News & Politics

Fun and Historical Facts About the 2013 Presidential Inauguration

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

It’s just 55 days until Inauguration Day. Image courtesy of spirit of america /

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

• 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

• 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.