State’s inaugurations have had memorable moments
Impeached partly for putting Tulsa under martial law to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan, John Calloway Walton served the shortest term of any governor in state history. But he also had the grandest inauguration.
More than 160,000 people — an unprecedented crowd for January 1923 — attended the parade and feasted on 15 varieties of barbecue at the State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. Workers dug a trench more than a mile long to cook tons of meat in open pits.
The only governor endorsed by the overtly socialist Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League, Walton cracked down on the Klan, even though he was said to be a member of the KKK himself. He certainly appointed Klansmen to high offices.
The state constitution didn't allow a governor to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, but he did it anyway in Tulsa County, where he even placed a censor at the Tulsa Tribune, violating the First Amendment. The Legislature ousted him after less than a year in office.
In 1927, only 20,000 people attended Henry Johnson 's inauguration. But he was the first to open the ceremonies with a prayer and the first to have his inaugural speech broadcast on radio.
Gov. Johnson threw his support behind Democratic nominee Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. But Republican Herbert Hoover won in a landslide, helping sweep in a Republican majority in the Oklahoma Legislature. And as soon as the new Legislature met in regular session in 1929, lawmakers impeached him for "general incompetence."
Roy Turner became the first governor to make a televised speech; but it came in 1949, not during his inauguration in 1947. His successor, Johnston Murray, was the first to have TV cameras at his swearing-in ceremony in 1951.
Murray's wife, Willie, hoped to succeed him in office but failed to win the 1954 Democratic primary. So instead of running for governor, she divorced him.
At age 33, David Boren became the nation's youngest governor when sworn into office Jan. 12, 1975. And to reflect his relative youth, the inaugural ball at Oklahoma City's Myriad Convention Center was the first to prominently feature a heavy dose of rock music. Live performers included the new governor's cousin, folk singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton.
Boren left office five days early, officially resigning at 11:59 p.m. Jan. 2, 1979, to begin his first term as a U.S. senator.
George Nigh was the governor-elect, but the state constitution makes no provision for the governor-elect to take office early. So with Boren's resignation, the lieutenant governor became governor.
Of course, Nigh was also Boren's lieutenant governor, so he took office early after all, even though he didn't formally take the oath of office until nearly a week later.
In fact, when Nigh finally took the oath, he was technically beginning his third term in office. As lieutenant governor in 1963, Nigh had served in the governor's office for a week after J. Howard Edmondson left early to join the U.S. Senate.
After taking the oath on the south steps of the State Capitol, Nigh peeled off a black leather glove to reveal the notes for his speech written on his left hand.
George Nigh, left, and J. Howard Edmondson exchange smiles in January, 1963, after ceremonies in the state Capitol during which Nigh was sworn in as governor. He served about a week while Edmondson went to Washington to begin his term as a U.S. senator. Henry Bellmon became governor about a week later. Nigh would go on to serve two terms as governor from 1979 to 1987.