By Albert R. Anness, House 1949
Franklin D. Roosevelt died unexpectedly April 12, 1945, and his Vice President Harry S. Truman succeeded him to the Presidency. Three years later, on January 20, 1949, Truman again took the Oath of Office as the 33rd President of the United States. It is historically significant that the Inauguration was attended by four members of the 81st Congress who would later become President: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford; and one who would become Vice President: Hubert Humphrey. Like Truman, Johnson, Nixon and Ford would first serve as Vice President. Ford would ultimately become both Vice President and President without ever being elected to either office!
Fellow House Page Jim Richardson and I briefly occupied what would arguably have been considered among the best seats at Truman’s Inauguration. The key word is BRIEFLY as our presence at this milestone in our country’s glorious history was soon, very soon, cut short by our boss “Fishbait” Miller, Doorkeeper of the House.
That Thursday morning was a cloudy, cold day. The boarding house where Senate Page Bob Hansel and I lived was on New Jersey Avenue, literally a stone’s throw from the entrance of the Old House Office Building. Leaving our lodgings early that morning, we encountered an almost surreal scene. With soldiers and military vehicles everywhere, it appeared as though Capitol Hill was in a state of siege.
After a brief session, the House adjourned, and as a body proceeded to President Truman’s Inauguration. Our services no longer needed, my fellow House Pages and I scattered like the four winds.
It is a mystery how I found myself in the Capitol Rotunda standing beside the Secret Service man guarding the entrance to the Inaugural platform. An even bigger mystery is how Jim came to be standing next to me. But there we were, and as luck would have it, the last Congressman about to pass through the door and onto the platform was my Congressman, Edward G. Breen of Ohio.
Rep. Breen invited me and Jim to come with him and watch the Inauguration. I explained that our passes did not extend to the platform. Rep. Breen casually turned to the Secret Service man and informed him that we were official House Pages. Not hesitating, and without uttering a syllable, the Secret Service man, with a mere wave of his hand, gave permission for us to join the House members on the Inaugural platform – making us the only Pages from the House, Senate or Supreme Court who were there that day.
Jim and I were in the “nose bleed” seats, our backs resting against the stone wall of the Capitol. In front of us sat the House of Representatives. Across the wide center aisle was the Senate. The Supreme Court justices were in attendance, including Chief Justice Fred Vinson, who delivered the oaths of office, members of the President’s Cabinet and invited VIPs. Seated immediately in front of the Inaugural platform was the United States Marine Band; in front of them, members of the Washington Diplomatic Corps.
We stood when the Marine Band struck up “Ruffles and Flourishes” to announce the arrival of Vice President-Elect Alben W. Barkley and his daughter. We stood again to “Hail to the Chief” for the arrival of President Truman, his wife Bess and daughter Margaret.
Thrilled to be participating in the Inaugural ceremonies, Jim and I were thunderstruck when out into the middle aisle stepped “Fishbait” Miller, looking straight up at us. He gestured with great emphasis that Jim and I were to leave the Inaugural Platform. Immediately!
We looked at each other in utter disbelief! How could “Fishbait” possibly have spotted us in this huge throng of people? Rep. Breen, who had been watching the scene, suddenly realized the limits of even his authority, turned to me and said, “Al, I guess you two will have to go.” With the sounds of “Hail to the Chief” ringing in our ears, we quickly departed.
Disappointed but not done for the day, Jim and I scurried up to the roof of the Capitol and shared that lofty vantage point with the Marines who were standing guard. But, it was not the same. After a while we came back down and with several other House Pages, watched the rest of the Inauguration from one of the House windows. To mark the occasion, we opened the window panel and inscribed our names.
Several days later I asked Turner Robert, the Chief Democratic Page, why “Fishbait” had ordered Jim and me off the platform. He told me that “Fishbait” deemed Jim “inappropriately dressed” because he was wearing a surplus WWII Navy pea coat. But sixty years later, I still cannot figure how he spotted us in the first place.
You might think that my relationship with “Fishbait” was ruined, but in fact, he continued to be cordial. Not long after the Inauguration, he invited me to be his guest at his church’s Father & Son Banquet as a representative of all the House Pages. He also awarded me a plum assignment, operating the sound system during the House Ways and Means Committee hearings on Amending the Social Security Act of 1935. I kept that job for the entire hearings, and was later recalled for hearings on other legislative matters. To this day, I treasure a personal letter from the Committee Chairman, Rep. Robert L. Doughton (North Carolina), thanking me for my service.
Al left Washington in late 1949. He entered Indiana University in 1952 and later enjoyed a 35-year career in sales and marketing. In 2001, Al published a book entitled “Growing up in Liberty” — the story of his widowed grandmother raising four sons at the beginning of the 20th century. Al and Sharon, his wife of 58 years, not live in Franklin, Indiana.
25 years after leaving Washington, Al and his wife returned to visit the House and see “Fishbait” again.