Everything Inauguration

The inauguration of President Elect and HLS alumnus Barack Obama and Vice President Elect Joe Biden is just a few days away. Are you ready to wow your friends with your knowledge of inauguration tradition and trivia on January 20? You will be after you read this post.

For example, did you know that Congress is in charge of the inauguration festivities taking place at the U.S. Capitol? The bipartisan Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), members appointed by a concurrent resolution, makes all the arrangements for the swearing-in ceremony as well as the traditional inaugural luncheon.

The ceremony will take place on a platform on the west side of the Capitol that is built from scratch for each inauguration. Design for the 2009 platform began over a year ago. It will be made completely of wood to protect the Capitol steps, will be ADA compliant, and will hold over 1600 dignitaries. A level of bleachers above the platform will hold another 1000 people. That’s some platform! The Nail Driving Ceremony to mark the beginning of platform construction took place on September 24–over a month before the election took place! You can view photos and read quotes from the Nail Driving Ceremony, as well as view a slideshow of platform construction progress. Along with members of the JCCIC, Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers hammered a nail into a plank during the ceremony. (If, like me, you didn’t know there was an Architect of the Capitol, you can learn more about the office’s responsibilities at the Architects of the Capitol website.)

After the swearing in, the festivities will move to the Capitol’s Statuary Hall for the inaugural luncheon. Since 1985, a significant American painting has been showcased during the luncheon. This inauguration, it’s Thomas Hill’s View of Yosemite Valley, reflecting “the majestic landscape of the American West and the dawn of a new era.” During the luncheon, Congress will present gifts of Lenox crystal to the new president and vice president on behalf of the American people. To see details and view video of previous luncheons back to Reagan’s first inauguration, check out the luncheon chronology.

The painting, with its connection to President Lincoln’s signing of the Yosemite Grant, also relates to the theme of this inauguration, which is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. The phrase “A New Birth of Freedom” has been selected from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to be the focus of the inaugural theme. You may think that the president elect decides on the theme, but it is chosen by the JCCIC along with the Senate Historian. President Obama will be sworn in with Lincoln’s Bible (seen in one of many sets of inauguration-related photo sets at the Presidential Inauguration Committee Flickr stream).

Once the festivities at the Capitol are over, the Presidential Inauguration Committee takes charge, overseeing the parade from the Capitol to the White House and the ten official inaugural balls. Check out the PIC Blog to learn about some of the ninety plus more than ninety groups in the parade lineup, lucky winners of parade tickets, and more. The PIC also has a YouTube channel and Twitter account that you can follow. If you’re not lucky enough to have a fairy godmother who can get you to one of the balls, the blog reports that you can watch the Neighborhood Ball on the Disney channel.

To learn more historical details about each section of the inauguration day events, check out the links at the JCCIC Inauguration History page. One thing I learned there: unlike the president, who is traditionally sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the vice president, at least since World War II, has chosen a friend or associate to administer the oath. Vice president elect Biden has selected Justice Stevens to administer his oath, following in the footsteps of Quayle and Gore, who were sworn in by associate justices at all of their inaugurations.

If you will miss watching the inauguration live due to classes or work, WGBH World will re-air the entire three hours of coverage from 7-10pm on Tuesday and midnight-3am on Wednesday.

Oh, and if you really want to impress your friends, consider serving them the same meal that the new President and Vice President will eat during the inauguration luncheon. The recipes for all the dishes are available [pdf link], and since they serve 10, they’d be just right for a party!

Cookie photo by Megpi
Obamas and Bidens on election night from Barack Obama’s photostream

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