Quote: “This is going to be an unprecedented inauguration!”
We seem to hear this every four years. Reason change, but the fact remain— as experienced or new tour directors we only have our best, educated guess as to how the day is going to progress. It’s stressful.
So, in the spirit of taking a deep breath and remembering that this is also one of most interesting occasions to be a tour guide, here are some of my favorite interesting and odd moments from inaugurations past, taken from my Washington DC guidebook:
You can thank these presidents (and others) for today’s inaugural festivities.
FDR. There has always been a gap between the election and inauguration. Counting votes takes time (and it used to take a lot longer). It takes time to transition presidencies, and the new president needs time to tie up old business, and get ready for the new job. And of course, physically traveling to your new home used to take longer. Which is why the ceremony was always held in March, until the 20th amendment changed it to January, in 1933. Why the sudden need to change the date? The Great Depression was wreaking havoc on the country, and for four months neither Hoover (the lame duck) and FDR (president-elect) could accomplish much for the country.
Jefferson. He rode from the White House to the Capitol on the horse, while people followed, thus inadvertently starting the tradition of the Inaugural Parade.
Monroe. He started the outdoor swearing-in tradition: he didn’t want to offend anyone by preferring the House or the Senate chamber.
Reagan was the first president to be sworn in on the west side of the Capitol, where it’s been held ever since.
And now for some random tidbits:
Speaking of Reagan, his two inaugurations were the warmest (55 degrees) and coldest (7 degrees) on record.
At JFK’s inauguration, the podium caught fire while the Catholic Cardinal was delivering the invocation! You can see it smoke on this video.
The Clintons hold the record for most inaugural balls ever attended (14).
Inauguration day at the Capitol is moving day at the White House. In roughly the five-hour period that the new President-Elect is being sworn in, lunching at the Capitol, and parading up Pennsylvania Avenue, movers have to move out the previous president, and move in the new one. The goal is to have everything in place—shirts in closets, favorite foods in the kitchen—by the time the president walks in their new home for the first time.