The last few triumphant steps towards the front door of the White House for a newly elected Commander-in-Chief can be doozies, and the awaiting welcome mat has tripped up more than a few incoming presidents (metaphorically speaking, of course).
From drunk inaugural speeches and diarrhea outbreaks to missing letters on keyboards, here’s our list of inaugurations and the festivities that surrounded them you’re glad you missed.
1. Dysentery was definitely not invited to Buchanan’s inauguration.
James Buchanan, America’s 15th president, was putting on the ritz after a gruelling campaign and staying at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C. while prepping for his upcoming inauguration. Famous for its upscale clientele and the fact it had a state-of-the-art water closet, the list of fancier places you could be staying in 1857 would be a short one.
Swankiness did not guarantee cleanliness, however, and Buchanan (along with 300 guests of the inaugural event) became ill from dysentery. The outbreak, which experts today think was caused by the infamous aforementioned water closet allowing built up toxic sewer gas to permeate the hotel, had the well-dressed attendees throwing up and suffering from bouts of diarrhea. National Hotel Disease, as it was soon named, was also deadly-it claimed the lives of three dozen people. And no, the Trump name is nowhere affiliated with the construction of the building.
2. The drunker you are, the more they’ll respect you. Not.
Note to self: when your vice president-elect is recovering from typhoid fever, allowing him to medicate himself with shots of whisky the night before your swearing-in ceremony is probably a bad idea.
Such was the scenario faced by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 at his second inauguration. A party was thrown in honour of Lincoln’s running mate, Andrew Johnson, where the VP-elect got extremely inebriated.
Waking up the next morning, Johnson decided a little hair of the dog was in order, and took a few more stiff drinks before staggering out the door to be sworn in. At the inauguration Johnson slurred out an incoherent 17-minute long speech and stumbled through his oath, which he finished off by kissing the bible.
As was the practice of the time, it was now his job as vice president to swear-in new Senators, but Johnson was at this point too crosseyed and painless to do so and the task had to be performed by a Senate clerk. Six weeks later, ‘Wobbly’ Johnson would become president after Lincoln was assassinated.
3. Nixon couldn’t look a bird in the eye for months after his second inauguration.
Nothing says ‘congratulations!’ to a returning president like a few dozen dead birds strewn along your inaugural victory route. In 1973, Richard Nixon was concerned the pigeons frequenting Pennsylvania Avenue would take advantage of their elevated vantage point in the trees above his motorcade and sully his big day by*ahem*raining on his parade.
At his behest, $13,000 was spent on the spraying of branches with Roost-No-More, a chemical designed to irritate the feet of birds and keep them from perching. Instead, the Pennsylvania pigeons treated the measure like a buffet, eating the poisonous chemical substance, killing themselves in the process and littering the street with their carcasses.
Perhaps karma came back to remind Nixon of his mistake later on during the inaugural ball held at the Museum of History and Technology, when a chicken escaped from an exhibit on early American farm life and reportedly accosted a female patron sitting in one of the $1000 guest boxes.
4. White House or frat house?
When Bill Clinton left office in 2001, he took with him the support of a lot of A-list celebrity-types who make modern-day inaugural festivities what they are now expected to be. George W. Bush’s inauguration had 98 Degrees, Sly Stallone and Chuck Norris-not exactly entertainers who were topping lists of any kind at that point. To add insult to more insult, when Bush entered the White House for the first time as President, he found Clinton staffers had left the place in a bit of a mess.
There are reports of dozens of computer keyboards having the letter ‘W’ removed and in some instances Superglued atop 12-foot doorways (hard to spell Bush’s full name without those), filing cabinets being glued shut, obscene graffiti on walls, sexually-explicit messages left on 15 voicemail lines and telephone extensions being rerouted. The shenanigans ended up costing taxpayers anywhere from $12,000-$19,000 according to a published report, plus the $200,000 price tag of the 217-page report itself, issued by the Government Accountability Office one year after Clinton left the White House.
The damage figure varies so greatly due to the report’s inability to determine if some damage found could be considered intentional, or who even might have been responsible. What is known for sure is weeks after the White House clean-up was thought to be complete nude pictures of people were still occasionally coming out of a West Wing photocopier, having been interspersed and buried amongst thousands of sheets of blank paper.
Third time being sworn in is the charm, the fourth is just for show.
Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidential oath of office four times. Makes sense, since he was elected to the position four times. So how does he share this distinction with outgoing two-termer Barack Obama?
Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the excitement of having just seen Yo Yo Ma perform, but Obama and Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts both flubbed their lines during the new president’s inaugural ceremony. As a result, the next day Obama took the oath-again, being given by Roberts-to quell any issues or concerns that vocal naysayers might express concerning Obama’s presidency being legal.
Obama’s second term inauguration swearing-in was far less dramatic, but since January 20th (the traditional first day of a presidential term) fell on a Sunday that year, Obama took the oath in private in the White House, then in public the next day in front of approximately one million people.