WASHINGTON — Inauguration Day, even in the age of Donald Trump, is still pretty predictable, thanks to a city known for tradition and pomp and circumstance.
Here’s a rundown and a bit of history of all the people, places and things that will be a part of the action on January 20.
Every president-elect since Jimmy Carter has stayed at Blair House, the guest home that sits across the street from the White House. And while there was some question about whether or not Donald Trump would stay there or at his hotel closer to the Capitol, the official word is that he’s sticking with tradition.
Blair House, purchased by the US government in 1942, sits across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park. According to its website, the complex is composed of four connected town homes that house 14 guest rooms and sprawl over 60,000 square feet. Guests can take advantage of a beauty salon, a gym and in-house laundry. President Harry Truman even lived at Blair House during White House renovations.
St. John’s Church
Traditionally, Presidents-elect will leave Blair House to attend church the morning of Inauguration Day at St. John’s, which sits on the other side of Lafayette Park. Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the tradition and since then, most incoming presidents have done so. Exceptions have included soon-to-be President Bill Clinton, who attended a Methodist service, and Carter, who attended a prayer service at the Lincoln Memorial.
Despite its status as an Episcopal parish, presidents of multiple religious denominations have worshipped at St. John’s. The church has even set aside a special pew — No. 54 — for the President and his guests. According to the church, every President since James Madison has attended a service at St. John’s during his lifetime.
This part of the day takes place at the US Capitol. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The 20th Amendment stipulates that the “terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January,” which saves the government the trouble of having to figure out a time that works for everyone. Even if January 20 falls on a weekend, the new president must be sworn in that day. It happened to President Barack Obama in 2013, when he had to do a swearing-in at the White House on a Sunday and the ceremony the following Monday.
President Thomas Jefferson started the tradition of taking the oath of office at the Capitol. However, Jefferson took his inside the old Senate Chamber. Other swearing-in ceremonies have taken place at the East Portico, the House and the Rotunda. President Ronald Reagan was the first president to have his inauguration on the West Terrace of the Capitol where we see them today.
According to the Architect of the Capitol, the building has been the site of 53 swearing-in ceremonies. Of course there have been instances where necessity dictated that the swearing-in take place outside of Washington. President George Washington took his oaths in New York City and Philadelphia. And in times of tragedy, vice presidents have been hastily sworn in wherever they were, like President Lyndon Johnson, who took his oath abroad Air Force One after the President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
After being sworn in, the new President delivers an inaugural address. The longest address was delivered by President William Henry Harrison, the shortest-serving US President in history. The shortest was Washington’s second inaugural, coming in at 135 words. Trump has said he’ll err on the side of Washington.
Lunch with the Senate
Sitting in the cold and watching the entire inaugural ceremony is one way to work up an appetite. Luckily, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has the President-elect covered with a fancy luncheon inside the Capitol following the ceremony. The luncheon has occurred at the Capitol since Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953.
Up until 1953, there was no set tradition for the lunch. According to the committee, from the mid-1800s until the early 1900s, the new President would go from the Capitol to the White House to have lunch before the inaugural parade.
In 1945, Roosevelt hosted upwards of 2,000 guests at the White House for his lunch, but those big soirees pushed back the start time of the parade on what was already a long day. So they officially moved it to the Capitol.
The menus often reflect the home state of the President and vice president. JFK and LBJ dined on tomato soup, stuffed lobster and Texas ribs. Here’s hoping for a really fancy New York-style pizza this year.
After a big lunch, the best thing to do is get some steps in. Before the new President leads the country, he and the vice president lead the inaugural parade. Afterward, they watch the rest of the festivities from a bullet-proof viewing stand built in front of the White House.
The parade tradition has its roots in Washington’s first inauguration when local militias joined his procession as he made the trip from Virginia to New York City, according to the congressional inaugural committee.
The first organized parade was held for Madison in 1809. Harrison was the first parade to include floats, and President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural parade in 1865 was the first to welcome African-Americans.
In 1873, President Ulysses Grant started the tradition of viewing the parade at the White House after being sworn-in. The only time a parade has been canceled for bad winter weather was in 1985, but President Ronald Reagan had already had a parade four years earlier. This year’s high temperature is projected to be in the high 50s, so Trump’s parade should be safe.
Notorious party animal Madison was the first to throw an inaugural ball — at the very least he knew how to set the roof on fire. (That was a War of 1812 joke.) Tickets to that soiree were only $4.
This year, Trump will have three official balls, including an event honoring military members and first responders.
It was only in the 1950s that new presidents started party hopping, according to the congressional inaugural committee. President Dwight Eisenhower had four official balls, Kennedy attended five and Clinton’s 1997 inaugural events included 14. He couldn’t even be matched by a youthful Obama in 2009, who attended 10 official balls.