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Worst inauguration ever? That would probably be Franklin Pierce’s in 1853

Franklin Pierce was the 14th president of the United States and the only one from New Hampshire. National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Yes, Donald Trump has had trouble enticing celebrities to perform at his inauguration. Three dozen Democratic members of Congress have promised to boycott the ceremony, and enormous protests by women are planned for Washington, Boston, and cities across the country the day after Trump takes office. But none of those complications will make it anywhere near the worst inauguration ever.

Whose special day holds that distinction? You could certainly make the case for the inauguration of Franklin Pierce, the only president from New Hampshire, who took the oath of office in March 1853. Here’s the parade of horribles leading up to and on that ill-fated day:


*To start with, the new president was in mourning. Two months before the inauguration, Pierce and his family were on a trip from Andover, Mass., to Concord, N.H., when their train derailed and overturned. Pierce’s 11-year-old son, Benny, was killed in gruesome fashion, right before his parents’ eyes – the third young son the Pierces had lost. Pierce’s wife, Jane, did not attend the inauguration and remained so grief-stricken that Nathaniel Hawthorne came to describe her as “that death’s head in the White House.”

*In no mood to celebrate, Pierce canceled his own inaugural ball.

*Pierce’s vice president, William Rufus King, was too ill to attend the inauguration in Washington. He was in Cuba, trying to recuperate from tuberculosis. Congress passed a special law to allow him to be sworn in from Havana. King ultimately returned to his home in Alabama in April and died the next day, leaving Pierce without a vice president for the rest of his term.

*Pierce’s inauguration drew the first known protest at such an event. It was organized by unemployed workers, who put on their own counter-parade.

*And, alas, even in March, the weather was lousy. According to the National Weather Service, Pierce awoke to heavy snow. The skies seemed to be brightening by noon, but just as he began his speech, the snow started up again – heavier than ever. Much of the crowd dispersed.


Felice Belman can be reached at felice.belman@globe.com.