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President Nixon Murdered Pigeons and Other Inauguration Facts President Nixon Murdered Pigeons and Other Inauguration Facts

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President Nixon Murdered Pigeons and Other Inauguration Facts

The foremost scholar on Inauguration Day history shares some details about ceremonies past.


Nixon may have pardoned this turkey, but he killed dozens of other birds. (AP photo/William J. Smith()

It would appear to be an unmatchable record. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as president four times. But this year President Obama will tie it.

Sounds impossible, right? And yet despite only getting two terms, Obama will have been sworn in four times. He took the oath twice in 2009, after Chief Justice John Roberts botched it the first time. And this year he will be sworn in in a private ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 20, before his public one on Martin Luther King Day.


These are the kinds of things that Jim Bendat, an Inauguration Day historian and the author of Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President 1789-2013 notices. Here are four wacky historical facts about the ultimate day of pomp and circumstance he shared with me from his book.


  1. Birds have not fared well in a number of the ceremonies. In 1873, Ulysses S. Grant wanted canaries at his second inaugural ball. Presumably for the whimsy of it all. What planners did not plan for, however, were extremely cold temperatures. One hundred birds froze to death that day. BUT, at least that was an accident.
    In an effort to keep pigeons from pooping into his open-top limo, Richard Nixon did one of the most Nixonian things of all time in 1973. He had the inaugural committee spend $13,000 to spray Roost No More, a chemical bird repellent, along the parade route. Dozens of dead birds lined the streets during the inaugural parade.
  2. In 1923, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his own father. Coolidge was visiting his father in a little cabin in Vermont when a courier came to say that President Harding had died. When a second courier came to say that Coolidge needed to be sworn in immediately, Calvin’s father—a justice of the peace and notary public—swore in his son as president at 2:47 in the morning.
  3. In 1961, it seemed as if everything went wrong. Vice President Lyndon Johnson said, “Whatever,” when he messed up the words to the oath, the stage almost caught on fire during the invocation, the glare off the snow made it impossible for Robert Frost to read the poem he had written for the occasion, and then Frost called President John Kennedy by the wrong name.
  4. In 1829, Andrew Jackson threw a party at the White House after the ceremony and then had trouble getting rid of the riff-raff. As the first "outsider" president, Jackson attracted a rough-and-tumble type of crew to his party. The crowd tramped through the house with muddy boots, ruined the carpets, and tore down some curtains. The only way the White House staff was able to get them out of the house was to put a tub of whiskey out on the front lawn. That did the trick.
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