John and Jackie Kennedy walk to JFK's inauguration ceremony from the White House, January 1961.
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Not originally published in LIFE. John and Jackie Kennedy walk to JFK's inauguration ceremony from the White House, January 1961.Paul Schutzer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
John and Jackie Kennedy walk to JFK's inauguration ceremony from the White House, January 1961.
John F. Kennedy, Jacking Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Lydon Johnson, and Richard Nixon wait for the inaugoration to begin.
John and Jackie Kennedy dressed in formal wear on the evening before the inauguration.
Bundled onlookers gather on Pennsylyvania Avenue on the day of John Kennedy's inauguration.
John Kenendy and Jackie Kennedy ride in a blue convertible through a cheering crowd during the Inaugural Parade.
A freak overnight storm dumped inches of snow on to Washington on the eve of JFK's inauguration.
Eisenhower's secretary, Ann Whitman, helps the President with his borrowed tie.
Jackie Kennedy attends her husband's Inaugural Gala during a snowstorm in Washington, D.C.
Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford enjoy the entertainment of the Inaugural Gala.
Sidney Poitier reads a statement at the Inaugural Gala.
John Kennedy speaks to the crowd during the evening of the Inaugural Gala.
John Kennedy among well-wishers at the inaugural gala.
Gene Kelly dances during the 1961 Inaugural Gala.
A woman in a gown and a man in a suit with a top hat dance at one of the ball's celebrating John Kennedy's inauguration.
John and Jackie Kennedy in the Presidential Box overlooking the crowd during JFK's Inaugural Ball, January 1961.
John and Jackie Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Others prepare at the White House for the inauguration.
Lady Bird Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon seated during the inauguration.
A spectator is seen bundled due to the harsh weather conditions during John Kennedy's inauguration.
Robert Frost reads a poem at John Kennedy's inauguration.
John Kennedy speaks to the press during a snowstorm the day before his inauguration.
The pershing medium-range ballistic missile made its first appearance during the Inauguration parade.
A man dressed like Buffalo Bill rides a bison during John Kennedy's inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Jackie Kennedy at the D.C. Armory during the Frank Sinatra- and Peter Lawford-produced gala.
John Kennedy is seen wearing a top hat and overcoat during his inauguartion.
Pat Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy stand during the Inauguration
Richard Nixon and John Kennedy speak during a receiption after JFK's inauguration
Harry Truman signs an autograph for John Kennedy during the inaugural luncheon.
Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower wait as their driver takes the snow chains off their limo's tires.
John Kennedy delivering his Inaugural Address.
Not originally published in LIFE. John and Jackie Kennedy walk to JFK's inauguration ceremony from the White House, January 1961.
Paul Schutzer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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The Dawn of Camelot: LIFE at JFK's Inauguration

Jan 05, 2013

January 20, 1961, was a bitterly cold day in Washington. And yet, as John and Jackie Kennedy set out on foot from the White House to the Capitol for JFK's inauguration as president, the sense of cheer and confidence was palpable.

This, after all, was the dawn of "Camelot" — the evocative label forever associated with Kennedy's administration, born of the young president's fondness for the musical of the same name. LIFE magazine sent several of its best photographers to D.C. to chronicle the inauguration (and its slew of star-studded parties). A week later, the magazine ran nearly 20 pictures from the event; many, many more photos were not published in LIFE. Here, LIFE.com presents the best of those pictures that ran, and many that did not.

In his inaugural address — one of the most memorable in history — Kennedy did not skirt the very real, very present danger posed by mutual mistrust and enmity between East and West at the height of the Cold War, nor did he accept that danger as a fixed, immutable state of affairs.

"If a beachhead of cooperation," he said, "may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides [America and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its satellites] join in creating a new endeavor — not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved. This will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."

"To those nations who would make themselves our adversary," Kennedy said, "we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction."

Perhaps the most heartfelt words uttered that day, meanwhile, came not from JFK, but from the 87-year-old poet Robert Frost. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the quintessential New England bard (albeit born in California), Frost penned a new poem for the inauguration, but the intense glare of the January sun made it impossible for him to read his own manuscript. After struggling for a bit, and after Lyndon Johnson stood and tried to help (using his own top hat to shield the page), Frost abandoned the effort and instead recited, from memory, a famous, earlier poem: "The Gift Outright," written nearly 20 years before, which reads in part, "we gave ourselves outright … To the land vaguely realizing westward."

It seemed then, and still feels, an appropriately optimistic sentiment in the early days of the 1960s.

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