Sometimes things aren’t as well-organized on inauguration day as they seem. We’ve covered a dozen of ‘em and we’ve read about several more. It seems they’re always quirky despite the minute-by-minute planning.
The inauguration ceremony actually is a joint session of the Missouri Legislature. The President Pro Tem of the Senate is the presiding officer, master of ceremonies, of the event—except in 1965 when the Speaker of the House presided. That was the first inauguration of Warren Hearnes, who had run against the so-called “establishment” that ran the Democratic Party, and had defeated Lieutenant Governor Hillary Bush. Former Senate leader Albert Spradling, Jr., recalled for the State Historical Society that Hearnes tried to gain control of the Senate but conservative senators stopped him by electing John W. Joynt of St. Louis as the Pro-Tem. Hearnes recalled in a similar interview that he had tried to get one of his campaign supporters, Senator Earl Blackwell of Hillsboro, elected President Pro Tem although Blackwell had been in the Senate only two years at the time. The veteran senators also rejected Hearnes’ efforts to compromise by having Blackwell named Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The resentment caused by Hearnes’ tactics—before he was even Governor—so antagonized Joynt that he refused to preside over Hearnes’ inauguration a few days later, leaving the job to Speaker of the House Thomas Graham.
Three times in the last four inaugurals, a wheel has fallen off.
We listened back to our recording of the 2013 events to put together this chronology. Governors are usually sworn in at noon as the bells toll the noon hour at a nearby church. Here’s the chronology of how things fell apart at the critical moment:
11:59:56—band finishes playing “God Bless America.”
12:00;20—12:01:20—The bell at St. Peter Catholic Church tolls eight times.
Long pause. Finally, Senate President Pro tem Tom Dempsey, the MC, approaches the podium, and just as he draws a breath to introduce the judge to swear in the Governor—
12:02:23—ninth bell (crowd and podium guests laugh loudly) Dempsey throws up his hands and retreats to his seat.
12:02:42—eleventh bell. Then silence. There is no 12th bell for the noon swearing-in. Voices on the platform (including Nixon’s apparently) are heard confirming, however, that there had been the 12th bell. Nope. Just eleven).
12:04:18—Convinced there are no more bells, Dempsey introduces St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison to swear in Nixon.
12:04:52—Judge Burlison begins the oath, “I, Jeremy Wilson Nixon…” Nixon repeats, “I, Jeremiah Wilson Nixon…”
12:05:25—oath completed. Church bells ring joyously throughout the city. Helicopter flyover.
Nixon’s first inauguration in 2009 was the second time in three inaugurals when the governor was sworn in early. Master of Ceremonies Charlie Shields, the Senate President pro Tem, noted about 11:45 that the event was running early and the band would play some music to fill time. However after one number he announced the swearing in of the new governor would proceed. Shields said the National Guard, which operates the schedule for the inaugurations, told him through his earpiece to go ahead with the oath-giving and taking. The swearing-in of Governor Nixon began at 11:52 and the church bells rang early.
The 2005 inauguration went off on time but is remembered by some for the relatively warm weather and for the governor’s attire.
Governor Blunt refused to be sworn in while wearing the traditional tuxedo, which he referred to in an interview with us as a “monkey suit.”
Blunt used two Bibles. In his inaugural address he noted that one was the Bible he used each day. The second one would be given to his son upon his birth. He said it reminded him “that what we do today, tomorrow and across the next four years will help define the future opportunities of every Missouri Child.
2005 was the second time in recent memory that the new first lady danced in the inaugural ball a few weeks before the birth of the first couple’s first child. Matt and Melanie Blunt were expecting their first child, Branch, in March. In 1981, Christopher and Carolyn Bond’s son, Sam, was born a matter of days after the inauguration.
Bob Holden’s inauguration in 2001 was a scrambled affair and the first time in the dozen inaugurations we have covered that the governor was sworn in early. Supreme Court judge Ronnie White, the master of ceremonies called for the swearing-in of Attorney General Jay Nixon right after the invocation. The schedule called for the inaugurations of the lesser officials to take place AFTER remarks from former Senator Thomas Eagleton and after the introduction of platform guests. After Eagleton spoke and the guests were introduced, the other inaugurations took place.
The event, which had started at 11;15 instead of the usual 11:30 saw the inauguration of lower-ranking statewide officials finished by 11:45. Rather than wait 15 minutes for the traditional noon-time inauguration of the governor, the ceremonies went right on ahead. Just as the church bell across the street rang once to signal it was 11:45, Governor Holden was sworn in. Radio and television stations planning to joining the ceremonies just in time for the noon inauguration of the governor found themselves switching to the Capitol after Holden was well into his address, or not switching at all. The church bells did not strike 12 because it would have interrupted the speech. In his press conference after the event, Holden explained that he decided to go ahead with the swearing-in because it was 27 degrees and people were getting cold.
The early swearing-in caught the flight of four F-15s from the St. Louis National Guard unit unprepared. The jets, which usually formed up west of Jefferson City and flew over the Capitol west to east were far from being ready when word went out that the swearing-in was taking place and the 19-gun salute was being fired. The jets wound up flying over the Capitol, more or less on a north to south route with two jets together and two others straggling behind, well out of formation.
Timing of the events leading to the noon inauguration was a problem, too, in 1965, during the first Hearnes inauguration. Speaker Tom Graham, about whom we referred earlier, recalled in an oral history interview for the State Historical Society that all of the scheduled events leading to the governor’s inauguration had been finished ten minutes early. He said, “I introduced everybody in sight. I introduced Governor Dalton and his wife. I introduced my wife. I introduced the members of the House. I introduced the members of the Senate, and then I introduced the taxpayers.” That killed enough time for the swearing-in of Hearnes to take place at high noon.
The second Carnahan inauguration was moved indoors because of bad weather. Organizers always have that contingency available, setting up chairs and a special podium in both places. The move indoors, however, meant less space for people wanting to watch.
The Carnahan inauguration, in 1993, first brought the festival atmosphere which existed in and around the Capitol for the rest of the day after the ceremonies. Carnahan was sworn in using an old family Bible used by his great grandfather, a circuit-riding Methodist minister. At one time there was a hole in the back cover. Family tradition held that the hole was worn by the saddle horn of his great grandfather’s saddle. A new cover was put on the Bible in later years that replaced that worn one. He did not wear a top hat–which is kind of an on-again-off-again tradition for these events. In 1989, when he was sworn in for his second term as treasurer, Carnahan wore a beaver topper with a long and distinguished history. But he told us before the inauguration in ’93 that he reviewed the tapes of that event and saw he was about the only person who wore the traditional hat for the ceremony. Others who had them either left them indoors or carried them. So he decided in 1993 to leave the hat off. It belonged to his father, former Congressman A.S. J. Carnahan, who served in Congress for 14 years and was the first United States Ambassador to the African country of Sierra Leone, appointed by President Kennedy.
But his father was not the first owner of that distinguished hat. It originally belonged to Congressman John B. Sullivan of St. Louis, whose wife Leonore became the elder Carnahan’s successor and served with great distinction in the Congress for many years.
Some might find a bit of irony in the telling of that story, we suppose. Anyway, the hat stayed in the box in 1993.
In 1997, Carnahan wore the beaver top hat—a little bit. We didn’t see him in it in the Capitol. He only wore it for the trip from the Mansion to the Capitol building.
—As long as we’re speaking of top hats, here’s a little top hat history for you. In 1969, when John Danforth was sworn in as Attorney General, he was the only one of the state officers who did not wear one.
Thomas Eagleton wore one that day although he refused to wear such a thing in earlier ceremonies. He had complained that all during his military service his hats had been either too large or too small and he had refused to wear any hats since.
In 1961, when Harry Truman attended John Dalton’s inauguration, he refused to wear a top hat in the parade. He wore his customary felt hat instead.
The 1961 inauguration as unusual in another respect. The Lieutenant Governor was not sworn in with the other statewide officials. Hillary Bush was inaugurated more than two hours later in the State Senate because the Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Senate. He told the senators he respected the Senate tradition of “orderly and courteous procedure and the most searching examination into each and every law affecting our citizens.” He promised to support “full and open debate,” saying “Good laws are not enacted after bearing only one side of a question. Minority views are just as important as the views of the majority. Sound debate often results in a decision acceptable to both sides and thus redounds to the benefit of the state”
However, several of Bush’s friends from Kansas City missed the event. The passenger elevators were jammed by the large crowd, so a janitor agreed to let them use a freight elevator. Fifteen to twenty people crowded in—and the elevator stopped about five feet from the third floor. Several minutes of door-pounding and prying open the doors finally caught the attention of someone in the hallway who got on top of the elevator car and lowered a chair to the interior. After about five people used the chair to get out, the car rose to the third floor and stopped normally. But it was too late for those inside to witness the event.
One highlight of the 1989 inauguration of John Ashcroft was the opening of the huge bronze doors on the south front of the Capitol. The doors had been closed for many years. They had been opened only for very special occasions for about 40 years. The state had paid $122,000 to repair and restore the doors. The hinges and frames were rebuilt and the finish to the doors was restored. The doors weigh 7,200 pounds, stand more than 18 feet tall and are 12-feet wide. It takes seven minutes to get the things open. The doors are divided into four panels. the second and third panels–the center panels–fold inward toward the Capitol and lock against the first and fourth panels, which also fold inward to provide a panoramic view up the 30-foot wide grand stairway to the third, or legislative, floor of the building. At the time the doors were installed, they were called the largest bronze doors cast since the days of Ancient Rome.
In 1985, Former Governor Hearnes did not attend the ceremonies, saying he had not been invited far enough in advance. Supreme Court Judge Warren Welliver refused to attend, showing his disappointment that an associate judge of the court was swearing in Governor Bond instead of the Chief Justice. The Associate Justice that day was Albert Rendlen, former Republican Party chairman (Welliver was a Democrat), who later became a Chief Justice. While he held that office, he swore in John Ashcroft for his first term. Ashcroft was sworn in for his second term by Judge Edward Robertson, his former aide that he had shortly before appointed to the Supreme Court. Robertson, who became the Chief Justice and is now in private practice, did not swear in Governor Carnahan. In fact, most members of the Supreme Court were absent from involvement in the 1993 ceremonies. All of them were Ashcroft appointees.
It is not mandatory that the Chief Justice swear in the Governor. Circuit Judge Sam Blair swore in his brother, James T. Blair, in 1957. In 1881, Governor Thomas Crittenden was sworn in by the outgoing Lieutenant Governor, Henry Brockmeyer, because members of the Supreme Court didn’t even show up for the ceremony until Crittenden was giving his inaugural address.
In 1981, an empty chair was placed on the inaugural platform next to Kenneth Rothman, who became Lieutenant Governor that day. Rothman had it placed there as a memorial to his father, who had died the year before.
In 1977, when Joseph Teasdale was sworn in on a bitterly cold day, Senator Eagleton was sitting on the platform next to Senator Danforth, so wrapped up in a shawl that Sally Danforth had given him when she went inside to get warm that a University of Missouri reporting program reporter mis-identified him as Senator Danforth’s wife. The wind chill factor that day was 45-below, so you know why he was wrapped up so tightly. The ceremony started in two-below-zero temperatures. A foot of snow had fallen overnight, causing the cancellation of the inaugural parade. Despite abysmal conditions—the pianist suffered frostbite on her fingers–Teasdale decided to have the ceremony outside because of the large number of people who had come to Jefferson City–especially from his home town of Kansas City–to see him sworn in. Many, if not the majority, of them stayed inside the Capitol, however, while the new governor earned for himself the nickname “Freezedale” from uncharitable critics.
Eagleton figures in a couple of other odd moments on inauguration day. On the way to the first Hearnes inaugural in 1965, Eagleton—who was to become Lieutenant Governor that day—was seen hitchhiking, dressed in formal attire. The car being used to chauffer him around had run out of gas a number of blocks from the Jefferson City First Baptist Church, where an inaugural worship service was held. Another was held there in 1969. The Hearnes family was Baptist and Betty often sang in the church choir.
The year Eagleton was sworn in as Attorney General, 1961, the man administering the oath forgot it. Former Judge Sam Blair, who had administered the oath to his brother Jim when Jim became governor in 1957, said he had sworn-in thousands of persons before, and the oath is really simple as can be. But he said he suffered a complete mental block, which lasted about four seconds but seemed far longer and left Judge Sam a little shaken.
The scariest inauguration might have been in 1913, when Elliott Major was sworn in. The Capitol had burned in 1911 and a temporary Capitol was erected just east of the present building. It was made of stucco, lath and wire. One account says “it was jammed to suffocation and the structure groaned and creaked under the weight of the crowd.” There were fears it would collapse until the building architect assured officials it would stand. The building was still there when Frederick Gardner was to be inaugurated in 1917 but officials were afraid to use it. The situation led to the first outdoor inauguration because the new Capitol remained unfinished enough for an indoor ceremony and nobody wanted to go back into the temporary building.
There were fears in 1881 that the inauguration of John S. Marmaduke might have to be delayed because he developed a severe nose bleed in St. Louis a few days later. The New York Times reported (Jan 11, 1885) that three doctors worked to solve the problem by trying to keep him “perfectly quiet and free from all excitement.” The newspaper reported the Marmaduke was at a St. Louis hotel “up in his room nursing his well proportioned nose, which has both nostrils solidly plugged up.” He did recover in time to attend his inauguration. However he died in pneumonia in 1887 before the end of his term.
When Trusten Polk was inaugurated for what became the shortest gubernatorial term in Missouri history, the large crowd in the House Chamber was puzzled why the ceremony had not started. What the crowd did not know was that nobody had a Bible for Polk to put his hand on when he took the oath of office. While the crowd waited, a frantic search was underway in the capitol to find one. Alas! There was not a single Bible to be found in the entire building. Someone finally came in with one—located at the State Penitentiary! One newspaper said afterwards that Jefferson City would be a tremendous field for missionaries, noting, “”We fear that the work of legislation can never go on properly in a place where copies of the Good Book are so scarce, and that it will be necessary for other reasons than the high price of board, to fetch the Legislature to St. Louis where, goodness knows, there are plenty of Bibles, whether we govern our lives by the precepts contained therein or not.”
Polk served less than two months before he was elected to fill a vacancy in the U. S. Senate, from which he was later expelled at the start of the Civil War for disloyalty, an interesting irony for a man who said in his inaugural speech, “It will be a never-failing source of gratification to me if I shall be able to contribute in any degree towards inspiring a more sacred reverence for the Constitution of Government under which the several peoples of all the states are united as one people.”
Let’s see if we get this ceremony right this time.