JFK Inaugural Parade
With the upcoming inauguration, I was remembering my foray into Washington to see John Kennedy's inaugural parade in 1961. My father was attached to NASA's communications satellite program as the Army Signal Corps representative. From my point of view, this was a great job -- unlike most of his Army assignments, he was allowed to talk to us about what he was working on and since NASA was very interested in publicizing its activities, he brought home a lot of press release material that we could look at. An additional perk was that NASA contractors would occasionally hand out little freebies -- and in 1961, this included a pass to a reception that one of them was holding at a building overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue the day of the inaugural parade. I was looking forward to using the pass to see the parade and taking some pictures with my (relatively new) Walz range-finder 35mm camera.

When Inauguration Day arrived, there was a slight snag in my plan -- the weather. A snowstorm blew in the night before, leaving Washington and the suburbs buried in eight inches of snow. Now, DC is a city that pretends that it never gets snow, so it had only a small number of snowplows and no real plans for digging out beyond letting it all melt. The Inauguration Parade, however, had to go on. Heeding the weather forecast, the Army pre-positioned a large number of troops and trucks with plows along the parade route and DC hired every tow truck they could and brought them downtown as well. When the storm let up in the morning, they set to work towing all the cars that had been snowed in on Pennsylvania Avenue (hundreds, I think), plowing the street and sweeping the snow off all the bleachers and reviewing stands.

I put on my galoshes and heavy coat and hiked up Utah street to the main road nearest our house in Arlington to see if the busses were still running. Amazingly enough, they were -- after a long wait and a slow ride on unplowed roads, I got into DC and walked to the reception hotel. Hardly anyone showed up. For a while, it was just me and one guy from the contractor who had been staying in a downtown hotel. I ended up taking some pictures from the balcony and more from street level in front of the building.

The pictures show a lot of military units -- that is partly my selection, as I was very interested in that sort of thing at the time. However, it also reflects the fact that a lot of the high school and college bands that were supposed to march in the parade didn't make it in time to form up. It was also very cold -- in the low 20's -- and I have to pity the majorettes and the band members (like the clarinets who had to play with gloves with the fingers cut off) of those units that did make it.

I did manage to get a picture of John and Jackie Kennedy in the back of an open Lincoln convertible -- looking at it now, I can't help but be reminded of the pictures of them in a similar car in Dallas the day he was assassinated. There is also a picture of Bobby Kennedy, the new Attorney General sitting on the top of the back seat of his convertible. And one of Adlai Stevenson, riding in a sedan courtesy of some dignitaries kind enough to let him share -- there was some sort of feud between JFK and Stevenson and he had been snubbed at the inauguration and not allotted a car to ride in for the parade. While the pictures of the politicians are recognizable, and thus interesting, my current favorite of the pictures is of the guy on the buffalo -- wish I had had an SLR and a telephoto!
Buffalo Rider
Bob Warren's Home Page
All Images & Site 2009 R.E. Warren