The Torch Has Been Passed … And Possibly Caused a Fire


"Hot words" Eisenhower to Kennedy fire at podium
John F. Kennedy takes the oath of office on January 20, 1961, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower looks on. Photo credit

The world watched the peaceful transfer of power on January 20, 1961, as the oldest President to that point, Dwight D. Eisenhower, handed the reins of power to the youngest elected President, John F. Kennedy.

As the two men stood side-by-side on the inaugural platform, listening as Cardinal Richard Cushing prayed the invocation, they noticed smoke billowing from the podium. An electrical short sparked and nearly started a fire that would have required the hurried evacuation of the entire United States federal government from the crowded platform.

Unaware that his successor was about to speak the immortal words, “Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend a foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…,” a bemused Eisenhower leaned over whispered in Kennedy’s ear, “You must have a hot speech.”

Fortunately the electrical problems were resolved before a crisis developed, and the torch was passed, peacefully, as planned.

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