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Biden inaugural brings back memories of LBJ’s 1965 ceremony

By: Keith Kappes
Columnist
Carter County Times

Watching the Biden Inaugural on television last week was both entertaining and suspenseful but, most of all, it reminded me of the presidential inauguration I attended in January of 1965.

As a young reporter working for the Ashland Independent, I realized that the average American knew very little about the pomp and pageantry of our quadrennial ceremony to peacefully transfer power in the world’s oldest democracy.

I convinced my editor that I should go to Washington as an average citizen without press credentials and then write a first-person article about the experience. No one on the staff had ever been to that event.

Management agreed to pay for my meals and lodging but no hotel rooms were available. In addition, I wasn’t sure my old car could make it to Washington and back. 

It appeared my great idea was in trouble until I spotted a press release about the “LBJ Express” coming through Ashland en route to Washington as an excursion train paid for by the Kentucky Democratic Party. 

Attached to the press release was a complimentary ticket for a round-trip seat on the train. It would be an “up-and-back” journey with the train heading back to Kentucky a few hours after the swearing-in ceremony and the parade. 

That timetable also solved my housing problem because there would be no overnight stay in Washington. I could sleep on the train on the return trip after enjoying the food and drink provided for all of the happy Democrats aboard the “LBJ Special”.

I had some funny situations in what turned out to be an exhilarating and exhausting experience. I slept for about 20 hours after returning, due mainly to the food and drink I enjoyed in the hospitality (dining) cars going up and coming back. It took me a couple of days to write my article. My editor liked it so much he put it on the front page. 

LBJ’s inaugural happened only 14 months after President Kennedy’s assassination. Security was heavy with sharpshooters on every rooftop. As the parade started, I was standing on the curb behind a rope on Pennsylvania Avenue where the motorcade would turn on its way to the White House.

I told a man standing beside me that I intended to duck under the rope and run into the street to get a close-up photo of President Johnson as his limousine turned the corner.

He quietly spoke against my plan, saying I would be shot dead by at least two rooftop snipers and that my fourth grade teacher would be on network television news that night saying she always knew I was a bad kid. 

I’m forever grateful for that good advice.

Keith Kappes can be reached at keithkappes@gmail.com

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