Fun and Historical Facts About the 2013 Presidential Inauguration

With the ceremony just 55 days away, Washington prepares for the pomp and circumstance.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

The presidential inauguration is 55 days away. It is an occasion that transforms the city at just about the bleakest time of year. A record 1.8 million people came to DC for the 2009 ceremony, when Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation’s first African-American president. What it will mean for Washingtonians—apart from houseguests and traffic hassles—is a three-day weekend that becomes a four- or five-day extravaganza of parties, balls, and other related events. Hotels will charge ridiculous prices (the Four Seasons, for example, has a one-bedroom suite for $20,000), restaurant reservations will be hard to come by (meaning book early), and hopefully Mother Nature will spare the region a blizzard or extreme cold (it was 28 degrees four years ago).

President Obama is scheduled to privately take the oath of office before noon at the White House on Sunday, January 20. The public swearing-in at the Capitol will happen the next day, Monday, January 21, which is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This will be the seventh time that the inauguration has fallen on a Sunday, necessitating the one-day delay in the official ceremony. The first time it happened was in 1821 for President James Monroe’s second swearing-in. Anyone who has ever stood outside in the cold for the duration of a presidential inauguration has to be miffed that Congress changed the start of the presidential term from March 4 to January 20. That change was ratified in 1933, and we’ve had to bundle up ever since.

Over the next several weeks we will bring you regular updates on inaugural events, parties, balls, and the swearing-in and parade, plus related news from hotels, bars, and restaurants. For now, here’s some interesting trivia that, once absorbed, can guarantee legitimate “inaugural geek” cred, or simply provide something to talk about at holiday parties. Much of it is from a background conversation with a key member of the team of Congressional staff working on every detail of the inauguration.

• President Obama will tie FDR for the most times being sworn in as President, at four each. FDR was sworn into a fourth term as President and died within three months. Obama took the oath twice in 2009 and presumably will take it twice in 2013—on Sunday and again on Monday.

• The inauguration ceremony is managed by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The members of the JCIC are its chairman, Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York; House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California; Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio; House majority leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia; Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada; and Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee.

• The members of the JCIC go to the White House on the morning of the inauguration and escort the President to the Capitol.

• The President can choose anyone he wants to administer the oath of office, as long as that person is in the judiciary.

• The President can talk for as long as he wants. No one puts a limit on the inauguration speech.

• All the major security branches of the government have a role in the inauguration proceedings, including the Capitol Police, the FBI, the United States Secret Service, the US Park Police*, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The responsibilities break down this way: The Secret Service handles security, FEMA handles “consequence” management, the FBI oversees “incident response,” and the Capitol Police work with the Secret Service on security, but only until Third Street, which is where the Capitol Police’s jurisdiction ends. The Park Police control the Mall.

• The JCIC hosts a lunch in Statuary Hall after the swearing-in for the presidential party and approximately 200 guests. The name of the caterer has not been announced, but for the past four inaugurations it was Design Cuisine. Whoever is chosen faces the challenge of serving a delicious lunch from start to finish, including toasts, in 45 minutes so the parade can begin. The menu is designed to reflect the best of the country’s cuisine; the food has to be “American” but “can’t be political.”

• At the luncheon both the President and the Vice President are presented with gifts of the first framed photos of their swearing-in.

• The water served at the luncheon will be both Saratoga Springs bottled water from New York and DC tap water. According to George Hawkins, the head of DC Water, “If someone wants still water it will be DC tap water. If someone wants sparkling it will be Saratoga Springs.”

• In the past the sparkling wine served at the meal was California’s Korbel. Under consideration this year is Virginia’s Thibaut-Janisson. An announcement is still to come.

• The inauguration stand is built from scratch. The work started in September. Parts of it are kept in storage and reused; the same bunting, for example, has been used since 2005. The stand sits over the Capitol fountain. Under the grandstand is a security operation, though officially JCIC staff will say it is “only pilings.”

• The inauguration has taken place on the West Front of the Capitol since Ronald Reagan’s first swearing-in in January 1981. It was moved from the East Front because of a lack of seating space for participants and audience.

• President Reagan has the distinction of the warmest and coldest inagurations. His second inauguration was so cold that the swearing-in was moved into the Rotunda. The parade took place indoors at the old Capital Centre arena in Landover, Maryland, which was demolished in 2002.

• The Washington Hospital Center is the designated trauma hospital for the inauguration.

• President Obama used the Lincoln family bible when he was sworn in last time. It is kept at the Library of Congress.

• Nobody knows exactly how much the inauguration costs, but much of the funding is appropriated by Congress.

• This inauguration is happening on the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the Civil War. On January 1, 2013, the National Archives will remain open for 24 hours for visitors to view the Emancipation Proclamation.


*This post has been updated from a previous version.