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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Inauguration memories from over the years



Louis Jacobson, a Tampa Bay Times staff writer, will be among the reporters covering President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on Monday. Here, he looks back at the six previous inaugurations he’s attended, most of them as a journalist.

• • •

It probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, but I have been attending presidential inaugurations since I was 6. My first was Jimmy Carter’s in 1977. This was the last inauguration held on the East Front of the Capitol. It always surprises me why the East Front was favored for so long, since the view from the West Front -- the side used now -- is so much more majestic, as it looks out over the National Mall. (It can also accommodate a lot more visitors.) I was only in first grade for Carter’s inauguration, and I don’t remember very much about the ceremony. I think I recall my Dad putting me on his shoulders at one point, which would have been about the only way I could have seen what was going on.

• • •

I missed the 1981 inauguration -- I was playing indoor Nerf basketball with a grade school friend, if memory serves. I do remember a famous split headline that day in the Washington Star -- the now-defunct afternoon paper -- that said, in screaming boldface, “Reagan Takes Office; Hostages Now Free.”

I also missed Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985, but then again, so did almost everybody who wasn’t a Member of Congress or a top government official: It was so cold -- about zero Fahrenheit -- that essentially all of the outdoor inaugural festivities, including the parade,  were canceled. Reagan was was administered the oath inside the Capitol Rotunda. For this reason, I don’t count this as a “miss” in my personal tally.

• • •

For the 1989 inauguration of President George H.W. Bush, I came home from my freshman year of college to work the event as a photographer's assistant for Consolidated News Pictures, a small, family-run wire service. My credential allowed me to park myself on a largely empty marble staircase leading up to the Capitol. From there, I would be able to take some unobstructed pictures of the ceremonies. But my colleague Ron Sachs had also been able to set up a Consolidated camera on a riser immediately in front of the swearing-in location -- a far better angle. Once the camera was ready, he handed me what amounted to a TV remote control device and said, "Shoot with your camera, and with your other hand, click the button on the remote." I had no idea what kinds of pictures I would be getting, or if the device would even successfully trigger the shutter, but I did as I was told. After the ceremony, we went back to his office, located about a block from the Capitol, developed the film, and began to scan the images we'd all taken and send them over the phone lines to Consolidated's clients overseas. This entire process was totally new to me -- I didn't even know what a fax machine was, so the idea of digitizing an image and sending it half a world away in just seconds was pretty much mind-blowing. That's how, I believe, some of my remote-control images made it to the front pages of Japanese newspapers within hours of the ceremony.

• • •

For me, the 1993 and 1997 inaugurations blend into one. They both involved Bill Clinton, and in both cases, I was working once again for Ron of Consolidated. Only for these two occasions, we were perched together on the balustrade above the inaugural platform . The view, as one might imagine, was breathtaking -- just like the president and their families did, we looked out upon a sea of people receding toward the Washington Monument. As I dig out some of the slides -- yes, totally irritating, analog slides -- of 1993 inaugural images, I see close-ups of familiar faces: The silver-maned Edward Kennedy, John Danforth, Jesse Helms and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (looking dapper in a fedora). Former President Carter with Rosalynn. Outgoing President Bush with Barbara. There’s Joe Biden, looking much more youthful than today, but with an eerily familiar jocularity as he points to someone in the crowd. Somehow Warren Beatty and Annette Bening slipped into view very close by, judging by how big their heads were in my photograph. In my favorite image, Clinton exits the platform to the rear, taking the time to turn in our direction and flash a thumbs-up. (Thanks, Bill!) He’s surrounded by members of his Cabinet, both well-known and obscure -- Warren Christopher, the late Ron Brown, Les Aspin, Hazel O’Leary, Mike Espy. And right next to Clinton in the picture? A smiling Zoe Baird, just days away from seeing her attorney generalship torpedoed by unpaid nanny taxes.

• • •

I still regret missing the 2001 inauguration of President George W. Bush, but at least I had a good excuse: I was laid up with pneumonia. So I was stuck watching it at home on TV. I console myself with the thought that the dreary, rainy weather could have made my illness that much worse.

• • • 

In 2005, a colleague, Paul Kane, and I covered George W. Bush's second inauguration for Roll Call, stationed inside the Capitol. Paul did most of the reporting, but my sole notable contribution to the story was an interview in the Crypt with a just-elected Sen. Barack Obama. At the time, we didn't think the exchange was all that significant; it made it into paragraph number 28 of 34. Now, though, I suspect this may have been the only media interview with Obama conducted exactly four years to the day before his own first inauguration. Because I cannot find this story either in the Roll Call archives nor in Nexis, I've scanned my copy and posted it here for posterity. For the record, Obama told me, "I think (the inauguration) was consistent with the themes that the (Bush) administration has been laying out over the last few months. Clearly the president is putting his focus on foreign policy. Apparently this is the legacy he wants to set for himself. As I said in the Foreign Relations Committee the other day, all of us are rooting for his success. My hope is that he fosters the openness and the dialogue between the parties to allow for that success." The one thing I most clearly remember about the interview -- which took all of about 30 seconds -- was that the future president's hands were very cold after standing on the platform during the swearing-in.

• • •

As the editor of CongressNow, a small wire service, I knew I didn’t have much time to be outside for the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama -- we had to be on duty to edit and file copy. But our office was right near the Capitol, barely out of the security zone, and I had a credential, so I figured I would take a look around. Knowing there would be a crush of visitors for the historic inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, I slept in my office to avoid the commute. At first, I was able to move around okay, but the closer I got to the Capitol, the tighter things became. I didn’t end up in the Purple Tunnel of Doom -- the unpleasant, claustrophobic traffic tunnel where hundreds of ticket holders got stuck while on their way to the ceremony -- but I did end up in another, less celebrated crush at 1st and D Streets NW. For anyone stuck in this particular morass, there was no going forward or back, or side to side. (Unless you were Jesse Jackson, who somehow managed to grind through, thanks to a unified security entourage.) From where I stood, I could see open space a half a block away, but right around me it was so crowded -- and the police oversight was so ineffectual -- that traversing that distance took about two hours. It wouldn’t have been so scary had I not had fresh in my mind an article I had read the night before, titled, “How Not to Get Trampled at the Inauguration.” According to the article, “The way people die in crowd crushes is not from trampling but from asphyxiation—the force of five people moving forward is enough to collapse the lung of an adult on the receiving end. The best way to avoid that fate is to move gradually sideways or backward, out of the human flow, at the earliest sign of trouble. The trick is to know what those signs are. Once you are in obvious peril, it's usually too late.” I felt the slow crush coming on, but was finally rescued when a few men and women locked arms with me and we all moved in unison towards the open space. By the time I made it back the additional block or two to the office, Obama was giving his address. Back to work.

[Last modified: Saturday, January 19, 2013 10:34pm]


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