January 18, 1977
By Fanny Seiler
Six state policemen with sniper rifles watched from the roof of the wings of the Capitol and the top of the Motor Vehicles Building while Jay Rockefeller was inaugurated as the 29th governor. They were among an estimated 200 security officers who kept an eye on the crowd.
Security was tight with Secret Service agents, 22 men from the Army’s Special Forces, Army and Air Guard, 125 state policemen and 50 conservation officers from the Department of Natural Resources swarming inside and outside. Before the ceremony, military police, plainclothes security agents and state policemen prowled the halls and rotunda areas.
Demolition experts from both the Secret Service and state police were on hand in the executive offices of the Department of Public Safety. But they weren’t needed. Col. H. E. Beverly and Capt. John Hilliard said there wasn’t any problem. A routine search had been made of the building before the crowd arrived. But the Associated Press said the state police had an anxious moment when a cardboard box wrapped in brown paper turned up in the Governor’s reception room. State Police Cpl. R. J. Adams opened it to find a model airplane.
However, medics with the Army National Guard’s 146th Helicopter Ambulance Detachment in Parkersburg had some difficulty getting through a solid mass of people that filled the West Wing of the Capitol from wall to wall when a woman had a slight heart attack. Fortunately, said medic Ed McNerney, a physician from Buckhannon was nearby and provided assistance until the medic team arrived. Medic C. W. Ball said he had to lower his head like a football player and work his way through the crowd.
People jammed the West Wing trying to get in out of the minus 3 degree temperature outside, and persons inside pushed their way outside saying: “There’s sickness in there. Let us out.” An MP, speaking loudly so he could be heard above the rumble of the crowd, asked for the crowd’s indulgence. But the crowd had last its patience and some called back: “Let the people in.”
The unidentified woman was taken to a hospital in an ambulance that was standing by, and was reported in good condition, Ball said. Her heart, he added, started to speed up when she became overheated in the crowd.
Medics also had to force their way through the West Wing when three persons became faint from standing so long in the reception line. The line moved slowly, adding to the people’s irritation, and the last persons didn’t get through until 4:45 p.m. Some persons stood for more than an hour. Others went for refreshments and came back later. Outgoing Welfare Commissioner Tom Tinder, last in line at 4 p.m., said the line was so long he went for a cup of coffee and returned.
Outside, an elderly woman slipped on the ice and broke her collarbone. She, too, was taken to a local hospital.
The subzero weather quickly affected observers, and the medics, assisted by Lin Varian and Carolyn Griffith, regular nurses at the statehouse dispensary, treated persons who nearly got frostbitten. Mrs. Varian said between 25 and 30 persons were treated by putting their hands and feet in water heated 98 degrees to 100 degrees. They all responded well, she noted. One individual with near frostbit was Katie O’Brien of New York, wife of a friend of the Governor’s.
The youngest person affected by the cols was a 12-year-old boy.
Meanwhile, the security agents permitted Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, incoming Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., and Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W. Va., to stay only about one hour before escorting them to Air Force Two at Kanawha Airport.
As the crowd inched its way up the west hallway to the receiving line in the rotunda under the dome, people were unaware hours later that the national dignitaries had departed. Gov. Rockefeller, his wife, Sharon, her father, Sen. Charles Percy, other members of the Board of Public Works and State Supreme Court remained in the receiving line. While the crowd outside was about 2,000 the number of persons who went through the line was double. Many persons couldn’t stand the cold and sought shelter inside in the West Wing as far up the hallway as the the [sic] MPs would let them.
The crowd blocked off all means of entrance to the Capitol press room, and at one point, UPI reporter Andrew Gallagher, became so frustrated he climbed in a window that was opened by reporters from inside who were caught in the office. A Secret Service agent immediately was on the scene, asking who climbed in the window. Gallagher explained that he had because there wasn’t any other way to get to the press room.
Five musical groups were stationed throughout the Capitol hallways and rotunda to provide music but it was drowned out by the hum of the crowd except within a few feet of the musicians.
The concerts scheduled to precede the inaugural ceremony were canceled because of the extreme cold.