The List: Top 10 facts about Inauguration Day

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Regardless of whether it was March 4 or Jan. 20, Inauguration Day has always produced a fair share of memories. With President Obama’s inauguration upon us, The List this week looks back at some historical tidbits from previous inaugurations.

  • 10. John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln 41 days later, was in the crowd for Lincoln’s second inaugural address, March 4, 1865.
  • 9. Singer Frank Sinatra produced a pre-inaugural gala for John F. Kennedy on Jan. 19, 1961, at the D.C. Armory. Twenty years later on Jan. 19, 1981, Sinatra produced a pre-inaugural gala in honor of Ronald Reagan at the Capitol Centre in Landover, Md. Both galas were star-studded affairs that attracted A-list Hollywood talent and celebrity.
  • 8. During the afternoon of Inauguration Day, Sunday Jan. 20, 1985, Ronald Reagan participated, live via satellite from the White House, in the coin toss for Super Bowl XIX between the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins. The 49ers won the toss and the game 38-16.
  • 7. James Buchanan’s inauguration on March 4, 1857, was delayed for 20 minutes because someone had forgotten to pick up the departing President Franklin Pierce.
  • 6. Security has always been tight at presidential inaugurations. At LBJ’s inaugural parade, on Jan. 20, 1965, Indian dancers from New Mexico were asked to remove the tips from their arrows.
  • 5. With the country still at war, FDR’s fourth inaugural on Jan. 20, 1945, was a low-key affair. FDR was sworn in on the back porch of the White House, rather than at the Capitol. Rather than a fancy dinner after his swearing-in, FDR and his guests ate cold chicken salad, rolls without butter, cake without frosting and coffee without sugar.
  • 4. Presidents and their supporters have always celebrated their inaugurations with food, drink, and yes — who could forget — dessert. Benjamin Harrison’s inaugural party on March 4, 1889, takes the cake — literally. Guests enjoyed eating a cake in the shape of the Capitol building — 6-feet-high, nearly 9-feet-square and weighing 800 pounds.
  • 3. Because the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, fell on a Friday, Jan. 20, 1961, Pope John XXIII gave Roman Catholics in the Washington, D.C., area a special dispensation from the church’s tenet against eating meat on Fridays.
  • 2. Former President William Howard Taft, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, swore in two of his successors, Calvin Coolidge on March 4, 1925, and Herbert Hoover on March 4, 1929.
  • 1. Congress did not settle the disputed election of 1876 until 4 a.m. on March 2, 1877. A special commission awarded 185 electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes and 184 to Samuel Tilden, thereby giving Hayes the presidency, even though Tilden had 200,000 more votes than Hayes in the popular vote. Worried that Tilden might challenge the verdict of Congress, Hayes was secretly sworn in at the White House on Saturday, March 3. Hayes, the first president to be sworn in at the White House, was publicly sworn in on Monday, March 5, at the Capitol.

Compiled by John Sopko
Sources: www.sinatra.com; Long Beach California Press Telegram, Los Angeles Times; Library of Congress, Wikipedia; CBS News; “President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” by Richard Reeves

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