By Megan Shay
A very historic Inauguration Day is approaching. But a few presidential inaugurations became historic for less-than-flattering reasons. From extravagant parties and unruly mobs to streets littered with poisoned pigeons, let's revisit history's most memorable Inauguration Day mishaps.
William Henry Harrison (Image credit: Hulton Deutsch)
1. Long winded
The longest inaugural speech in U.S. history was given by President William Henry Harrison, clocking in at one hour and 45 minutes. Harrison delivered the long-winded speech during a snowstorm and without an overcoat, circumstances that are often blamed for his untimely death by pneumonia. However, it wasn't exposure to the elements that really caused his illness. It was actually a common cold, caught weeks after the inauguration, which turned into pneumonia and was likely worsened by the hectic schedule of a newly elected president who had no time to rest.
Andrew Jackson (Image credit: Culver Pictures)
2. Sneaking out the back door
President Andrew Jackson, regarded as a "man of the people," had to flee through the back door of his own inaugural reception in 1829 when the crowd crashed his party. Thousands of supporters came to the capital for the inauguration, and though some came looking for jobs, most came to support Jackson and cheer their new president. After his speech, however, the crowds swarmed the reception, mingling with government officials and generally regarding the house as theirs. Mud was tracked in, china and glasses were broken, and the crowds only left when the refreshments were put on the lawn outside.
Nixon's Second Inaugural (Image credit: UPI/CORBIS-BETTMANN)
3. Don't feed the pigeons
On the day of Richard Nixon's 1973 inauguration, Pennsylvania Avenue was dotted with sick and dead pigeons. At the president's request, the inauguration committee spent $13,000 to spread a chemical bird repellent on the tree branches along the parade route to deter the pigeons. According to the Washington Post, the chemicals in Roost-No-More were supposed to cause the birds' feet to itch so they wouldn't roost in the trees. Unfortunately, the birds ate the repellent, causing them to get sick and die along the parade route.
Ronald Reagan's Inauguration (Image credit: UPI/THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE)
4. Less is more?
After criticism for his first inauguration in 1981, which cost $16.3 million for nine white-tie balls, President Ronald Reagan attempted to scale back the budget and have a more "for the people" celebration. However, the budget ballooned from $12 million to $20 million, and there were 10 balls instead of nine and two galas instead of one. Apparently, "scaling back" meant that the balls were black tie instead of white and the entertainment was less high-brow than at previous events, according to the Washington Post.
Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Image credit: Hulton Deutsch)
5. Turn up the heat
After the north wing of the Treasury Building proved too small for President Ulysses S. Grant's first inaugural ball in 1869, a temporary structure was built in Judiciary Square for his second inaugural ball in 1873. Unfortunately, the structure had no heat or insulation, so guests danced in their coats and hats to stay warm in the minus-4-degree temperature, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Events. Making matters worse, the food was cold, the hot chocolate and coffee ran out and the poor caged canaries -- used as decorations -- froze to death.
President Lincoln (Image credit: Archive Photos)
6. Sink or swim
The weather was so bad at Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration that pedestrians who could not swim were urged to stay away from the muddy, rain-soaked streets. According to the Washington Post, the great poet Walt Whitman actually referred to the rain as "slanting rain, full of rage." It was definitely not a nice day for a parade.
The Checkers Speech (Image credit: Hulton Deutsch)
For Richard Nixon's second inauguration, Vietnam War protesters dragged around a 25-foot-long rat made out of paper and chicken wire. To the protesters, the rat was symbolic of President Nixon. It was part of the largest Inauguration Day protest in U.S. history, with more than 25,000 protesters. Interesting, then, that according to the Washington Post, the ceremony went well and was "unmarred by any serious incidents."
Campaign Ribbon, 1868 (Image credit: Corbis)
8. Coat check, please
Ulysses S. Grant's first inauguration in 1869 ended with fights in the coat-check line and many guests abandoning their coats and hats due to an extremely long wait. The Washington Post reported that the coat check was staffed by illiterates who were unable to read the claim tickets, which surely slowed down the line even more. A similar event occurred at the end of the evening of a 1989 inaugural celebration when Republicans actually stormed the coat check of the Texas State Society's Tie and Boots ball, later referred to as "The Bastille Day Coat Check Affair."
James Madison (Image credit: Hulton Deutsch)
9. It's getting hot in here
At the first inaugural ball, held for James Madison in 1809, it reportedly got so hot inside the hotel that revelers broke out windows for ventilation. Madison's wife Dolley must have been quite warm, herself -- she was wearing a gown with a long velvet train and a Parisian headdress decked out with feathers and white satin.
Ellen Louise Wilson (Image credit: Culver Pictures)
10. All dressed up with no place to go
Woodrow Wilson refused to have a ball for his 1913 inauguration because he considered it inappropriate for such a dignified and solemn occasion. His wife Ellen, on the other hand, had no such feelings. And unfortunately for her, she had already purchased a gown for the affair.