WASHINGTON — Sometimes presidential inaugurations are full of pomp and circumstance. Sometimes they end with the newly sworn-in president jumping out of a White House window. Intrigued yet?
Whether you’re stoked or bummed about the way the election turned out, here are some fun facts to make you look like a history buff to your friends as the inauguration festivities near.
Yes, this stuff really happened.
When William Henry Harrison was too proud to wear a coat.
What, you don’t remember who William Henry Harrison is? Probably because while he holds the record for giving the longest inaugural address, he didn’t hang around the White House too long. His 8,500-word address took about an hour and 45 minutes to read. But it was a super cold and rainy day in 1841, and Harrison refused to wear a hat or coat. He caught a cold that developed into pneumonia and died a month later.
That’s what his official cause of death was, but that’s been called into question, with contaminated water being a possible culprit.
Harrison became the first president to die in office and served the shortest tenure in US history.
Abraham Lincoln’s soon-to-be assassin took part in the festivities.
It was Lincoln’s second inauguration in 1865, the first time African-Americans participated in the inaugural parade. Concerns about Lincoln’s safety lingered. His inauguration four years earlier was the first to incorporate major security measures.
There was a guest in the crowd that day in 1865 who would become Lincoln’s biggest threat. John Wilkes Booth, the man who would shoot Lincoln a month later, can be seen in photos near the President as he delivers his address.
Teddy Roosevelt’s unique inauguration jewelry.
For his second inauguration in 1905, Roosevelt wore a ring containing a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair.
Wait, what? Roosevelt was inspired by Lincoln. His admiration started early. There’s an image of Roosevelt as a boy looking out of a second-story window onto Lincoln’s funeral procession. Roosevelt called himself an heir to Lincoln’s policies during his presidency, referring to his relationship with the African-American community.
Roosevelt eventually became friendly with Secretary of State John Hay, who also happened to be Lincoln’s former personal secretary. Hay gave Roosevelt the ring containing the lock of Lincoln’s hair to treasure.
That time Andrew Jackson jumped out of a White House window. Maybe.
It was 1829. One of the nastiest campaigns in US history had just ended with Andrew Jackson winning the presidency over John Quincy Adams. The White House held an open house after Jackson’s inauguration inviting anyone to come hang out. Problem was, the White House wasn’t prepared for the crowd.
Accounts vary. Some say it was a wild party where furniture was destroyed and the mob of people had to be lured outside with punch. Others say the riotous atmosphere was fabricated into lore by Jackson’s enemies. No one disputes that the number of people at the party was insane. Jackson had to get out. So did he really escape through a White House window or did his staff quietly escort him from the property? Depends on which account you believe.
The ‘So help me God’ line was ad-libbed.
The actual oath, laid out in Article II Section I of the Constitution, is just 35 words: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
During his first inauguration in 1789 in New York, it is said that George Washington added the phrase, “So help me God,” and so the precedent was set that presidents follow to this day. There isn’t any hard evidence of this, but even the National Archives credits him with doing it.
Why did Washington take the oath in New York? That was the seat of the government at the time. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, in 1801 after it became the capital city.
Inauguration festivities weren’t always so chilly to attend.
Washington winters aren’t exactly ideal for outdoor gatherings, so why hold inaugurations in January?
James Buchanan didn’t have to worry about a chance of snow when he was inaugurated in 1857. It was a beautiful spring day, which helped make the first known photograph of a presidential inauguration that much more perfect.
It wasn’t until the 20th Amendment was ratified in 1933 that the date of January 20 was set as the end of the term of office for the president and vice president.
Whose line is it?
You’ve heard these famous lines, and now you’ll know where they come from!
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933 inauguration
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy, 1961 inauguration
“Our long national nightmare is over.” — Gerald R. Ford, 1974 inauguration, referring to Watergate
“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” — Ronald Reagan, 1981 inauguration