Written By: Ben Cosgrove

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 was the dawn of “Camelot”—the evocative label 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.

John and Jackie Kennedy walk to JFK's inauguration ceremony from the White House, January 1961.

John and Jackie Kennedy walked to JFK’s inauguration ceremony from the White House, January 1961.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John F. Kennedy, Jacking Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Lydon Johnson, and Richard Nixon wait for the inaugoration to begin.

From left: Jackie Kennedy, turned to someone behind her; President Dwight Eisenhower; President-Elect Kennedy; and on the right, Vice-President-Elect Lyndon Johnson and outgoing VP Richard Nixon, January 1961.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John and Jackie Kennedy dressed in formal wear on the evening before the inauguration.

John and Jackie Kennedy dressed in formal wear on the evening before the inauguration.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Bundled onlookers gather on Pennsylyvania Avenue on the day of John Kennedy's inauguration.

People bundled up as they lined Pennsylvania Avenue for the Inauguration.

Leonard McCombe/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Kenendy and Jackie Kennedy ride in a blue convertible through a cheering crowd during the Inaugural Parade.

A smiling President Kennedy and the First Lady Jackie Kennedy rode through cheering crowds in the Inaugural Parade, January 1961.

Leonard McCombe/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A freak overnight storm dumped inches of snow on to Washington on the eve of JFK's inauguration.

A freak overnight storm dumped inches of snow on to Washington on the eve of JFK’s inauguration.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Eisenhower's secretary, Ann Whitman, helps the President with his borrowed tie.

Eisenhower’s secretary, Ann Whitman, helped the president don a borrowed tie on the morning of the inauguration, January 1961.

Ed Clark/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Jackie Kennedy attends her husband's Inaugural Gala during a snowstorm in Washington, D.C.

Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s Inaugural Gala.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford enjoy the entertainment of the Inaugural Gala.

On the night before the inauguration, many of the biggest names in show business came together for a gala produced by Kennedy’s friend and supporter, Frank Sinatra, and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Peter Lawford.

Leonard McCombe/ Life Pictures/Getty Images

Sidney Poitier reads a statement at the Inaugural Gala.

Sidney Poitier read a statement at the Inaugural Gala.

Leonard McCombe/ Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Kennedy speaks to the crowd during the evening of the Inaugural Gala.

John Kennedy spoke to the crowd during the evening of the Inaugural Gala.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Kennedy among well-wishers at the inaugural gala.

John Kennedy among well-wishers at the inaugural gala.

Joseph Scherschel/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Gene Kelly dances during the 1961 Inaugural Gala.

Gene Kelly performed at John Kennedy’s Inaugural Gala

Leonard McCombe/Life Pictures/Getty Images

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.

A woman in a gown and a man in a suit with a top hat danced at one of the ball’s celebrating John Kennedy’s inauguration.

Leonard McCombe/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John and Jackie Kennedy in the Presidential Box overlooking the crowd during JFK's Inaugural Ball, January 1961.

John and Jackie Kennedy in the Presidential Box overlooked the crowd during JFK’s Inaugural Ball, January 1961.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John and Jackie Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Others prepare at the White House for the inauguration.

John Connally (left), John and Jackie Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and others prepared at the White House for the inauguration, January 1961.

Ed Clark/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Lady Bird Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon seated during the inauguration.

Lady Bird Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during JFK’s inauguration.

Joe Scherschel/ Life Pictures/Getty Images

A spectator is seen bundled due to the harsh weather conditions during John Kennedy's inauguration.

A man bundled against the cold during John Kennedy’s inauguration, January 1961.

Leonard McComb/ Life Pictures/Getty Images

Robert Frost reads a poem at John Kennedy's inauguration.

Robert Frost, 87, read a poem at John Kennedy’s inauguration.

George Silk/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Kennedy speaks to the press during a snowstorm the day before his inauguration.

John Kennedy spoke to the press during a snowstorm the day before his inauguration.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

The pershing medium-range ballistic missile made its first appearance during the Inauguration parade.

The Army’s Pershing medium-range ballistic missile made its first appearance before the general public in Kennedy’s Inaugural Parade, January 1961.

Al Fenn/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A man dressed like Buffalo Bill rides a bison during John Kennedy's inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

A Buffalo Bill character performed at the inaugural parade, January 1961.

Al Fenn/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Jackie Kennedy at the D.C. Armory during the Frank Sinatra- and Peter Lawford-produced gala.

Jackie Kennedy at the D.C. Armory during the Frank Sinatra- and Peter Lawford-produced gala.

Paul Schutzer/ Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Kennedy is seen wearing a top hat and overcoat during his inauguartion.

John Kennedy at his inauguration, January 1961.

Joe Scherschel/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Pat Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy stand during the Inauguration

Four past, present, and future First Ladies side-by-side during John Kennedy’s inauguration, January 1961 (from left): Pat Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

George Silk/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Richard Nixon and John Kennedy speak during a receiption after JFK's inauguration

Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy spoke during a reception after JFK was sworn in as president, January 1961.

Ed Clark/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Harry Truman signs an autograph for John Kennedy during the inaugural luncheon.

John F Kennedy watched former president Harry Truman, 77, sign his autograph on a program during the inaugural luncheon, January 1961.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower wait as their driver takes the snow chains off their limo's tires.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s driver tok the snow chains off the tires of his limo before driving the former president and his wife Mamie home, January 1961.

Ed Clark/Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Kennedy delivering his Inaugural Address.

John Kennedy delivering his Inaugural Address.

George Silk/Life Pictures/Getty Images

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