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Inaugural Oddities

Here are some fun facts about presidential transitions that you might not know

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    Military Might

    The military’s involvement in the inauguration goes back to the beginning — April 30, 1789, when members of local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted George Washington to the first inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in New York. Today more than 5,000 service members from all branches of the armed forces, including the reserves and the National Guard, support and take part in Inauguration Day activities — service bands, color guards, salute batteries and honor cordons, plus those providing security and operational functions.

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    Let the Music Play

    The first president to get his own “walk-up music” was Martin Van Buren, whose 1837 inauguration featured “Hail to the Chief,” played by the U.S. Marine Band. The song can be traced to a line in Walter Scott’s 1810 poem, “The Lady of the Lake.”

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    All Fired Up

    After the president takes the oath of office, a 21-gun salute is rendered, during which the Marine Band plays “Hail to the Chief.” Formed in 1798, the Marine Band has played at every inauguration since Thomas Jefferson’s in 1801. The band’s nickname, the “President’s Own,” was coined by Jefferson.

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    Power Lunch

    Where do the elite meet to eat? In the Capitol after the swearing in. Starting with Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953, the bipartisan Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies started the practice of hosting a luncheon for the president and vice president, their spouses, congressional leaders, inaugural committee members and invited guests. Only one president, Jimmy Carter in 1977, has since failed to hold the event.

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    Less Than Presidential

    Until 1937, the vice president was sworn in separately, inside the Senate Chamber, and delivered his own inaugural address. This proved less than ideal when a drunk Vice President Andrew Johnson “rambled on incoherently and nearly passed out” in 1865, Jim Bendat recounts in his book Democracy’s Big Day.

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