When William Howard Taft was sworn in as president of the United States in 1909, he was moved to say, “I knew it would be a cold day when I got to be president.”
Taft wasn’t referring to his chances of becoming president, since he had received the support of his popular predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. He was talking about the weather — it was cold and blizzardy on that inauguration day.
But that’s not unusual. Half of America’s presidential inaugurations have taken place during rain, snow or numbing cold — and most of them were held in March; the ceremony wasn’t moved to January until 1937.
It was so chilly when William Henry Harrison took the oath of office in 1841 that the president caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and killed him a month later. At President Ulysses Grant’s inauguration in 1873, the punch turned to ice and the canaries that were to sing at the inaugural ball froze to death.
When the inauguration date was changed from March 4 to Jan. 20 in time for Franklin Roosevelt’s second swearing-in in 1937, the chances for bad weather only worsened. Soldiers used flame throwers to melt snow at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and police were kept busy running frostbitten parade participants to the emergency room. It was so cold (7 degrees Fahrenheit at noon) at Ronald Reagan’s second ceremony in 1985 that the inaugural parade was canceled for the first time in history.
No one knows what the weather will be like during the public inauguration of Barack Obama on Jan. 21, but organizers are telling everyone who will witness the ceremony or parade to bundle up. Historically, the average high on that date is 43 degrees, according to AccuWeather.com.
Tickets to the oath-taking ceremony are free and given out by members of Congress. Each member of the House and Senate is allotted 177 standing-room tickets and 19 seated ones. However, “most offices have already given all their tickets,” said Alex Cruz of Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office.
“But anyone can witness the inauguration from the National Mall,” said Kate Gibbs of the Washington Convention Bureau. No ticket is required for standing room from Fourth Street and beyond, and large television screens will be mounted along the Mall, she said.
Whatever the weather, the crowds aren’t likely to be as big as in 2009, when a record 1.8 million watched from the Mall. Estimates for 2013’s event are running from 600,000 to 800,000, but a stormy, snowy day could keep many people home.
In any case, the public won’t get to see the president’s real oath-taking because the constitutionally set time a new president takes office is noon on Jan. 20. Since that day falls on a Sunday this year, the president will be sworn in at a private White House ceremony that day, and a public inauguration will take place on Monday, Jan. 21. This circumstance, too, is not unusual. It has happened six times before, most recently in the second inauguration of Reagan in 1985.
Most of the hoopla associated with the inauguration will be on Jan. 21. Not just the public oath-taking, but also the inaugural parade and the official balls. A children’s concert hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden will take place on Jan. 19.