When George Washington became the first U.S. president 200 years ago, his inauguration came eight weeks late, he had to borrow money to get to the ceremony and then someone forgot the Bible with which to swear him in.
That was the beginning of 200 years of comedy, drama and pathos at presidential inaugurations.Other unusual events through the years include a president almost being smothered by well-wishers at a reception, a president catching pneumonia and dying after a long inaugural speech in the cold and a Senate president pro tempore possibly becoming U.S. president for one day because the president-elect refused to be sworn in on a Sunday.
Then there was the reception held in a house that guests thought was haunted, an inauguration where virtually all of the guests and the president were ill with dysentery and one inaugural ball that was so cold that the champagne and the live canaries used as decorations all froze.
In honor of the bicentennial of inaugurations this year, here is a look at some of the more interesting events of the past ceremonies, according to documents, books and articles about them in the U.S. Senate library:
The most notable items from John Adams' inauguration may have been how Washington appeared to overshadow him. Washington reportedly received a larger cheer when he showed up at the inauguration than did Adams.
Also, no inaugural ball was held - it had not become a custom yet. A ball honoring outgoing President Washington was held, but no one thought to invite Adams.
Madison, largely because of his socialite wife, Dolley, was the first to have a formal inaugural ball - one he didn't enjoy.
The windows in the hotel where the ball was held would not open; so they were smashed to let fresh air into the hot, crowded rooms. "I would much rather be in bed," the president said.
But Dolley and most of the guests reported having a wonderful time. One historian wrote the event was "the most brilliant and by far the largest ever known in Washington." Such balls became a tradition.
Andrew Jackson's first inauguration was almost the death of him.
His wife had died recently, so no inaugural ball was planned. But Jackson - the hero of the common man - announced that he would hold a reception at the White House to entertain anyone who wished to attend.
Common people and backwoodsmen flocked to the reception, and essentially became a disorderly mob. Satin-covered chairs were soiled with mud by people standing on them to get a glimpse of the president. They knocked over furniture and broke glass and china while scrambling for punch, cake and ice cream.
People in the crowd pressed forward relentlessly trying to shake Jackson's hand. Jackson reportedly was backed into a corner, helpless, exhausted and suffocating. A number of men then broke through the crowd, locked arms, formed a flying wedge around Jackson, pushed through the crowd and helped the president out the back door. He spent the night with friends away from the mob at the White House.
Outgoing President John Quincy Adams boycotted Jackson's inauguration after a bitter campaign - as did his friends. Adams' actions partially retaliated for Jackson four years earlier holding a banquet for those who wanted nothing to do with Adams' inaugural ball.
as any other president's. He reportedly "received a chill" from the experience. Even with a cold, he still went to work for the next few days without an overcoat _ even once in a storm, and he did not change out of his wet clothes.
His cold soon turned into pneumonia, and Harrison died just over a month after inauguration.
Of note, years later when Harrison's grandson, Benjamin, became president, he followed his grandfather's poor example. The inauguration committee had advertised that in case of bad weather, the swearing-in ceremony would be moved indoors. But Benjamin Harrison insisted on keeping it outside even though rain was pouring. The younger Harrison, however, did not get sick.
Zachary Taylor knew how to throw a good inaugural ball, apparently. In fact, the guests didn't want to leave and danced until 4 a.m. The only trouble was that the servants left at a decent hour, and left the coat-check room unattended. Guests reportedly battled each other looking for lost coats. One young congressman who gave up the search for his hat was Abraham Lincoln.
The scheduling of Taylor's inauguration either made the president pro tempore of the Senate president for one day or left the nation without a president for a day. It depends on whom one believes.
As with Hayes, Taylor's inaugural by law should have been held on a Sunday. But in respect for the sabbath, it was scheduled for Monday. The outgoing president's term expired by law on Sunday. Senate President Pro Tempore David Rice Atchison was the next highest-ranking government official who did not need to be sworn into a new term of office.
Some historians claim Atchison therefore was president for a day. Others say he really wasn't the president because he had not taken the oath of office, and that the nation had no president that day. Such confusion years later is probably why Harrison decided to take the oath twice.
Buchanan and most of the guests at his inauguration suffered from dysentery. A history of inaugurations prepared by Richard Nixon's inaugural committee said dysentery was then jokingly called "the National Hotel disease," because the disease spread at that posh hotel among inauguration guests.
Stephen Douglas may have had the best show of sportsmanship of any losing presidential candidate. When Abraham Lincoln walked up to give his first inaugural address, he momentarily didn't know what to do with his stove-pipe hat.
Douglas jumped up from his seat on the stand and offered to hold it. "If I cannot be president, at least I can hold his hat," he said.
U.S. Grant may have had the most disastrous inaugural ball ever at his second inauguration.
It was held in a temporary building built to hold large crowds _ something James Buchanan had done successfully years earlier. But while Buchanan's inauguration had mild weather, Grant had bitterly cold weather _ and no way to heat the temporary building.
So the dancers wore their heavy coats all night. The dinner, brought in from another building, arrived cold. The champagne actually froze, as did the canaries that had been placed in the rafters in hopes they would provide sweet music.
Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in twice for his term of office. His inauguration was scheduled by law for a Sunday. In order to not break the sabbath, the formal inauguration ceremonies were scheduled for the Monday afterwards.
But that raised a question about whether that would officially leave the country for a day without a president, because sitting President Grant's term would by law expire whether the new president was sworn in or not.
As a precaution, Hayes took the oath of office on the Saturday before in the presence of Grant and two or three others who stepped into a side room for it during a reception.
Of note, Hayes was also deprived of an inaugural ball because the outcome of the election was still in doubt until the day before he took his first oath. Hayes had officially beaten Samuel Tilden by just one electoral college vote, even though Tilden received more popular votes.
Theodore Roosevelt may have had the most famous inaugural parade. Instead of merely having marching soldiers as most of his predecessors, the parade also featured legions of whooping Indians, including Geronimo, yodeling cowboys, coal miners from a strike he helped settle and his exuberant rough riders.
However, because of District of Columbia animal laws, the rough riders had been forced to ride horses owned by a D.C. artillery unit, which were not used to riders. The horses often refused to go where the rough riders wanted. Roosevelt often called out with gusto from his stand to congratulate and talk with participants.
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding had intended to make his inauguration "as festive as the Fourth of July." But when a number of senators complained about the amount of money his plans would cost, Harding canceled everything _ even the parade _ except for the swearing-in.
Calvin Coolidge didn't make it to his inaugural ball. No official ball had been planned, but an unofficial one was held at the Mayflower Hotel, and Washington society flocked to it. But Coolidge was exhausted by the inaugural ceremony, parade and reception. He flopped across his White House bed at 9:30 and slept through the night.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt _ even though he had four inaugurations _ never had an official inaugural ball. An unofficial one was held at his first inauguration in 1933, but his wife went alone while he stayed up much of the night talking with aides about programs to overcome the Great Depression.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy may have had one of the most literary swearing-in ceremonies. For it, he had poet Robert Frost write an original poem, "The Road Less Traveled," which has almost become a classic. And Kennedy's speech is often quoted with great lines such as, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Ronald Reagan's second inauguration may have been the coldest in history. Sub-zero temperatures led him to cancel the inaugural parade and move the swearing-in ceremony indoors.