President Nixon Murdered Pigeons and Other Facts About the Inauguration

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Ben Terris
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It would appear to be an unmatchable record. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as president four times. But this year it will be tied by President Barack Obama.

Sounds impossible, right? And yet despite only getting two terms, Obama will have been sworn in 4 times. He got two ceremonies in 2008 after Chief Justice John Roberts botched the Oath. And this year he will be sworn in in a private Sunday ceremony before his public one on MLK day.

These are the kinds of things that inauguration day historian and author of Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President 1789-2013Jim Bendant notices. Here are four wacky historical facts about the ultimate day of pomp and circumstance he shared with me from his book.

 

  1. Birds have not fared well in a number of inauguration days. In 1873, Ulysses S. Grant wanted canaries at his second inaugural ball. Presumably for the whimsy of it all. What planners did not plan for, however, were extremely cold temperatures. One hundred birds froze to death that day. BUT, at least that was an accident.

    In an effort to keep pigeons from pooping into his open-top limo, President Richard Nixon did one of the most Nixonian things of all time in 1973. He had the inaugural committee spend $13,000 to spray Roost No More, a chemical bird repellent, along to parade route. Dozens of dead birds lined the streets of the inaugural parade.

  2. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his own father. Coolidge was visiting his father in a little cabin in Vermont when a courier came to say that President Warren Harding had died. When a second courier came to say Coolidge needed to be sworn in immediately, Calvin’s father—a justice of the peace and notary public—swore in his son as president at 2:47 in the morning.

  3. In 1961 it seemed like everything went wrong. President Lyndon Johnson said “Whatever” when he messed up the words to the oath, the stage almost caught on fire during the invocation, and the glare off of the snow made it so Robert Frost couldn’t read the poem he had written for the occasion.

  4. In 1829 Andrew Jackson threw a party at the White House after the ceremony and had trouble getting rid of the riff-raff. As the first outsider president, Jackson attracted a rough and tumble type of crew to his after party. The crowd trampled the house with their muddy boots, ruined the carpets and tore down some curtains. The only way the White House staff was able to get rid of them was to put a tub of whiskey out on the front lawn. That did the trick.