From a Balcony in New York City to the Capitol Lawn: 12 Surprising Facts About the Inauguration

History reveals little known facts about swearing-ins, past and present.

ByABC News
January 18, 2013, 6:16 PM

Jan. 18, 2013 -- intro: In less than a week, President Obama will stand before the nation and once again swear the oath that commits him to four years in America's highest office. It will be the 57th presidential inauguration in the country's 236-year history.

Read on to find out about the traditions and intricacies of this historic ceremony. As you go through, ask yourself, did you know...

Tune in to the ABC Live page on Monday morning starting at 9:30 a.m. EST for all-day live streaming video coverage of Inauguration 2013: Barack Obama. Live coverage will also be available on the ABC News iPad App and mobile devices.

quicklist:1title: ...the first Inaugurations weren't in D.C.?text: George Washington was sworn in for the first time in New York City then again four years later in Philadelphia, where the first Congress originally met. John Adams was the first to take the oath in Washington, D.C., but Thomas Jefferson went back to Philadelphia for his two inaugural ceremonies.

In 1829, Andrew Jackson was the first president sworn in outside the U.S. Capitol. His ceremony took place on the East Side.

The ceremony didn't move to where it is now for another 152 years. Ronald Reagan was the first president to take his oath of office on the West Front of the Capitol.


quicklist:2title: ...which president did not swear the oath of office on the bible?text: Only one American president has gone down in history as using a book other than the Bible to swear the oath of office. President John Quincy Adams – who came to be elected following a confused and tricky election in which none of the candidates won the necessary majority – took the oath with his hand placed on a book of law, containing the Constitution.

Though it isn't constitutionally mandated that a president use a Bible, all others who were recorded used one – sometimes more than one. President Obama will use two in his public ceremony on Monday. The Bible to likely be on top belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr. The larger Bible was used at Lincoln's Inauguration in 1861 and again at Obama's first Inauguration in 2009. Read more about Obama's Bible selection here.


quicklist:3title: ...a president's Inauguration once killed him?text: William Henry Harrison – the ninth United States President – gave the longest inaugural address. It was 8,445 words, more than two hours in length and given to a crowd standing out in the elements of a bitter, damp and chilly March day.

Jim Bendat, author of "Democracy's Big Day," says 68-year-old Harrison "extended himself too much" that day. After dragging out his long address and attending all three Inaugural balls – a record for the time – the new president caught pneumonia. Harrison, who was then the oldest man to be elected president, spent less than a month in office before succumbing to the cold.


quicklist:4title: ...JFK's Inauguration was full of mishaps?text: The 1961 Inauguration was a mess, according to Bendat, an author and presidential historian. For starters, Lyndon Johnson botched the vice presidential oath; instead of saying "without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion" he said, "without any mental reservation whatever." Whoops.

Then as Cardinal Richard Cushing was delivering the invocation, the podium caught fire because of an electrical short in the system. Bendat said a look of concern crossed the faces of Kennedy and out-going President Eisenhower, but the Associated Press reported Kennedy allowed "a flitting smile" after it was clear that the cardinal was out of danger.

As if disrupting the sanctity of the invocation were not enough, a poem for the president was disrupted, too. The Inaugural poet, Robert Frost, had written a special poem for that occasion. But the bright, bright sun - reflecting off the snow that had fallen overnight – prevented Frost from being able to read it. Vice President Johnson tried to use his top hat to shade the poem for Frost, but he still couldn't see it. Frost then recited from memory a different poem, called "The Gift Outright."


quicklist:5title: ...the record number of Inaugural balls?text: There were 10 official Inaugural balls for President Obama's first celebration. Though that number was remarkable, it was not record-breaking.

For his entry into office in 1993, President Clinton held 11 balls. Typically presidents who are reelected tone down their second inauguration – as Obama is doing, scaling his balls from 10 to two – but Clinton bucked tradition in that area. He and then-first lady Hillary attended 14 Inaugural balls in 1997.


quicklist:6title: ...there are many unofficial Inaugural balls?text: In 2009, there were 10 official Inaugural balls. This year there are only two, but for Inauguration visitors looking to get in on the celebrating in an unofficial fashion, D.C. is offering plenty of options. Here are a few:

The Chef's Ball -- Art and Soul, a restaurant in The Liaison Capitol Hill, is hosting a ball for the chefs and eaters to benefit Common Threads, a non-profit organization that teaches low-income children about cooking and nutrition. Art and Soul owner and celebrity chef Art Smith is co-hosting the event with Executive Chef Wes Morton. Hell's Kitchen Season 3 Winner Rock Harper plans to attend, as does Top Chef All-Stars Finalist Mike Isabella.

Punk Rock Counter Inaugural Ball – The proceeds for this event, called "Nevermind the Inauguration," go to the Rosenberg Children's Fund – a charity for children of progressive activists targeted for their work. It boasts such artists as "Dead in the Dirt" and "Trophy Wife," and the advertisement says it's put on by "BORF" – which is the name of a prolific graffiti campaign carried out in D.C. in 2004.

Inaugural Millennial Ball – This one says it is just for the younger (and "forward looking") crowd. M Central has events scheduled to take place throughout the weekend (Jan. 17-21), sponsored by the Millenial Trains Project, No Kings Collective and The New America Foundation. In addition to the ball, they plan to host an ideas forum and a flash party.


quicklist:7title: ...the cost of Obama's first Inauguration?text: Rich donors and the U.S. government spent $170 million on the last Inauguration, according to ABC News reporting from 2009, during one of the country's worst ever economic recessions.

That year the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies – the government body responsible for planning the ceremony itself and the luncheon (but not the parade, concert or any of the balls) – had a budget of $1.24 million. This year they've cut back to $1.237 million, according to a JCCIC spokesman.

Some of the costs associated with the 2009 inauguration included a Bruce Springsteen concert, the parade, large-screen TV rentals for all-free viewing on the national Mall, $700,000 to the Smithsonian Institution to stay open and 10 balls, including three free or at low cost for the public.

This time around, the president has lifted the voluntary $50,000 limit on donations to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, allowing corporations and individuals to give up to $250,000.


quicklist:8title: ...Inauguration donors could get a photo op with the president, vice president and their wives?text: Couples who donated $50,000 to the Presidential Inauguration Committee before 5 p.m. on Jan. 9 were offered the chance to pose for a photo with the whole presidential pack: Barack, Michelle, Joe and Jill.

Only 25 packages were available.

Inauguration fans looking to give on a lower level could grab Obama tube socks for a $15 donation, a t-shirt for $25 or a reproduction of a portrait of the president for $100.

The PIC also raffled off a package with two tickets to Inaugural events, roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations for two to Americans who pledged to volunteer their time on Obama's National Day of Service during the weekend before the festivities.


quicklist:9title: ...there is a "tweetbar" for Inaugural guests at the Ritz?text: Looking for the perfect location for a presidential history buff to celebrate the Inauguration? The Ritz-Carlton in Washington's Dupont Circle has just the thing — but it will cost you a pretty penny.

With packages starting at $1,095 per night, guests staying over inauguration weekend can enjoy a four-night program featuring the extravagant tastes of presidents past and present.

Each night has new activities and amenities from a wine and cheese bar with grapes grown on land that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, to freshly-made cookies based on Michelle Obama's recipe, baked by children from D.C. Central Kitchen.

And our personal favorite amenity – a tweetbar complete with specially-prepared "tweetinis," where guests can share their experience using the hashtag #RCInauguration


quicklist:10title: ...there was a dress rehearsal for the Inauguration?text: Even presidents need a little time to practice – but maybe more so the many, many other players that go into making an Inauguration go off seamlessly. The music groups, marching bands, color guards, salute batteries and cordons – all made up of military members – all band together to finalize logistics.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the Joint Task Force National Capital Region and the Presidential Inaugural Committee held a dress rehearsal for the 2013 Inaugural Ceremonies with all those service members on Sunday, January 13.

The timing for the rehearsal put festivities about an hour behind the schedule for the 21st.

The District Department of Transportation closed off streets and banned parking to make room for the practice parade.


quicklist:11title: ...Obama is having two ceremonies this time?text: The 20th Amendment to the Constitution changed the last day of a president's term to Jan. 19. With that, the next leader takes the oath on Jan. 20.

The exception to that rule is when – like this year – the 20th lands on a Sunday. Because this is the case for Obama, he'll hold a private ceremony on the actual day of the power changeover and swear the oath for the public the next day.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has this to say on the precedent for a second ceremony:

"The first time an Inauguration fell on a Sunday was in 1821 for President Monroe's second swearing-in. Monroe decided, after consulting the Supreme Court, to hold the public ceremony on Monday since 'courts and other public institutions were not open on Sunday.' There was no private swearing in on March 4, the date the previous term expired.

In 1849, the second time Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, President-Elect Zachary Taylor followed the precedent set by President Monroe and had the oath of office administered Monday, March 5, at the public ceremony."

It's the second time Obama has had to do two swearing ins. Obama had to repeat his oath of office in 2009 after Chief Justice John Roberts misspoke while delivering it in front of the nation.

That puts Obama at a total of four Inaugurations – making him tied for the record with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.


quicklist:12title: ...Richard Blanco is the first gay, Latino Inaugural poet?text: The man selected to read an original poem at President Obama's second inauguration is breaking all kinds of barriers. Univision's Jordan Fabian reported he is the first Latino, gay man to be selected and at 44 years old, he's the youngest Inaugural Poet as well.

Blanco, the son of Cuban exiles, describes himself as "a civil engineer by day, poet by night." His CV says he graduated in 1991 with a Bachelor's in Civil Engineering and has 10 years experience in the field. Fun fact: Blanco has a "Michael Jackson-inspired" dance that he does to celebrate a good day of writing at his house.

In 2009, Obama selected Elizabeth Alexander, a playwright, poet and teacher raised in Washington, D.C.

Robert Frost – blinded by the sun at Kennedy's Inauguration in 1961 – was the first to compose and read a poem for the Presidential Inauguration.