Kennedy’s Inauguration Still Captivates, 50 Years Later

BY Mike Fritz  January 20, 2011 at 6:15 PM EDT

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Wearing an elegant white evening gown, Jacqueline Kennedy smiles as she delicately makes her way through a Washington snowstorm. The men around her are expressionless as they help the future first lady get to a ball hosted by Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford. It was the night before President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office.

“She looks like a little girl going off to a party,” says Ben Cosgrove, a deputy editor for LIFE.com, which released a series of never-before-seen photos for the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy inauguration.

You can watch President Kennedy’s full inaugural address here:

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll released Thursday shows that President John F. Kennedy is the most popular president in the last half century, with 85 percent of those polled approving of his job performance.

President Bill Clinton ranks second on the list with a 72 percent approval rating, and President Ronald Reagan is third with a 68 percent approval rating.

LIFE’s collection of images include poet Robert Frost reading “The Gift Outright” as President Kennedy blows his nose in the background, and the U.S. Army’s Pershing medium-range ballistic missile being rolled out to the public for the first time during the inaugural parade – an obvious show of force during the height of the Cold War.

“The entire era seems to be captured in some of these images,” says Cosgrove, “and the exuberance that pops off them make it clear that the 1960s was really going to be a new frontier for our country.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad photo of Jackie Kennedy in my life,” Cosgrove adds. “There is a reason why people continue to be fascinated by this couple.”

See LIFE’s entire collection here.