The congressman from Georgia on the memory of Dr. King.
The most memorable inauguration I went to was in 1993. Being a member of Congress, I had an opportunity to sit on the grand inaugural stand just behind the podium—not far from the president and the chief justice. Just being able to look down at the large crowd that had come to witness this was moving to me; I remember becoming very emotional. It was one moment of history, but it reminded me of another: 30 years prior, when we listened to Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the other end of the Mall. Watching President Clinton be sworn in was an honor. But what I vividly remember thinking, at that moment, was how special it was for anyone to witness, up that close, such a peaceful shift in power—and also to have witnessed an event 30 years before that had so much impact, not just on the African-American community but on the entire nation. It was a ceremony of great meaning for me.
The former senior adviser to President George W. Bush on sneaking away from the reviewing stand.
Ever since Teddy Roosevelt built it where the White House greenhouses once stood, the West Wing has served as a symbol of our democracy, and its heart is the Oval Office. At the 2001 inauguration parade, I sneaked away from the reviewing stand to inspect what would be my West Wing office. It was sparse and bright, and being there seemed surreal. I had to stop and ask myself, "Will I really be working here?" Late the next evening, as I cleaned my desk before going home, an elderly man wearing an even more ancient ball cap appeared at my door. He was a White House janitor, and he motioned toward my trash can. After he dumped the contents, he turned and fixed me with a stare. He asked me to remember to "honor the house"—and departed without waiting for a reply. I would have many late nights during the next few years, but that first one has always stuck with me. Most Americans expect what he expected: they have high expectations for those who are called to serve in a small building on 18 acres in the middle of Washington, D.C.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
John F. Kennedy's nephew on exploring his cousins' new home.
I was only 7 years old when my uncle became president, but I remember his Inauguration Day better than any other. He didn't say anything to me that day; there were too many people all over, and they all wanted to talk to him. But our entire family was there to watch him. After the inaugural ceremony and the parade, we were allowed into the White House to see where my cousins would be living. We saw their bedrooms and explored the whole house. We ran through all the halls—outside to the pool and down to the basement and into the bowling alley. That was the first time we were in the house and, as little kids, it felt enormous. It was a really big place. As time went on, my uncle invited us back frequently, about once a month. When I was a few years older, I met with him—just us—in the Oval Office and he talked with me about my interest in the outdoors, about pollution and environmental issues of the time. At one point after that, he arranged for me to interview Stewart Udall, who was the secretary of the interior. To thank my uncle, the next time I went to the White House I brought him a salamander.
President Clinton's social secretary on a wardrobe malfunction.
The transfer of power occurs with precision, but also with a touch of chaos. At 11 a.m. on Inauguration Day, the moving van with all the Clintons' things from Arkansas arrived at the White House. At the same time, the usher's office brought over all their belongings from the Blair House, where they had stayed for four or five days. President and Mrs. Bush were moving out, and there was a van to collect their belongings. There was lots of activity. After the parade had ended, President and Mrs. Clinton began preparing for the balls that evening. There was a moment when someone on staff asked out loud, "Where is Mrs. Clinton's dress?" We all looked at each other and no one knew. There was quite a scramble to figure out where it could be. The ushers started frantically searching everywhere. It turned out that, as everything was coming in, someone had directed the Clintons' personal belongings from the Blair House to a third-floor bedroom. The first family lives on the second floor. We found the dress, but I still remember how hard we cringed at the idea that we'd lost the first lady's clothes.
President Bush's press secretary on coffee with Chelsea.
I had been to the White House before, but no previous visit could compare with the morning of Jan. 20, 2001. That morning I accompanied President-elect Bush for a rite of passage: the ceremonial coffee with the outgoing president. I followed him up the north front steps and went inside. Watching President Clinton linger and chat, I got the sense that he didn't want to leave. Poor Al Gore—he didn't want to be there. He had won the popular vote but lost the election, and now he had to have coffee with the man who beat him. Of course, he did want to be there, but in a different role. As for George W. Bush, he couldn't wait to get back. In between my being a fly on the wall, I made small talk with Chelsea Clinton. Wow, I thought to myself, I'm talking to Chelsea Clinton. Fifteen minutes later it was time to go. Four motorcades awaited the president, the vice president, the president-elect and the vice president– elect. After some confusion among the advance people over who needed to pull out first, it was off to the Capitol to watch the new president, my boss, raise his right hand and take the oath of office.
The evangelist on praying with his father.
Billy Graham has had the honor of praying (or participating in some way) at eight presidential inaugurations, beginning in 1965. When it came time for Bill Clinton's second, my father was invited again to offer an inaugural prayer. His health problems had flared up, so he asked me to accompany him to Washington, D.C. During that ceremony, I was seated at my father's right side on the platform. To my left sat all of the Supreme Court justices. Behind me was the Democratic and Republican leadership from Congress. I had been impressed to see members of opposing political parties—in battle just two months before—now greeting each other warmly. It was an amazing setting in which I had a prime seat to witness such historical pageantry, and I had the privilege of sitting in support of the man I love and respect so much. When the time came for my father to pray, the only aid he needed was a firm hand to help him stand. I was glad to watch from this vantage point: four years later I would step forward to that same podium and offer the invocation for the inauguration of George W. Bush.
Jimmy Carter's press secretary on trying to keep warm.
It was bitter cold, one of the coldest Januarys on record, they said. I don't recall seeing any portent in that frigid Washington welcome for us thin-blooded Southerners. That was probably a mistake. Three generations of our family—with feet and legs in plastic trash bags—watched the parade from stands in front of the White House. After an hour or so, I began to worry that we, particularly our parents and daughter, needed to find a place to get warm. It dawned on me that we could use that big house behind us. As the huge iron gates swung open and we walked up that long, curving driveway, the enormity of it all struck me hard. The desperate hope that I could do the job well—and that our young family, particularly our little girl, would come through it all right—was overwhelming. Then, as we entered those massive doors, the first person I saw was the familiar face of Miss Sarah Ambrose—known her all my life, up from Vienna, my little hometown, to help the Georgia Garden Clubs decorate. I had this sudden, reassuring sense that maybe things wouldn't be so tough after all. Another mistake.