B. Harold Smick Jr. remembers Jan. 20, 1941, as if it was yesterday. It was the day Franklin D. Roosevelt became the only U.S. president to be sworn in to a third term. It was the first of many presidential inaugurations Smick attended.
“It really made you feel like you were proud of the country,” Smick said.
The Salem, New Jersey, native was 15 when he began a tradition he will continue Friday at the age of 91. Since 1941, Smick has witnessed every presidential inauguration. The inauguration of Donald Trump will be his 18th.
Smick recalled some of the more memorable inauguration moments he’s experienced. He remembered traveling on a crowded bus with his father from South Jersey to Washington.
“It was filled with smoke before we got to the Pennsville ferry,” Smick said. “We didn’t have bridges then. Even in Camden to Philly it was a ferry.”
Smick described the snowstorm during President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 that left him stranded.
“It got worse every hour,” Smick said. “At 5 p.m. I pulled off to an Esso Gas Station and said, ‘I’m all the way from Salem, I’m going to go back on a train. May I leave my car here?’”
Smick's passion for the inauguration carries over into presidential history in general. His living room is full of inaugural buttons, photos and souvenirs, including the signatures of every American president.
Smick told NBC10 he’s a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the most recent election. That isn’t stopping him from attending Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“He’s a different person from any person who’s ever been president of the United States,” Smick said. “In fact he’s never been in politics.”
Smick weighed in on the more than 50 Democratic lawmakers who are boycotting Trump’s inauguration.
“I think it’s terrible,” he said. “It’s a disgrace really. They got a right to do it in America but it’s sad. He is our president as of Friday.”
During FDR’s inauguration, Smick took a piece of felt from the stage cover. He told NBC10 he may do the same thing Friday.
“I stayed and walked up on that platform myself,” he said. “It was a big sheet and I tore off a corner. To this day the FBI doesn’t know where that corner piece went.”
Smick says he’s praying Trump will bring peace, healthcare and jobs.
“If he succeeds, and I pray that he does, our family lumber business has been there since 1906,” Smick said. “We’re going to succeed and succeed well.”