Every inauguration of the dozen we have covered seems to have some quirk, bobble, mistake, or feature that is memorable enough to go into our Missourinet briefing book that we dig out every four years and update for the next inauguration coverage. This week’s inauguration of Governor Jay Nixon will be remembered for the bells. And for the mispronunciation of the Governor’s name during the oath. And for the biggest laugh we’ve every heard at a gubernatorial inauguration.
It is tradition that the Governor be sworn in at high noon with the bells at St. Peter Catholic Church tolling the hour. In two of the previous three inaugurations (Nixon I and Holden) the oath was taken before noon. This time the bells added their own touch to the event.
The National Guard band filled the last few minutes before noon with a couple of numbers and quit just before noon. Then there was silence and for almost half a minute before the bells began to ring slowly, with ten-second intervals. They stopped after eight. Our press corps colleagues were keeping track and so were we. The church steeple was silent. Ten seconds passed. Then twenty. Thirty. Forty.
Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, the master of ceremonies, finally decided there would be no more bells, so he got up and moved to the podium. “Governor, if that’s the only one that goes wrong in four years, we’re in good shape,” he says to Nixon. As he takes a breath to introduce Judge Rex Burlison to give the oath, the bell in the church rings again. The podium people and the chilled audience burst into laughter. “That just indicates God has a sense of humor,” Nixon is heard to say. And the bell rings again. Ten seconds later, it rings again. Then it is silent again. “There’s 12,” says Nixon. “Is that 12?” Georganne Nixon asks. “Yeah,” says the state’s chief executive.
It’s not. It’s 11.
Dempsey, once stung and twice shy now, waits for more than a minute and a half before introducing Circuit Judge Rex Burlison to administer the oath. Burlison, who worked with Nixon for several years in the Attorney General’s office and was appointed to the bench by Nixon, begins, “I, Jeremy Wilson Nixon…” The governor maintains his composure and repeats, “I, Jeremiah Wilson Nixon…” Five minutes after the first of the eleven bells was rung, the oath is completed.
After the 19-gun salute and the flyover by the National Guard helicopters, all of the bells were rung in the church for two minutes before the governor gave his 13-minute speech.
We went back to our video of the event—we webcast the event with our friends at KMIZ-TV in Columbia on Missourinet.com and on their web page, ABC17.com–with our stop watch. The entire broadcast is being posted on YouTube.
11:59:56-band finishes playing “God Bless America.”
12:02:23-ninth bell, at last
12:02:42-eleventh AND FINAL bell.
12:04:18-convinced there are no more bells, Senator Dempsey introduces Judge Rex Burlison
12:04:52-Judge Burlison begins giving oath to “Jeremy Wilson Nixon”
Not all historic moments have to be monumental. Only a few are memorable for very long. These events go into the book.