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Dead Pigeons and Other Guests From Past Inaugurations

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Inaugural guests have a checkered history that dates all the way back to Andrew Jackson's inauguration in 1829, when thousands of guests flooded the White House for a celebration of the populist leader that quickly devolved into a debauched riot. Since then, there have been a number of notable guests at inaugurations, some more welcome than others. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Dead pigeons

Richard Nixon didn't want his 1973 inauguration to be marred by a bunch of annoying pigeons. He requested that tree branches along the parade route be treated with a chemical called Roost No More, which would supposedly make the birds' feet itch so they wouldn't want to perch above Tricky Dick's motorcade. The inaugural committee spent $13,000 to comply with this anti-pigeon policy, but Nixon got a bit more than he expected. The pigeons didn't just sit on the branches, they wolfed down the Roost No More, which proved to be highly toxic to birds. Instead of dealing with the minor hassle of live pigeons roosting in trees, Nixon's parade was marred by the macabre spectacle of dead and dying pigeons littering the route.

2. A handful of poets

Having a poet read at the inauguration is a relatively new tradition that didn't begin until John F. Kennedy called on Robert Frost to give a reading at his 1961 inaugural. Although Kennedy initially asked Frost to recite his poem "The Gift Outright," Frost decided to jazz things up by writing a completely new poem, "Dedication," for the occasion. Frost's plans went awry when he got up to read his new work, though. The 87-year-old poet no longer had the greatest eyesight, and the bright sun that morning totally obscured the copy of the poem he was trying to read. Ever quick on his feet, Frost pulled himself together and simply recited "The Gift Outright" from memory.

Despite Frost's triumphant performance, the tradition of poetry reading didn't catch on. In fact, Frost's was the only reading until Bill Clinton pulled on poetic star power in 1993 when he tapped Maya Angelou to read "On the Pulse of Morning," and in 1997 he honored his roots by asking Arkansas poet Miller Williams to read. (While Williams' poem was good, more people probably know his famous daughter: Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams.)

3. Chuck Norris

George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration had its share of cultural intrigue. Traditional patriotic anthems sung by a choir of Kentucky youths supplanted the poetry reading, but cultural critics seemed more interested in reveling in the relatively low-wattage guests the Bushes rounded up for the event. The New York Times dryly noted that celebs like Chuck Norris and Meatloaf were slotting in where Hollywood's A-listers had been during the Clinton years. (If the President had needed a roundhouse kick or a melodramatic power ballad, though, he would have been in great shape.) The guest list also included Rick Schroeder, Norm Macdonald and David Spade.

4. Jonathan Lipnicki

Bush's second inauguration in 2005 wasn't a complete turnaround, either. While some pundits debated the propriety of throwing an inaugural bash while the country was at war, admirers still flocked to Washington to take part in the hoopla.

Again, though, the celebrities didn't quite show up en masse. The Creative Coalition's Inaugural Gala sounds like it would be a star-studded affair, right? That really depends on how highly you rank Jerry Maguire child star Lipnicki, Joe Piscopo, Ernie Hudson, Gary Busey, and Joe Pantoliano on your list of stars.

5. No one

The election of 1876 is remembered as a particularly acrimonious one in which Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden fought a ridiculously close race. Since there had been voter intimidation and fraud in four states, it wasn't immediately clear who won the election after voters went to the polls. It wasn't until a bipartisan commission of Congressmen, Senators, and Supreme Court justices investigated all of this chicanery that Hayes officially won the four contested states and the Electoral College vote. (Think of this as sort of a forerunner to the 2000 election, but with more outright fraud and the extra backstory of the Civil War and Reconstruction.) Tilden's supporters were understandably more than a little peeved about this outcome.

According to some historians, Tilden's supporters were so enraged that they might have made some sort of drastic attempt to interrupt the inauguration. To counter any sort of disturbance, Hayes secretly took his oath of office in the White House's Red Room in a private ceremony on Saturday, March 3, 1877. Now that there was no way Hayes' inaugural festivities could be disrupted by the sore losers, the administration staged a second "inauguration" two days later in which Hayes repeated the whole ceremony and gave the traditional inaugural address.

It's worth noting, though, that history probably didn't miss out on any raging party when Hayes had his real closed-door inauguration. Hayes was famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for detesting alcohol and absolutely condemned drinking. He was so firm in his beliefs that he and his wife, Lucy, adamantly refused to serve any booze in the White House during their entire four-year stay.

6. Top hats

You'll notice something if you look at old inauguration photos: the president-elect is almost always wearing a top hat. For years, one of the odder parts of the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural festivities was that the man about to get sworn in always donned a top hat. It's not clear when or why this tradition started, but it dates back to at least Garfield's inauguration in 1881. Why it endured long after top hats went out of style is up for debate, although some historians speculate that wearing the formal out-of-date headgear gave the inauguration another little touch of ceremony. (Scholars are almost unanimous in their belief that this awkward sartorial choice was not part of an elaborate homage to a favorite Monopoly piece.)

Kennedy was the last president to sport a top hat at his inauguration in 1961. No-nonsense Lyndon Johnson left the fashion statement off the guest list in 1965, thereby depriving the world of what would sure have been hilarious photos of LBJ in a ridiculous hat. The Huffington Post has a short slideshow featuring presidents in their top hats; it's definitely worth a look.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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