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Kennedy Takes Oath as President, Proclaims a New 'Quest for Peace'By Edward T. Folliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 1961; Page A01
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated 35th President of the United States yesterday as the sun glorified Capitol Hill in the happy aftermath of a crippling snowstorm.
In his inaugural address, surely one of the most eloquent in history, the new American leader called on the Communist world to join with the free world and "begin anew the quest for peace."
He said a live-and-let-live arrangement might not come in his generation's lifetime, and added simply: "But let us begin."
Leaving the Capitol, President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, traveled westward to the White House in the vanguard of a late-starting inaugural parade, to the ecstatic cheers of onlookers estimated a million by Police Chief Robert Murray.
Last night, the Chief Executive and the First Lady dashed around the city to a five-site Inaugural Ball, and it was well past midnight before they turned in for their first night's sleep in the White House.
The official temperature was 22 degrees, 10 below freezing, as the great drama of the inauguration began. A sharp 18-mile wind was blowing from the northwest. But the sun, flooding down from a cloudless sky, took some of the bite out of the cold, and gave a radiance to the freshly scrubbed Capitol and to the flags whipping the white marble portico.
It was 12:51 p.m. when President-elect Kennedy, great-grandson of Irish immigrants, began repeating the oath of office after chief Justice Earl Warren. When he uttered the final words, "So help me God," some fascinating precedents tumbled into the history books.
He was the first Roman Catholic and the first man born in the twentieth century to become President of the United States, and at 43 he is the youngest man ever elected to the great office.
He became the first President since Andrew Johnson with a background of previous service in both the Senate and the House.
And he became the second man in American history to move into the White House while both of his parents were living; the first was Ulysses S. Grant.
Added to all these extraordinary circumstances was the fact that President Kennedy took over the burden from a man who at 70 was the oldest Chief Executive in American history.
President Kennedy began his fateful day at 8 a.m., although he had been up late the night before.
There were 7.7 inches of snow on the ground as he left his Georgetown home at 8:55 a.m. to attend Mass at Holy Trinity Church.
President Eisenhower had telephoned his successor the day before, suggesting that he call at the White House earlier than planned and have a cup of coffee. He had issued the same invitation to Vice President Richard M. Nixon, the also-ran in the exciting 1960 presidential race.
It was 10:55 when the Kennedys left their home at 3307 N. St. NW for their drive to the White House. The soon-to-be President now had on his high silk hat and cutaway and his wife wore a beige suit and pillbox beige hat. A crowd of 500, including Georgetown University students, cheered the couple.
The President and President-elect left for the Capitol at 11:31 a.m. Their wives followed in a limousine behind two Secret Service cars, and then followed two more cars, one carrying the incoming and out going Vice Presidents and the other their wives.
Although he arrived at the Capitol in plenty of time, President-elect Kennedy was late for the ceremony that was to lift him to the summit of his career. This was not surprising to the reporters who had covered his 1960 campaign, and who had remembered how he invariably fell behind schedule – usually because he didn't want to disappoint well-wishers trying to grasp his hand.
It was 12:20 p.m. before the President-elect arrived on the inaugural stand for a ceremony that was supposed to start at noon. His wife and Mrs. Eisenhower, Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Johnson had taken their front-row seats seven minutes earlier.
President Eisenhower had moved onto the scene at 12:09 as the United States Marine Band played "Hail to the Chief," a piece he was hearing for the last time in his own honor.
When the outgoing President and his successor were finally seated alongside each other, they doffed their silk hats and began an animated conversation.
At 12:20 p.m., Sen. John Sparkman (D-Ala.), Chairman of the Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee, appeared at the lectern and called on the Marine Band to open the ceremony with "America the Beautiful."
Richard Cardinal Cushing, Catholic Archbishop of Boston, pronounced the invocation, one of extraordinary length.
A short circuit in the wiring system of the lectern occurred while the Prince of the Church was talking, and smoke began curling upward from the stand.
The smoke finally was smothered by fireman, electricians, and Secret Service agents.
Cardinal Cushing was followed by Marian Anderson, who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Then came another prayer, a shorter one, by Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church. At this point, Lyndon B. Johnson moved to the forefront and took the oath of office as Vice President. It was administered by his fellow Texan, Speaker Sam Rayburn.
The Rev. Dr. John Barclay, pastor of the Central Christian Church of Austin, Tex., said a third prayer, and made way for Robert Frost, 86-year-old New England Poet.
Frost was to recite his poem, "The Gift Outright," but also had prepared what he called a "preface." He had trouble reading this, and was heard to say "I can't see in the sun." Vice President Johnson jumped up and held his high silk hat over the manuscript to keep out the glare.
However, Frost gave up the preface, and began reciting his poem, for which he needed no manuscript.
President-elect Kennedy, who had given Frost a sympathetic smile, now took off his overcoat and moved forward to take the oath of office, repeating it after Chief Justice Earl Warren.
His left hand rested on a Douay version of the Bible, the basic English translation done in the 16th century by Catholic scholars in the English College at Douay, France. This particular Bible has been in the possession of the new President's grandmother, widow of John F. (Honey Fitz) Fitzgerald, one-time mayor of Boston.
The 42-year-old Bostonian's voice had a ring in it as he repeated the oath prescribed in the Constitution.
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
George Washington, first man to take the oath, added the words, "so help me God." And President Kennedy, following the lead of Chief Justice Warren, also spoke them.
Now he was at the pinnacle, No. 1 man in history's greatest republic, taking command at one of the most dangerous periods in history.
He was not awed, and he said so as the 50,000 gathered on the Capitol Plaza cheered.
"I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it," he said. Last night, having changed into his evening attire, the President and the First Lady left the White House to join those thousands who turned out for the Inaugural Ball to celebrate the Democratic Party's recapture of Executive Power after a Republican interlude of eight years.
Her Bus Was Late, But Not Late Enough
Inauguration spectators southbound on a crowded Wisconsin Ave. bus suddenly heard a woman say, to no one in particular: "My God, is this Inauguration Day? Why am I going to work?"
And sorrowfully she added: "I waited 35 minutes for this bus."
© Copyright 1961 The Washington Post Company