It was one long star-spangled party
Washington — The sun broke through right on cue in a blue marble sky for Ronald Reagan as he became 40th President of the United States in one of the most dramatic inaugurations in history.
"I hope the sun keeps shining on him like that," said a man in a maroon windbreaker, one of the estimated 100,000 people who turned out to watch the first president ever to take the oath of office against the magnificent stone backdrop of the Capitol's west front.
It was a stirring ceremony heightened by the pent-up emotion released when the crowd heard for the first time through an inaugural prayer the news they'd waited so long for: "Thank you, God, for the release of the hostages and for all those who made this moment possible," intoned the Rev. Don Moomaw, President Reagan's Presbyterian pastor. A sigh like wind went through the crowd, which had been much more muted during this ceremony than the one at the Carter inaugural.
Reagan, looking tanned and fit in the silver-gray tie and morning coat specified for this more formal inauguration, took the 30- second oath of office at 11:57 a.m. from Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger. His wife, Nancy, in a scarlet wool hat and coast was by his side; beyond them, Vice-President George Bush and Mrs. Bush, wearing a coat the color of a bluejay.
Reagan waited for the thunder of a cannon salute to subside before he launched into his inaugural speech, laced with patriotism, firmness, and optimism. He spoke of the "magnificent vista" stretching before him, as he looked out from the tiered white stone amphitheater of the Capitol, decked with huge swags of blue and white stars and panels of red and white stripes fluttering above a sea of a dignitaries dressed in everything from top hats to dashikis and burnooses on this mild winter day.
Stretching before him were thousands of upturned faces, the long tan velvet rug of the mall, the red brick castle of the Smithsonian Institution, the stone spire of the Washington Monument, and, in the misty blue distance, the Lincoln Memorial. Some of the people roosted like birds in trees to watch. And it was to "we, the people" that he spoke in one particularly rousing paragraph of his speech that echoed the Senate floor speech of old pal Jimmy Stewart in the film "Mr. Smith goes to Washington."
The swearing-in capped a four-day inaugural celebration -- an $11 million extravaganza that rivaled an MGM musical for its glamour and showmanship. It included fireworks, constellations of stars, concerts, candlelight suppers, choirs, and satellite balls beamed across the country.
As Johny Carson, master of ceremonies for the Monday night gala, said, "This is the first administration to have a premiere."
It began officially Saturday night in a navy-gray twilight with an Inaugural Opening Day Ceremony, the first of its kind, held at the Lincoln Memorial.The wind-chill factor was minus 1 F. as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, bundled up like Christmas carolers in coats and identical scarves, sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Mrs. Reagan, in a mink coat, and the President, in a dark overcoat, huddled under lap robes as though they were sleigh riding, along with Vice-President and Mrs. Bush.
As Efram Zimbalish Jr., star of the "FBI" TV series, led the 45-minute opening celebration, the sky lit up. More than 12,000 technicolor fireworks exploded in the night, along with a "rockets' red glare" right on cue in the singing of the "star Spangled Banner." fountains of antifreeze gushed a path of light to the Washington Memorial.
The jubilant scene was marred, though, by the knowledge of one tragedy that afternoon -- the death of a construction worker on the fireworks scaffolding who was blown to the ground in high winds. Plans for a fireworks portrait of President Reagan and Vice-President Bush were later abandoned.
But the general atmosphere in Washington over the inaugural period was a festive one -- that of one long star-spangled party. It began Friday night as some of the 100,000 visitors to the nation's capital funneled into the massive white elephant of a railroad station known as the National Visitors Center to pick up tickets to the inaugural events.
To ease the sometimes hours-long wait, the inaugural committee had set up a "Taste of America" display. Part of the red, white, and blue bunting-draped station had been cordoned off for a free smorgasbord of food and beverage samples from 60 restaurants around the country.
A florid-looking man in a gray suit stood in front of a booth for zucchini tempura and looked at the crowd around him. "It's a happy day for Republicans!" he beamed.
Indeed, for Republicans who have eaten the grits of Democratic power for the last four years, it appears to be. Some 15,000 paid $10 each to mill happily in shifts through a hotel ballroom the size of a football field at a "governors" reception.
Washington is awash right now in affluence: It has sometimes looked like Limo City in front of the big hotels where the parties and inaugural events are given , as men in black tie and women in minks, lynx, jewels, and designer dresses troop in and out of the long black cars. For those who remember the more austere "people's inaugural" of Jimmy Carter four years ago, this costliest inaugural in history -- double the price of anything previous -- is a contrast.
There were some free events -- the Lincoln Memorial ceremony, the band concert and fireworks after the parade, and a series of 70 musical events at the local museums.
But many of the events were pricey. The balls were $100 per person -- $2,000 per eight-person box. The Monday night gala produced by Frank sinatra and televised over ABC: $50 to $150 per person, or $10,000 per box of 10. The candlelight suppers and concert: $500 per person, for which patrons had a choice of Eugene Istomin, pianist with the National Symphony, or the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, or opera and ballet, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Roberta Peters, and Grace Bumbry.
One day before the inauguration, the Reagan organizers ushered 6,000 women into the Kennedy Center for a greeting from Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.
Actress Debbie Reynolds, among the stars presiding, poked fun at Mrs. Reagan, suggesting to foreign diplomats that if they have a trade deficit with the United States, they might consider insisting that the new First Lady shop in their countries. The Washington Post estimated she ha d spent $25,000 on her inaugural wardrobe.