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Exhibit on Inaugural History to Open at LOC

The Library of Congress will unveil a new exhibit on the history of the presidential inaugural ceremony Thursday.

The exhibit, “Presidential Inaugurations,” recalls the inaugurations of presidents ranging from George Washington to John F. Kennedy and features photographs, letters, diaries and campaign posters, as well as the inaugural speeches written by Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, James K. Polk and Woodrow Wilson.

The more than 60 items on display are drawn from the Library’s permanent collections, which include the official papers of 23 presidents.

“The Library of Congress is still the most comprehensive presidential library,” noted Irene Chambers, who serves as chief of the LOC’s Interpretive Programs Office. Before the establishment of the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library served as the repository for presidential documents.

Although the exhibition’s creators strove to focus equally on each of the inaugurations, Chambers said, Washington’s inauguration will serve as the thematic heart of the display.

“The inaugural is a tradition that begins with George Washington,” Chambers explained.

“Many of the things that we now regard as part of the inaugural ceremony really begin with the tradition Washington establishes,” Chambers said, adding that customs such as formal events began with the first inaugural.

Among the more remarkable items on display, Chambers said, are photographs of each president-elect and vice president-elect, included for each ceremony from the inauguration of James Buchanan to the mid-20th century.

“They’re ‘caught’ not posed photographs,” Chambers explained, and later added: “I just love the photographs because it’s this very special moment … catching them at a moment when their guard is down and they either look very happy or very involved in some way.”

The display, part of the Library’s “American Treasures” exhibition, will remain on display in the Thomas Jefferson Building’s Southwest Gallery through April. The exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

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