Inaugural Traditions: Dude, Where's My Top Hat?

Fires, Gaffes and Poetry

In keeping with an old tradition Obama has invited two religious leaders to give the invocation and benediction prayers, pastors Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery respectively. In keeping with a newer tradition started with Kennedy, Obama also has invited poet Elizabeth Alexander.

With any luck Obama's preachers and poet will have an easier go of things than those Kennedy tapped in 1961.

While Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of Boston, was delivering the invocation the lectern caught fire -- the result of faulty electrical wiring -- sending marshals scurrying to douse the flames.

Robert Frost, who was 87 in 1961, had written a poem especially for the occasion. A bright glare off snow that had fallen the night before prevented Frost from being able to read the poem he had written, "Dedication," opting instead to deliver "The Gift Outright," a poem he had written earlier and committed to memory.

Frost's quick thinking is often remembered, but what is less remembered is that the aged poet accidentally dedicated the poem to John Finley, a Harvard professor, instead of Kennedy.

Frost's was not the only gaffe that day. Instead of promising to uphold the Constitution and support government "without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion," during the recitation of his oath, Vice President-elect Lyndon Johnson said "without any mental reservation whatever."

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