It was 60 years ago that nearly one million people braved the cold and snow to hear John F. Kennedy utter those immortal words, “Ask not what your country will do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States on January 20, 1961. As you can imagine, coverage of the event graced the pages of thousands of newspapers all across the country.
The Raleigh Register from West Virginia showcased a true time capsule of JFK’s inauguration with the text of his speech, his decision to don the silk “topper” again, inaugural sidelights (“leading auto manufacturers provided 450 spanking new cars”), and other delightful tidbits to help readers embrace the day.
The Waco News-Tribune touted headlines with details on an inaugural luncheon featuring geographical dishes honoring Kennedy and Johnson and a special ambulance with a veterinarian for the horses. They also covered the touching tribute by President Kennedy to Mrs. Kennedy with the song from their first dance as a married couple for the inaugural ball, which was ultimately denied by the Secret Service.
The Kennedy’s move to the White House at 162 years “young” was a feature in the Chicago Tribune during the inauguration. Along with a brief history of the official home of the POTUS, National Geographic provided pictures of the interior with details about the home that harken back to its infancy.
There was an enormous amount of fanfare the night before the actual inauguration. An A-list of Hollywood and Broadway stars entertained JFK and friends into the wee hours of the morning, as shared in the Corpus Christi Times. The official inaugural program was published, along with a short piece journalists felt the public “ought to know” with advice shared by presidents of the past regarding the downfalls of occupying the Oval Office.
Showcased in the Cedar Rapids Gazette was a timeline of events for the inaugural week and a picture of JFK as he took the oath of office. The newspaper highlighted the oath but also shared some lesser-known facts about the event throughout history.
People loved to analyze every aspect of the president. The Arizona Republic was among many newspapers that shared details of JFK’s health and his apparent “aging” since the election. It included pictures of Ike in his dapper topper, President and Mrs. Kennedy headed to the White House, and Nixon at the inauguration (and as the journalist so eloquently noted, “not his”). Also included were highlights of the address boldly displayed in the middle of the page for readers to critique.
First Lady Jackie was an especially popular topic during the inauguration. The Daily Independent shared Mrs. Kennedy’s mixed feelings about her role, along with several pictures of Jackie and the massive amount of snow that dumped on Washington for the inauguration ceremony and events.
A few months after the inauguration, the Corona Daily Independent wrote a piece about life expectancy and the presidency. JFK’s inauguration marked the first time three former presidents were alive for the event. The article shared bits of pieces of knowledge regarding the lifespans of previous presidents and ended with no conclusive evidence that being president shortens someone’s life expectancy. The irony of the article cannot be lost on the reader with JFK’s assassination a little more than two years later.
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