Monday, January 26, 2009

440. Ill Winds - Thoughts of William Henry Harrison

It is a well known fact that William Henry Harrison, our Republic's ninth president, spent too much time in the cold March air of Washington DC, delivering his inaugural address, the longest ever, and dying a few weeks later from the after-effects. Last Tuesday, in a simlar manner, me and 2,000,000 of Barack Obama's closest friends spent upwards of six hours waiting in chilling temperatures to hear the 44th president deliver a speech of remarkably shorter length. President Obama emerged from the warmth of the Capitol to take the Oath of Office and make his speech. Meanwhile, large numbers of frozen attendees at the swearing-in never quite made it to their assigned posts. The section I was to be seated in (Blue) was big enough for maybe 15000 people if we all got really familiar with each other. Jessie, Brandon, and I had scoped the Blue ticket zone out the day before while touring the area. We even decided on the ideal place to be to see Barack Obama take the oath.

Alas, getting to that spot was only a fantasy, of phenomenal proportion. Instead, we began the morning waiting in a line which snaked its way from 3rd and New Jersey streets SE to 2nd and Washington streets SW. Standing next to me during part of my wait was Georgetown U. and Miami Heat standout Alonzo Mourning, who at 6'9" and 261 pounds, frankly, needed a little more space than I did. Fortunately, because of his height, he occasionally gave updates as to where the line ahead was headed, although ulitmately, that wasn't very far. Getting close was going to be a problem for the 15000 the area could hold. But the real problem was this - a total of 52000 tickets were relased for that section. And, based on commentaries after the fact, most of the ticket holders did not get to their assigned spot. My guess is about 7500 made it past security and into the Blue section. To be sure, out lot wasn't nearly as bad as that of the Purple ticket holders. They were herded into the I-395/3rd Street Tunnel and some remained there for the duration, underground with limited light and no amenities. It was not a good example of planning and execution. I heard a friend comment that all of candidate Obama's event, irrespective of attendance, had come off without a hitch. I reminded her they were choreographed by a well-oiled campaign. The inauguration was conducted by the government (actually several governments working in concert), which is well versed in screwing up any number of things, now including inaugurations. None of this complaining is to take away from the experience. I'm very grateful to Congressman Yarmuth for the tickets and the hospitality shown my his staff during my visit. Without reservation, I had a great time. But I digress.

Back to William Henry Harrison. Harrison, one time governor of the Indiana territory, was a two-time candidate for president, first unsuccessfully in 1836 (against among others Kentucky's Henry Clay, who was also unsuccessful), then successfully in 1840 against the incumbent Martin VanBuren. Harrison had been a territorial governor, military hero, congressman, and diplomat before ascending to highest office in the land. On March 4, 1841 (inaguration day in that era) he delivered the longest inaugural speech on record, over 8400 words. A few weeks later, he became ill, probably with pneumonia. He delivered the speech with neither hat nor overcoat to protect him from the weather. And then he died, serving the shortest term on record for president, a little over 30 days in office.

On the other hand, knowing that the temperature in Washington last week was forecast to be 30, with a wind chill right at 10, I bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, much the way my grandmother would dress me when I was a kid going out to play in the snow. I had on sweatpants and pants, three pair of socks, two t-shirts, a shirt, my duPont Manual hoodie, and a jacket over that, with a tobaggon on my bald head. But five hours in the cold takes it toll. After the inauguration, we all returned to the hotel room where, unceremoniously, I told every one to leave - that I was taking a hot shower, and going to bed, given that I had gotten no sleep the night before, and would be driving the twelve or so hours back to Louisville the following day. There is another story here having to do with my sleeping and snoring, and I owe a huge apology to all my hotel-mates over this rude dismissal from the room. Nonetheless, they all left, without an argument, and I went to sleep. Needless to say, it apparently wasn't enough.

Wedensday's agenda brought us back to Louisville, with several stops along the way. Once home, I didn't sleep well, but I did go to work. Struggling through Friday, I've come down with a cold, possible pneumonia, and an intense amount of wheezing. I should have gone to bed Friday, but instead took my mother to a funeral visitation in Frankfort for her cousin. Saturday morning, still ailing, I attended and spoke (along with Chad Aull) at a workshop for the Shelby County Democratic Executive Committee, a three hour session of give-and-take with Democrats in that county seeking to regain some seats lost to the Republicans over the past few years. I did go to bed Saturday afternoon and remained there until time for Sunday morning Mass. Since returning from church and a quick trip back to Shelby County to retrieve my jacket, I've basically been in bed, struggling to sleep and breathing with slight difficulty. I tried to go to work today, but instead brought my work home with me. Hopefully by tomorrow, I'll feel better. Lots of juice, lots of rest, and nothing on the schedule.

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.