Cold fingers, warm hearts

WASHINGTON — When William Henry Harrison was inaugurated on March 4, 1841, it was cold and windy, but that did not stop the new president from delivering the longest inaugural address in history, and doing so without a hat or overcoat. That might have been a poor decision, for a month later, Harrison died of pneumonia.

Tuesday’s inauguration also saw extreme weather, but this time, people were not so cavalier about their warmth. The temperature here was 19 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 a.m. and never rose above freezing — discouraging some so much that they left the National Mall to go indoors, missing the event altogether.

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Jared Shenson
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But for the estimated 2 million people who assembled here, hundreds of Elis among them, giving up and seeking shelter was certainly the last resort.

Indeed, wrappers from hand warmers littered the ground all over the city, and people vying for a spot close to the warmth covered the steam vents on the Mall. Long lines formed outside coffee shops, which sold coffee for as much as $3 a cup, and the Smithsonian Institution was open “just so people could keep warm,” as one inauguration volunteer put it.

The most common choice of clothing among the crowd appeared to be jeans, a sweater, a wool jacket, gloves and a hat. Even so, some regretted not dressing more warmly.

Carolina Cooper ’11, a native of Brazil, said the cold was simply unbearable.

“I’ve never felt this cold,” she said. “I really considered just walking back to the bus before the program began.”

Cooper and her friends ended up following the ceremony in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where a television and some chairs were available for attendees. While there, the museum periodically played a loud beep over the public-address system to wake those who were taking naps on the museum floor, Cooper said.

People who left the Mall to warm up faced problems in reclaiming their spots, forcing many to forgo the services. So most tried to withstand the cold temperatures, some in ways more creative than others.

“I’ve been trying to jump,” Evan Ortiz ’09 said of his plan to generate heat. Ortiz had staked out a place on the Mall early in the morning, and he did not want to give it up.

“But nothing has been very successful so far,” he added.

But while the cold weather seemed to be a unanimous point of complaint on the Mall, in a crowd of millions, there were bound to be some who saw things another way. One of them was 16-year-old Dylan Smock of San Francisco.

For five minutes, while hoisted in the air on a friend’s shoulders, Smock proudly wore nothing more than a pair of khakis.

He said afterward he was satisfied by his wardrobe choice. In fact, he swore he was not even cold.

“I just wanted to take my shirt off to get 10 seconds of fame,” he explained. “I’m just happy to be here.”

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