Many may not realize that President Barack Obama has taken the oath of office four times. If he has only been elected twice, how is that possible? Just getting in the practice before trying to overthrow the 22nd Amendment?

Well, hardly. You might recall that, four years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts botched the reading of the oath during the inauguration and was so concerned that he privately readministered it the following day. This time around, the president took the oath before noon on Jan. 20, as required by law, in another private arrangement, and went through what would be a ceremonial re-enactment on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day.

Add all that up and you get four. The only other individual to take the presidential oath four times was ... FDR.

The excitement surrounding the second inaugural, and a second presidential term, usually lacks in comparison to the first. The promise of a fresh beginning has given way to familiarity and a renewed understanding of the intransigence that exists inside the Beltway. Even if the second inaugural address is brilliantly written, its interpretation tends to be biased by a sense of having already been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. (Literally. Apparently T-shirt vendors around the mall had lousy business this year.)

An exception to this would be President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural. Not only was his address easily the best of all second inaugural addresses, it ranks among the greatest speeches in U.S. history. There was a jubilant sense in Washington at the time that the most awful of national conflicts was finally coming to an end.

The incredibly lavish bill of fare (as reported by NPR and as posted on its website) for the second Presidential Inauguration Ball reflected the spirit of the moment, even if it is a bit difficult to “digest”: three soups, four beef selections, three types of veal, four of poultry, with pheasant, quail, venison, patete of duck en gelee, fois gras, smoked ham and smoked tongue, an assortment of 12 cakes and tarts, 10 jellies and creams, fruit ices. And that’s not all.

How could one do even a modest sampling without getting sick? And what about the food selection? Yale food historian Paul Freedman told Smithsonian Magazine that the food could best be described as “French via England, with some American ingredients.”

There was a bit of a caveat to all this, to the extent that no one was allowed to eat until midnight — which only enhanced the appetites of thousands of hungry revelers. Although the buffet table was designed to serve 300 at a time, it turns out that everyone stampeded at once, and the resulting melee might better be described as a food fight, or at least a food free-for-all.

The Washington Evening Star reported as follows: “The floor of the supper room was soon sticky, pasty and oily with wasted confections, mashed cake and debris of foul and meat.”

So there you have it: The first presidential food fight. You read it here first.


For numerologists, 2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

We’ve already had the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first No. 1 hit (in the U.K. before making that distinction in the U.S. — “Please Please Me”) with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination still to come.

Since we’ve already alluded to Lincoln, here are some of the strange star-crossings that link him and JFK together. Everybody’s read these before, but they’re still interesting.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846; John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Lincoln was elected to the presidency in 1860; Kennedy in 1960.

Both were shot on a Friday.

Kennedy’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas. (Some people say that Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy who advised him not to go to Ford’s Theatre, but Snopes disputes this.)

Both men were succeeded by Southerners. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

The big game

So who do you like to win the Superbaugh? All my teams have been eliminated, so I’m a little indifferent, but I was a huge Baltimore Colts fan way back in the day and a particular fan of Johnny U.

So for that reason alone, I’ll be pulling for the East Coast Ravens in what will one of the great sibling match-ups in sports, pitting Baltimore coach John Harbaugh against his brother, San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh. Should be entertaining.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at