AMERICANS watching John F

AMERICANS watching John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration on television saw a scene worthy
of Currier ; Ives. The marble facade of the Capitol gleamed in the sun, dignitaries wore top hats
and dark overcoats and the cold air turned Kennedy’s breath into white clouds. When he said,
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been
passed to a new generation,” his words actually appeared to be going forth into the exhilarating
air.
No one knew that Kennedy was wearing long underwear so he could remove his topcoat and
appear youthful and energetic, or that he had received months of tutoring from a speech coach, or
that there was so much animosity among the platform’s dignitaries that if grudges had weight, the
entire contraption would have collapsed. No one suspected that Cardinal Richard Cushing had
slowed his invocation because he believed that smoke wafting from beneath the podium came
from a smoldering bomb meant for Kennedy, and he wanted to absorb the blast himself. (It was
actually a short circuit.) No one knew that as Cushing droned on, Kennedy was probably
improving his address in his mind. (He would make 32 alterations to the reading copy of his
inaugural address as he spoke.)