Presidential Inauguration

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Inauguration Ceremonies Past and Present

January 13, 2009
by Shannon Firth
On Tuesday, January 20, well wishers will flood the streets of Washington, D.C., and Americans elsewhere will be glued to their television sets as Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. FindingDulcinea fills you in on what you can expect to see and hear during this historic event.

Highlights of Barack Obama’s Inauguration Ceremony

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Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday, January 20, will undoubtedly be well attended. U.S. News & World Report predicts that between two and four million people will attend the inaugural events in Washington, D.C. During the inaugural ceremony, which begins at the Capitol at 11:30 am, the Mall will be open to the public, excluding the area between Third and Fourth Sts. NW, which is reserved for ticket holders. After the ceremony, the inaugural parade will process from Fourth St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW to 17th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The article’s interactive map provides a précis of events throughout the day and their locations, and points out other sites of interest.

Pastor Rick Warren, a California preacher and author of the bestseller “The Purpose-Driven Life,” will deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. The decision has angered gay rights activists and liberals, as well as some Republicans who see view the choice as opportunistic. Obama responded to criticism about his choice at a press conference in Chicago, saying, “It’s important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues.” He has also asked openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to offer a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural event scheduled for Sunday, January 18.

Elizabeth Alexander will recite an original poem during the event; she is only the fourth inaugural poet in U.S. history. In addition, soul singer Aretha Franklin, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the U.S. Navy and Marine bands are all slated to perform at the inaugural ceremony. The Boys Chorus of San Francisco and the Girls Chorus of San Francisco will both be singing, and the Corrigan Brothers, a band from Moneygall, Ireland, will play their new hit, “There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama.” According to ABC News, Obama’s great-great-great grandfather was from Moneygall.

Inaugural Traditions and History

The Library of Congress has “I Do Solemnly Swear...": Presidential Inaugurations, a collection of items and digital files relating to presidential inaugurations. The site associated with the collection contains a variety of multimedia resources, such as an image of the handwritten text of President Jefferson’s inaugural address and videos that offer historical insights about selected inaugurations.

The New York Times article culled noteworthy inauguration anecdotes from the collection. For example, George Washington ended his oath of office with the words, “So help me God,” and also “set the precedent of kissing the Bible.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially began the tradition of attending a religious service prior to the inaugural ceremony. Following the service, the president-elect, vice president-elect and their spouses travel together to the White House; there, they meet up with the previous administration and everyone goes to the Capitol for the inaugural ceremony. The oaths of office are followed by the presidential address.

William Henry Harrison’s speech, the longest address in history, may have proved fatal. The brutally cold weather could have been responsible for his early demise, one month later.

After the inaugural ceremony, there is a luncheon, a parade and, of course, several balls. The U.S. Senate hosts the official Inauguration Day Web site, and provides a history of traditional inaugural events.
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