Mamacita says: Presidential inaugurations are of great historical importance, but, as with everything of importance, there is an abundance of “trivia” (that isn’t really trivial at all – more like “fascinating!”) that many people do not know.
1. After taking the oath of office at the first presidential inauguration on April 30, George Washington spoke the words, “So help me God.” All the other presidents after him have repeated those words. By the way, Washington had to borrow money to attend his own inaugural. (1789)
2. Many people believe that William Henry Harrison’s long speech in chilly weather caused his death in 1841. True, Harrison didn’t wear a hat or overcoat while speaking for an hour and 40 minutes. But the 68-year-old Harrison conducted extensive presidential business for weeks after his address. It’s unclear when Harrison caught the cold that led to his pneumonia, but he didn’t summon a doctor until 23 days after the inauguration. He died about a week later. The “fatal speech” idea seems predicated on the common but false notion that cold weather causes a cold. Harrison’s last words were, “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”
3. The outgoing president often gets little attention, but rarely has it been as obvious as in 1857, when James Buchanan succeeded Franklin Pierce. The swearing-in ceremony had to be delayed for 20 minutes because officials forgot to pick up Pierce at his hotel and had to go fetch him.
4. Ulysses Grant was inaugurated for his second term on a day in 1873 when the noon temperature was 16 degrees. A temporary wooden structure was built for the inaugural ball, and the weather turned it into an icebox. The food froze while guests danced in their coats. The musicians’ violin strings snapped because of the chill, and 100 canaries, brought in to provide pleasant sounds, froze to death in their cages.
5. Pierce and Herbert Hoover both “affirmed” rather than swore the oath of office because of religious convictions. This is an option that any president may take.
6. Because of gas rationing during World War II, there was no parade for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration in 1945.
7. Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 parade was covered by a 24-year-old reporter who worked for the Washington Times-Herald as the “Inquiring Camera Girl.” Her name was Jacqueline Bouvier, soon to become Jackie Kennedy.
8. One of America’s greatest poets, Robert Frost, had a miserable time when called upon to recite verse for John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. The 86-year-old poet was blinded by the bright sunlight and unable to read the new poem he had written. Instead, the flustered Frost switched to an old poem he had memorized, dedicating it to “the president-elect, Mr. John Finley.” (Finley was a classics scholar at Harvard.) The only other President to feature poets was Bill Clinton; Maya Angelou read at his 1993 inaugural, and Miller Williams read at his second, in 1997.
9. Lyndon Johnson was the only president to take the oath of office from a woman, Federal District Judge Sarah Hughes. He also was the only president to be sworn in on an airplane, taking office after Kennedy’s assassination.
10. Before Richard Nixon’s 1973 inaugural parade, officials applied a chemical bird repellent to tree branches along the route. The product, called Roost No More, was supposed to keep pigeons off the trees by making their feet itch. Instead, the birds ate the repellent and keeled over, leaving Pennsylvania Avenue decorated with sick and dead pigeons.
11. George Washington’s was the shortest inaugural address at 135 words (1793). William Harrison’s was the longest at 8,445 words. (1841)
12. Thomas Jefferson was the only president to walk to and from the inaugural, and the first to be inaugurated at the Capitol. (1801)
13. The first inaugural ball was held for James Madison. (1809)
14. Abraham Lincoln was the first to include African-Americans in his parade. (1865) The police barred African American leader Frederick Douglass from the White House reception until Lincoln said, for all to hear, “Here comes my great friend Frederick Douglass.”
15. Women were included for the first time in Woodrow Wilson’s second inaugural parade. (1917)
16. The first president to ride in a car at his inauguration was Warren Harding. (1921)
17. Calvin Coolidge’s oath was administered by Chief Justice (and ex-president) William Howard Taft, and was the first to be broadcast on radio. (1925)
18. Harry Truman had the first televised inauguration. (1949) He used to get up at 5 a.m. every day to practice the piano for two hours before his official day began. John Kennedy’s inauguration was the first to be televised in color. (1961)
19. The first inauguration to be photographed was James Buchanan’s. (1857) Buchanan was the only president never to marry, and when he left the White House, he left a note for his successor that read: “My dear sir, if you are as happy on entering the White House as I am on leaving, you are a happy man indeed.”
20. Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration and parade were held on Super Bowl Sunday. (1985).
21. Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be broadcast on the Internet. (1997)
22. George W. Bush (former fashion model) mentioned the word ‘freedom’ more than 20 times in his second inaugural address. (2005) At his swearing in, he wore the same cufflinks that his father, George H.W. Bush, wore at HIS inauguration(1989)
23. Barack Obama will be our 44th president and his inauguration will be the 56th formal one. Fifteen presidents were elected to a second term, and Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term. (2009)
24. John Quincy Adams was the first president sworn in wearing long trousers, rather than knee breeches. (1825) He also skinny-dipped in the Potomac almost daily, and was the first president to be interviewed by a female reporter – while toweling-off on the riverbank.
25. James Garfield’s mother was the first to attend her son’s inauguration. (1881) His first act as president was to give her a kiss. The assassin’s bullet need not have killed him; many believe his death was due to massive infection caused by the unwashed fingers of the many doctors who probed for the bullet.
26. William McKinley’s inauguration was the first ceremony to be recorded by a motion picture camera. (1897)
27. William Howard Taft’s wife was the first one to accompany her husband in the procession from the Capitol to the White House. (1909)
28. Jimmy Carter’s inaugural parade featured solar heat for the reviewing stand and handicap-accessible viewing. (1977)
29. All but six presidents took the presidential oath in Washington, D.C. The exceptions were George Washington (NYC in 1789, and Philadelphia in 1793), John Adams (Philadelphia, 1797), Chester Alan Arthur (NYC, 1881), Theodore Roosevelt (Buffalo, 1901), Calvin Coolidge (Plymouth, VT, 1923), and Lyndon Baines Johnson (Dallas, 1963)
30. With the exception of Washington’s first inaugural (April 30, 1789), the presidents were inaugurated in March, to try and avoid the bad weather. In 1933, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution changed the inaugural date to January 20. FDR’s second inauguration was the first to have been held on January 20.
31. Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 oath was the only one NOT taken with his hand on a Bible. He wore a locket containing a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair at his inaugural, and never took it off.
32. For reasons only they will ever know, John Adams did not attend Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural, John Quincy Adams missed Andrew Jackson’s inaugural, Andrew Johnson was not present at Ulysses Grant’s inaugural, and Richard Nixon did not show up at Gerald Ford’s inaugural.
33. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are the only president and first lady to walk the entire inaugural route. Carter was also the first to forgo formal wear for a business suit, which he bought the week before in Americus, Ga., for $175. (1977)
34. John F. Kennedy was the last president-elect to wear a stovepipe hat to his inaugural. (1961)
35. The new president is traditionally sworn in by the Chief Justice of the United States – in Obama’s case, John Roberts – but the swearing in of new presidents is NOT one of the Chief Justice’s official duties. Any notary public could do it.
36. 8 inches of snow fell on the morning of JFK’s 1961 inauguration, and the army used flame-throwers to melt it.
37. Although Martin Van Buren was the first president who was not born a British citizen, he and his wife spoke Dutch at home. (1837)
38. Grover Cleveland is the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms – he is No. 22 and No. 24.
39. Until 1885, the public was invited to celebrate the new president’s inaugural. . . INSIDE the White House.
40. Bill Clinton was late for his second inauguration, so the crowd did the “wave” to pass the time until he showed up.
41. The inaugural parade is traditionally long, but nothing that comes before the president’s limo is actually an official part of the parade – they are merely the presidential escort. The parade is divided into five divisions for each of the five military services in order of seniority: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard.
I find the fact that this presidential inauguration comes the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day particularly appropriate. God bless the new leader of our nation, and may all of his – and our – dreams come true under his leadership.