Digital Inauguration Divide: JFK vs. Obama

The images of a charismatic new president of the United States being inaugurated on a frigid day before millions of cheering Americans evoked in this writer memories of a similar inauguration nearly a half century ago.

It was the day before my seventh birthday -- Jan. 20, 1961 -- and like most kids that age, my memories are both fleeting and anecdotal. Although I remember it was a very cold day, for example, with the snow intermittently falling and thick on the ground, I don't recall any of the drive from the suburban town of Falls Church, Va., into Washington, D.C., passing through Arlington and across the Potomac nearby the Jefferson Memorial.

We drove in a 1957 Chrysler, with bench seats, big fins and a push-button automatic transmission on the dashboard. My dad wore a homburg hat and a heavy overcoat, and I imagine he wore a sport coat with a white shirt and tie underneath, and heavy fur lined boots. My mother wore one of the long woolen coats she'd bought when my old man was stationed in Germany (where I was born) and a fur pillbox hat. I don't remember what I wore but, whatever it was, it wasn't enough.

I was a pretty precocious child, so although I was a bit confused about the concept of an inauguration, I had a pretty good understanding that I was about to see the new president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, drive by.

I had seen the previous president drive past just a few months before. But that had been a little different. My father, who was an Air Force captain, worked in intelligence at the Office of Special Investigations in an old WWII office building a couple blocks down the Mall from the Capitol building.

For some reason, President Eisenhower was going to pass in a motorcade down a side street beside my dad's office. So he brought me in that day and, as the cars drove by, I looked down and waved from a third-floor window. All I saw that day of the old general was a quick glimpse of a bald head. I figured that the day would be much the same, just with a different president.

Because my old man's job was to be the liaison between the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and the various intelligence services, he knew his way around D.C. So, while thousands of other people circled around looking for, and paying exorbitantly for, parking places, I remember we whipped right into a half-empty parking lot behind some office building about a half-mile from Pennsylvania Avenue.

About this time, as we made our way along the icy and snow-dirty sidewalks, the excitement finally hit me. Obviously, as the growing crowds around me underscored, whatever was about to happen was going to be Something Big.

The sidewalks were already filling along Pennsylvania Avenue, pushing right out to the edge of the curb above gutters that were filled with wet, cold slush. We made our way along the sidewalk, hugging the walls of various office buildings until we found a gap in the crowd and quickly filled it. I had a cheap Kodak camera on a vinyl strap around my neck and it was already wound with a roll of black and white film.

And then we waited.

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