What makes an inauguration: Stirring words, parades, celebrities

The lectern from where president-elect Donald Trump will speak during a rehearsal for the presidential inauguration outside the US Capitol in Washington. The inauguration is on Jan 20, 2017.
The lectern from where president-elect Donald Trump will speak during a rehearsal for the presidential inauguration outside the US Capitol in Washington. The inauguration is on Jan 20, 2017.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Twenty centimetres of snow fell the night before John F. Kennedy's inauguration on Jan 20, 1961.

The army used flamethrowers to melt the ice on the steps of the Capitol. But it was Kennedy's speech that really heated up America's hopes for their handsome, young, new president.

One line became a benchmark for presidential inaugural addresses: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

The first president of the fledgling United States, George Washington, took the oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789.

About a year later, the country's new capital was founded and named after him.

The first president to be inaugurated in the capital was Thomas Jefferson in 1801. After his second inauguration in 1805, he rode on horseback from the Capitol to the President's House. This later became the traditional parade.

In 1865, Abraham Lincoln invited African Americans to march in the parade for the first time.

Choosing the best inaugural addresses is a favourite pastime of Americans. Before Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt's phrase in 1933, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", against a backdrop of the Great Depression, stood out as an iconic line. Up to half a million people wrote letters of praise to Roosevelt.

In 2009, Mr Barack Obama, the country's first African American president, drew a record crowd of 1.8 million for his inauguration.

Aretha Franklin sang the Star-Spangled Banner.

Celebrities have long been fixtures at presidential inaugurations: Robert Frost and Maya Angelou read poems at Kennedy's and Bill Clinton's inaugurations respectively. Beyonce sang the national anthem at Mr Obama's second inauguration in 2013.

Nirmal Ghosh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 15, 2017, with the headline 'What makes an inauguration: Stirring words, parades, celebrities'. Print Edition | Subscribe