The Capitol, where presidents have taken their oath of office for 207 years, is celebrating its place in presidential history with a public display on the building’s first floor highlighting 19th and early 20th Century inaugurations.
Among the more intriguing inauguration fun facts are:
• Thomas Jefferson, on March 4, 1801, was the first president inaugurated in the few federal city of Washington. The government had moved from Philadelphia a few months earlier. Jefferson’s capital was a city of unfinished buildings and muddy streets.
• While more than 80,000 people flocked to Washington for the 1853 inauguration of Franklin Pierce, a snowstorm drove off all but 20,000 hardly souls for the ceremony. Piece was the only president to “solemnly affirm” instead of “solemnly swear” his oath of office. He delivered his more than 3,000-word speech completely from memory.
• James Buchanan’s 1857 inauguration was the first that was known to be photographed.
• With the nation on the brink of civil war and officials fearing for the president’s safety, the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln marked the first time that the primary duty of the military personnel escorting the president was to protect him rather than to serve a ceremonial role.
• Lincoln’s second inauguration in 1865 was the first to be held beneath the Capitol’s rebuilt dome, the same structure that tops the building today.
• The 1869 inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant was grander than any before, with window space along the parade route rented out for extravagant prices. It was the first time special tickets were required for admission to the Capitol on inauguration day.
• Grant’s second inauguration was the coldest on record, with near zero degree temperatures, snow, sleet and bitter wind. The inaugural ball was held in a temporary structure without heat, where guests danced wearing coats, drinks and food froze and musicians could barely play their instruments.
• Because the scheduled inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes fell on Sunday, March 4, he took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House the day before. A massive public ceremony honoring the new president was held on Monday, March 5.
• When Eliza Garfield attended the inauguration of her son, James A. Garfield, in 1881, it was the first time a president’s mother witnesses her son being sworn-in as president.
• William McKinley’s 1897 inauguration was the first to be recorded by motion picture cameras.
• Theodore Roosevelt, at his 1905 inauguration, wore a ring containing a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair. The ring was borrowed from of Secretary of State John Hay, who had served as Lincoln’s personal secretary 40 years earlier.
— Sean Lengell, Congress reporter, The Washington Times