washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Special Reports > WWII Memorial
Inaugural Moments

Chill Could Be Worse, And Has Been

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page B04

Visitors to Washington often are unaccustomed to achingly cold inaugural weather, particularly if they're from warmer climes, as is the case for many this year. A number of this year's visitors are Texans, many of them hatless, unlayered and clueless when it comes to dressing for the cold.

For Maureen Singleton and Jo Butterfield, friends from Houston, it has been brutal, despite their long underwear. Visiting the National World War II Memorial yesterday, they popped into a restroom, removed their gloves and boots and blew into them hot air from the hand dryer. Emerging from the restroom, they proceeded to abandon their husbands and head back to the hotel.

David Singleton in his white western hat, and Ivan Butterfield in his black one slogged on to the Korean War Veterans Memorial but then had had enough. They importuned a tour guide to drop them off at their hotel.

It could be worse. The 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy, when the snow glare bedeviled an elderly Robert Frost and the temperature was 22 degrees, is the one that many remember when freezing inaugurations come up, but as Washingtonians long have known, it's certainly not the only one.

In 1873, it was so cold that the champagne at the second-term inaugural ball for President Ulysses S. Grant froze. The temperature was near zero.

A snowstorm for William Howard Taft's 1909 inauguration forced the swearing-in ceremony into the Senate chamber. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan's inaugural parade was canceled and the ceremony was moved to the Rotunda when weather reports forecast snow -- wrongly, as it turned out.

The most legendary -- and tragic -- was March 4, 1841, when William Henry Harrison delivered a 105-minute inaugural address, hatless and coatless. He died of pneumonia a month later, and common wisdom had it for years that his long-windedness and coatlessness had done him in.

Harrison didn't have technology. Bush does. A Scotland-based company with offices in the Houston area is making sure that the Lone Star State's favorite son, his inaugural party and many visitors won't be catching colds or worse.

Aggreko Inc., a Glasgow energy rental company, is providing hundreds of tons of temporary power and heating equipment for the stages and tents and trailers where officials, production crews, troops and security personnel congregate.

The challenge may be little different this year than it was in inaugurations past, when simple space heaters often were employed, but security requirements make it more daunting.

"With all the checkpoints, the problem the Secret Service was having was how to keep people warm while they stood in line," said Gary Meador, Aggreko's events manager for North America, who has been planning since November.

And there are checkpoints -- along the parade route, at all the balls and at numerous private parties, including one on the roof of a hotel. And then there's the Secret Service dictum that the equipment be flame-free.

"To heat a tent, you just have to blow a lot of hot air," Meador said, "and in the past they always allowed propane. But that means you have a huge bottle of propane gas sitting around. That won't do, so now it's only electric heat."

According to Meador, the company will use about 18 megawatts of temporary power, enough electricity to heat 30,000 homes.

Aggreko has provided temporary heating or cooling for numerous big events, including the Olympic Games and the Super Bowl.

The difference between the inauguration and the Super Bowl, Meador said, is that planning for the NFL extravaganza begins a year in advance, and he and his team have about a month to get everything in place. For an inauguration, he has about three months of planning -- "and about a 72-hour window to install things and get out of here."

Meador then will head for Jacksonville, Fla., to set up Super Bowl tents. "Down there, with temperatures maybe in the 40s at night, it's for comfort; those people want to feel like they're in their own homes," he said. "Up here, it's survival."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company