1949 — Harry S. Truman is inaugurated as President

Late breaking spoiler: the Chicago Tribune got it wrong. Truman defeated Dewey, and quite handily, at that. He received 303 votes in the Electoral College to Dewey’s 189 (the remaining 39 votes were won by Strom Thurmond). Harry Truman’s Inauguration was the first one ever to be televised live across the nation.

Truman’s second term as President would largely be concerned with foreign affairs, particularly the newly nuclear bomb enabled Soviet Union and the Korean War. Truman did not contest the 1952 election, having become increasingly unpopular with voters during his second term.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1954 — William Burroughs writes his first letter home from Tangier

Burroughs was inspired by the works of Paul Bowles to visit Tangier, and found it much to his liking. He rented a room in the home of a procurer who supplied prostitutes to visiting tourists, and began to write. Burroughs referred to his prodigious output of fiction in this period as “Interzone”, and it would later form the basis of his best known work, “Naked Lunch”.

He also maintained a regular correspondence with friends and relatives, notably Kerouac and Ginsberg, as well as Burroughs’ parents (whom he was financially dependent on at this time). Although Burroughs stayed in Tangier only a few months before returning to America, there was never any question that he would return, and he saw in the new year of 1955 there.

Referenced in:

Bug Powder Dust — Bomb The Bass

1961 — John F. Kennedy is inaugurated as President

John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration oath was administered by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren with all the due pomp and ceremony.

Kennedy’s speech that day was unusually short for an Inaugural Address, but it is generally considered to be one of the better inaugural addresses. Such well known Kennedy quotations as “ask not what your country can do for you…” and “the torch has been passed to a new generation…” are taken from it.

Also, notably, Kennedy was the first President in some decades not to wear a hat at his Inauguration, pretty much single-handedly killing hats for men. Strange but true.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
She Is Always Seventeen – Harry Chapin

1965 — Alan Freed dies

Alan Freed was one of the first really famous DJs, and his efforts were instrumental in promoting early rock’n’roll music – indeed, he is widely held to have been the one to coin the phrase “rock’n’roll”.

Freed had become interested in radio while attending college, and spent his military service working as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio. He later worked as a DJ at WKST (New Castle, PA); WKBN (Youngstown, OH); and WAKR (Akron, OH). But his great fame began in 1951, when he began working for WJW (Cleveland, OH), playing rhythm and blues, hot jazz and this strange new dance music that would be called rock’n’roll. Freed nicknamed himself “Moondog” after a jazz instrumental he played as the show’s intro. He later moved to WINS (New York), where his fame grew. Freed appeared in many of the early rock’n’roll films, co-wrote songs (such as “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry)…

…and was eventually ruined when it was revealed that he had taken payola (playing certain songs in exchange for money from record companies).

Freed worked a little after that, but his prestige and status as a tastemaker were destroyed in the scandal. He died of uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism. Freed was only 43 years old when he died.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

January 20, 1977 — The end of the Ford administration temporarily returns Henry Kissinger to obscurity

Henry Kissinger once received the Nobel Peace Prize for failing to negotiate a peace treaty. Which tells you close to everything you need to know about the man: he is lauded out of all proportion to his actual achievements. Realistically, his single greatest achievement is avoiding prosecution in the downfall of the Nixon administration.

I’ll back up. Kissinger was Nixon’s Secretary of State and later his National Security Advisor. As such, he was a major architect of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War (and thus, of America’s defeat in the Vietnam War). A proponent of Realpolitik (which is basically the doctrine that morality comes second to winning in politics), Kissinger was not a bloodthirsty man, but a callous and indifferent one. If other people had to die for him to get what he wanted, so be it.

He remained in office throughout the Ford administration, while he largely disappeared during the Carter years, Reagan relied on him for advice, as have almost all his successors in the Oval Office. Kissinger is still seen as an authority on US foreign relations even today – in 2016, Clinton boasted that he was one of her advisors (and Sanders boasted that Kissinger was not, and would never be, one of his advisors).