Thursday, January 20, 2011

Previous January 20ths

Compare and contrast inaugural addresses from exactly 50 years ago and 30 years ago. I don't remember the Kennedy inauguration, of course. I was a little young then; in utero, as it happened. That accounts for my sense that the 1961 event happened in the misty past, while the 1981 one wasn't all that long ago, even enough the time between now and 1981 is half again as much as between '61 and '81.

Of course, if you really want to push things back, watch this remarkable color footage of Franklin Roosevelt's third inauguration, which was exactly 70 years ago. That's as far back as January 20 inaugurations in years ending in 1 go, since inauguration day used to be March 4. Warren Harding took the oath of office on March 4, 1921.

Interesting to note some of the details captured across the decades. Top hats were everywhere among those near the president in 1941, while only some of the men seated behind Kennedy were wearing them, and there was nary a one in audience behind Reagan only 20 years later. Actually Reagan would have looked pretty good in a top hat, but I don't think any of his successors could have pulled it off (or his predecessors all the way back to Johnson, for that matter).

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At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note Chief Justice Hughes' skull cap:

“The mysterious black skullcaps have gone in and out of vogue with the justices since the early 20th century. They are not for inaugurals only -- at least four justices wore them at the laying of the Supreme Court cornerstone in 1932 -- but seem to be deployed mainly during cold weather. Brimless silk or wool skullcaps, often cornered to give them shape, have been occasionally associated with British judicial garb since the 15th century, but the Court curator's office says "there does not appear to be a direct lineage" from Britain to Supreme Court use.
Chief Justice Edward Douglas White wore one when swearing in President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 -- the first time a skullcap was documented in an inaugural photo. Chief Justice William Howard Taft also wore a skullcap during the ceremonies for Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Their heyday came in 1961 for Kennedy's inaugural when seven of the nine justices wore skullcaps. It might have been eight, but a memo reports that Tom Clark's cap was too small. ‘For the next inauguration get Mr. Justice Clark a size 7 3/8 skullcap,’ a note suggests.
Memos about skullcaps fill the Blackmun files throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with one even suggesting how they should be doffed and held during the National Anthem. But the caps were not worn widely again until after Rehnquist, a history buff extraordinaire, became chief justice in 1986. Whether Roberts, Rehnquist's successor and former law clerk, carries on the tradition is uncertain. During the last inaugural, two justices -- Breyer and Antonin Scalia -- wore them, while Ginsburg donned a black fur hat and the ailing Rehnquist wore a black golf-style cap.
Six inaugurations earlier, Blackmun seemed immune from the skullcap trend altogether. A December 3, 1980, memo from then-marshal Alfred Wong told the justices ’it will be necessary for the Court to be in full formal dress --- including skull cap, if that is the individual choice. If you are in need of a new cap, please notify this office prior to December 15, including your head size, and we will arrange to have one made.’
In the margin Blackmun -- who usually marked up incoming memos extensively -- penciled in only a large question mark. He was not impressed.“
-- Tony Mauro, “For the Supreme Court, Tradition is on Tap at Inaugural,” Legal Times, January 5, 2009


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