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Previous security incidents during inaugurals
Scripps Howard News Service


January 11, 2005

Washington - Inaugural security precautions may be at a new height, but protecting presidents from real or symbolic threats has been part of the ritual since 1789, when members of the Continental Army escorted George Washington to his swearing-in ceremony at Federal Hall in New York City.

Washington's escort was largely ceremonial, but that hasn't been the case at some other inaugurations. Pinkerton security agents, who handled presidential security before the Secret Service took over the task, sneaked Abraham Lincoln into Washington in the dead of night so he could take the oath of office in April 1861.

With the nation on the brink of the Civil War, Lincoln was making a whistle-stop train trip from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, when word reached security agents that a mob was waiting for him in Baltimore.

"He (Lincoln) didn't want to do that and people made fun of him for it, but there were rumors and so on that there were going to be people out to get him," said historian Paul Boller, author of "Presidential Inaugurations."

Andrew Jackson's inauguration in 1829 is best remembered for its utter lack of security. Jackson, a Tennessean who prided himself on being a common man, threw the White House open to his supporters for a celebration after his swearing-in ceremony. Inebriated frontiersmen and farmers became so rowdy that Jackson wound up being pressed up against a wall and had to escape the mob by climbing out a window.

Jackson's well wishers were eventually lured out of the White House when waiters began serving orange punch spiked with alcohol on the lawn.

First lady Edith Wilson received a fright as she and her husband, Woodrow Wilson, were riding to the Capitol before his swearing-in ceremony in 1917. Someone on the street tossed a package into her lap. The Secret Service was on alert for bomb-throwers, but it turned out the package contained flowers.

In another bomb scare, Richard Cardinal Cushing was giving the invocation at John F. Kennedy's swearing-in ceremony in 1961 when he noticed smoke coming from the lectern. Thinking there might be a bomb hidden there and not wanting expose Kennedy to danger, Cushing slowed his invocation down to a crawl, giving the Secret Service time to figure out the problem.

Three times the agents considered clearing the Capitol, but each time they decided against it, fearing there might be a panic, Boller said. The problem turned out to be loose wiring.

"(House Speaker) Sam Rayburn's sister got so tired of standing she sat down, saying they ought to kill Cushing for talking so long," Boller said.


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