JFK Inauguration 50 Years Ago Close and Clear


(thanks to LIFE.com for permission to reprint this picture; click image for larger version)
I am really enjoying LIFE.com‘s more frequent releases of never before published nor seen photos of great events and people, and I’m grateful for the permissions from LIFE to share these photos with readers of The Washington Note.
Today, we have never-before-seen photos from JFK’s 1961 White House inauguration on the 50th anniversary of his swearing into office.
From the LIFE intro to these fascinating photos:
January 20, 1961, was a bitterly cold day in Washington. And yet, as John and Jackie Kennedy set out on foot from the White House to the Capitol — where hours later JFK would to be sworn in as America’s 35th president — the overriding sense of cheer and confidence in the old town was palpable.
This, after all, was the symbolic commencement of “Camelot” — the evocative label, born of the young president’s fondness for the Broadway musical of the same name, ever-after associated with Kennedy’s administration. To chronicle the heady, historic event, LIFE sent several of its best photographers to D.C. for the inauguration (and for the black-tie parties before and after the swearing-in). While the magazine ran nearly 20 photos from the day in the next week’s issue, many, many more pictures were stored away in LIFE‘s archives, never to be seen — until now.
Here, on the 50th anniversary of that freezing, exuberant day in D.C.,
LIFE.com presents rare and previously unpublished photos of JFK’s 1961 inauguration.
jfk_pr1.jpg(to the left and above)
Jackie and John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and others prepare at the White House for the inauguration. While Jack Kennedy’s time in the White House was ultimately cut short in November 1963, his administration’s “thousand days” — the title of Arthur Schlesinger’s classic 1965 account of Camelot — would be rife with drama, crisis, and firsts.
The founding of the Peace Corps; the Bay of Pigs debacle; the Cuban Missile Crisis — in less than three years, JFK and his circle initiated federal programs and weathered political storms that still resonate five decades on.
(thanks to LIFE.com for permission to reprint this picture; click image for larger version)
In a Leonard McCombe photograph that, five decades later, feels disturbingly familiar, and haunted, a smiling President Kennedy and the First Lady ride through cheering crowds in an open convertible.
(thanks to LIFE.com for permission to reprint this picture; click image for larger version)
In a previously unpublished photo by
LIFE‘s Joe Scherschel, President Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson take part in Inauguration Day ceremonies, January 20, 1961.
In looking back at these photos and remembering what Kennedy inspired in so many, I can’t help but think of President Obama in similar terms. But Presidents can’t be only about veneer and hope; they must earn the respect of citizens and other leaders by performing well in times when all of the choices are hard.
I think Kennedy and Obama both inspired on the front end of their presidencies, but the realities of the world — the Soviets in Kennedy’s time and a world without equilibrium in Obama’s — did force in the former and are forcing today hard choices.
— Steve Clemons


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