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The New President: 1913

March 4, 1913. "Inaugural ceremony, East Front of Capitol." Woodrow Wilson being sworn in as 28th president of the United States. View full size.

March 4, 1913. "Inaugural ceremony, East Front of Capitol." Woodrow Wilson being sworn in as 28th president of the United States. View full size.


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No Public Address System

1913 means no electric amplification, so nobody really heard the speeches unless they were a few feet away. Taft and Wilson would be the first former and current presidents to use P.A. systems, but not until 1916. Each used them in separate events.

Big Bill

After I made this photo the background on my laptop's desktop, I asked my college-bound son who he thought was being inaugurated. He guessed it correctly the first time, without enlarging it.

How did he figure it out? He couldn't make out Wilson, but he could see - just off-center, to the right - a huge, fat man. He knew that the fattest man to ever occupy the White House was William Howard Taft, that Wilson beat Taft, and that the fat man was standing where the outgoing president normally stands.

Change is Good

Southern-born Woodrow Wilson was the President who arranged a showing in the White House of "Birth of a Nation" and was reported as saying "it is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true."

Fast forward 96 years.

[Whether Wilson ever said that is a matter of some dispute. Details below. - Dave]

From Arthur Lennig's "Myth and fact: The reception of The Birth of a Nation," Film History 16(2): 117-141, 2004.]

Wilson was impressed with the work, which echoed his own views as offered in his History of the American People (1902) ... and he reputedly said that it was like "writing history with lightning ... My only regret is that it is all too true." Although this remark has often been cited, its provenance remains hazy. It seems to have stemmed from an interview conducted with Griffith only a few days after the White House showing and printed in the New York American on 28 February 1915. In it, Griffith claimed that the film "received very high praise from high quarters in Washington" and explained that "I was gratified when a man we all revere, or ought to, said it teaches history by lightning." [57] (Notice the discrepancy between "writing" his story and "teaching" it. There is no mention of "My only regret is that it is all too true.")

Lennig's footnote follows.

[57] I examined bound volumes of the newspapers at the New York State Library to check this. It can be found in the Sunday paper of The New York American, section M, p. 9. Griffith also used the word "teach" in a statement reported in Stephen Gordon, Photoplay, October 1916.


Neat photo! I don't imagine people are allowed to climb all over the Capitol like that today.

Black and White vs. Color

Just yesterday my 13-year-old acknowledged how the imagination fills in the blanks, often making viewing more enjoyable for TV shows or photos in beautiful black-and-white.

That said, this is one of the few Shorpy photos where I wish the colors were present. This scene is stunning enough, but with the colors it would be breathtaking.

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