime shows made up of comedy segments). Added complication: The Yale University Concert Band, sent in its place, had never marched anywhere before. "It was a real comedy of errors," the band's director later told reporters. "Our flags kept getting tangled in trees."

Best acts in an inaugural parade

First place: Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Troupe, 1889. Runner-up: Apache warrior Geronimo, 1905. Third place: two float-riding Elvis impersonators (an "Ed Sullivan Era" version in black jeans and a "1969 Comeback Concert" version in a white studded jumpsuit), 1993.

Belly up

Tickets for the first official inaugural ball were sold at the bar of Long's Hotel, the site of the 1809 extravaganza (and the present site of the Library of Congress). John Quincy Adams apparently did not care much for the festivities honoring the new president, James Madison. "The crowd was excessive, the heat oppressive and the entertainment bad," Adams said. Madison himself was heard to murmur, "I would much rather be in bed."

Don't play it again, Sam

Bandleader Meyer Davis wrote a special composition for one of Richard Nixon's inaugural balls in 1969. An excerpt from the lyrics: "Julie, pass the crumpets/Tricia, serve the tea/David, entertain our friends/With news of Ike and Mamie."

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