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Still a
formal affair

Inaugural events change with times, but pomp and ceremony play important roles

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com· (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — On inauguration day more than a century ago, there was the real inauguration and the “outhouse inauguration.”

In more modern times, the temperature at one inauguration was so cold that majorettes marching in the inaugural parade and bathing beauties on floats got frostbite and their skin cracked.

And in another ceremony, a morbidly ill governor took his oath in bed because his health did not permit a typical ceremony.

These inaugural oddities are exceptions in a state that prides itself in being different politically but places importance on the pomp and ceremony that signal the beginning of a new gubernatorial administration.

“The inauguration is one of the few things that hasn’t changed,” said political journalist Bob Ingram, who has covered Alabama politics for more than 50 years.

He was also finance director in Gov. Albert Brewer’s administration from 1968 to 1971.

An exhibit at the Alabama Department of Archives and History traces the changes through programs and photographs.

Famous inaugurals

“Perhaps the most interesting is the outhouse inauguration,” said Ingram.

In that inauguration of Dec. 1, 1892, Thomas G. Jones took the oath as governor at the front of the Capitol. Meanwhile, in back of the building, near the Capitol outhouses, Reuben F. Kolb held his own inauguration ceremony from the back of a wagon, claiming that Jones forces stole the election from him in a dirty race.

Retired Auburn University professor Wayne Flynt, in his “History of the 1901 Alabama Constitution,” said historical evidence supports Kolb’s contention.

Ingram recalls more modern inaugurations for other reasons. He remembers the “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” promise of George C. Wallace’s first inauguration speech Jan. 14, 1963, that set the tone of state politics for years.

The program for Wallace’s 1963 inaugural parade has illustrations of the Confederate battle flag along with U.S. and Alabama flags and Wallace’s campaign slogan, “Stand Up for Alabama.”

That same year, Ingram remembers the weather. The coldest inauguration day on record caught barelegged majorettes and bathing beauties on floats unprepared.

Changing programs

Even in the most tradition-steeped day in Alabama political ceremonies, there are differences in inaugural programs, food, music and related events that archivists say are indicators of the political climate of the times and changing society.

In contrast to the first Wallace inauguration, memorabilia from Charles Henderson’s Jan. 18, 1915, inaugural program shows U.S. and Alabama flags and a quote from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson: “A future clear and bright with promise of the best things.”

Like almost all of his predecessors, Gov. Bob Riley will take the oath to begin his second term as Alabama’s governor Jan. 15 in a ceremony set for noon on the Capitol steps.

Prayer starts day

The day will begin with a prayer breakfast, followed by the inauguration, a parade and by an inaugural ball, all events that on inauguration day signal either a changing of the guard or re-affirmation of the current one.

But even as inaugural events continue the tradition of ceremony, the archives and history curator of education, Sherrie Hamil, said a look at inaugural memorabilia shows each era has its twist.

During the inaugurations of B.B. Comer on Jan. 14, 1907, and Charles Henderson on Jan. 18, 1915, inaugural ball programs contained dance cards and included tiny, attached pencils where ladies filled in the names of their dance partners. Their dance music alternated between the waltz and the two-step.

By Jan. 14, 1935, when Bibb Graves became governor, the dance card was no longer part of the inaugural packet and music included “Moonglow” and “St. Louis Blues.”

For John Patterson’s Jan. 19, 1959, inauguration, Grecian columns decorated the entrance to the ballroom for a smiling first lady to make her entrance in a satin gown with beaded flowers.

Evans performing

In 2007, Sara Evans, the 2006 Country Music Female Vocalist of the Year, will be the headline performer for Riley’s inaugural ball that promises musical variety to patrons in formal dress who buy the $150 ticket. The Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, ’60s rock ’n’ roll band “Sweet Young’uns and the Tip-Tips” will play at another inauguration day first.

The only place in Montgomery large enough to accommodate a formal ball for several thousand people is being renovated and expanded.

Riley supporters will travel to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex to try out their dancing shoes at the first inaugural ball held in Birmingham.

Memorable inaugurations

  • 1892: Gov. Thomas G. Jones took the oath of office in the front of the Capitol. In the back of the building near the Capitol outhouses, Reuben F. Kolb held his own ceremony, claiming Jones’ supporters stole the election from him. Retired Auburn University professor Wayne Flynt said evidence supports Kolb’s contention.
  • 1963: Gov. George Wallace gave his famous “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech, setting the political tone for years to come. The ceremony was also one of the coldest on record.
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