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Memorable — and Odd — Moments in Inauguration History

  • Istock

    Short and Somber

    En español | George Washington, in 1793, had the shortest inauguration speech in history — at 130 words, a humble address acknowledging that he faced “upbraidings” from all who witnessed it if he failed in his duty. In 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt had the second-shortest at 550 words, a somber speech from a desperately ill president during World War II.

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  • Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

    The Great Escape

    In 1829, Andrew Jackson escaped the crush of an adoring mob that poured into the White House only when aides escorted him out of a window. The mansion’s furnishings were ruined, and the staff could not get the 20,000 partiers to leave until they were lured out by tubs of whiskey placed beyond the White House gates.

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  • Getty Images

    Binding Up Wounds

    With the country still mired in a Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, used his address to try to heal the nation’s wounds. He said the North and the South shared the sin of slavery, and that both sides read the same Bible and prayed to the same God.

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  • Getty Images

    The Warmest and the Coldest

    Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration, in January 1981, was the warmest on record, with a noon temperature of 55 degrees. His second, in 1985, was the coldest, at 7 degrees. It was so cold that the trumpeters’ lips froze to their mouthpieces, prompting planners to cancel the outdoor parade. Reagan delivered his address inside the Capitol Rotunda.

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  • George Silk/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

    Seizing the Torch

    In 1961, John F. Kennedy proclaimed that the torch of leadership had passed to a new generation of Americans. He declared: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” The stirring words inspired thousands to join the Peace Corps and many to fight against poverty and discrimination.

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  • AARP

    On Parade

    Among memorable inauguration parade acts were Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West troupe in 1889; Apache warrior Geronimo in 1905; and in 1993, two float-riding Elvis impersonators — an “Ed Sullivan era” Presley sporting black jeans, and a “1969 Comeback Concert” Presley wearing a rhinestone-studded white jumpsuit.

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    Uplifting Words

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” a beaming Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in 1933. It was an optimistic declaration that cleared a path for the New Deal, government actions to help overcome the Great Depression. The recovery was slow and painful, but FDR’s oft-quoted words lifted the nation’s spirits.

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  • AP

    The Long Walk

    Jimmy Carter, in 1977, walked the inauguration parade route from the Capitol to the White House, with first daughter Amy scampering around him. It was a way to signify that he was determined to be the “people’s president,” not one sealed off by an imperial guard.

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  • AP

    Cowboy Antics

    In 1953, when the nation was infatuated with cowboy movies, Dwight D. Eisenhower was lassoed by Montie Montana, a renowned trick roper who performed in 60 Rose Bowl parades and more than 20 movies. A sour-faced Secret Service and a laughing Vice President Richard Nixon looked on.

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  • 2009 The White House

    Supreme Flub

    Chief Justice John Roberts got the words mixed up when administering the oath of office to Barack Obama in 2013, misplacing the word “faithfully” and changing an “of” to a “to.” The following day, to erase any question that Obama was officially the president, Roberts administered a do-over in the White House Map Room.

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  • Bettmann

    Fatal Address

    Hatless and coatless on a bitterly cold day in 1841, William Henry Harrison delivered an inaugural address that lasted for 1 hour and 45 minutes, still a record for long-windedness. He promised not to seek a second term and died of pneumonia a month later.

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