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Members Hammer Home First Nails in Inaugural Committee Ceremony

Let the building begin!

A crowd of staffers and stakeholders gathered on the West Lawn of the Capitol today to watch the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies hammer the first nails into what will eventually be the 2013 presidential inauguration platform. Though lawmakers who serve on committee organize, along with their staffs, the minutiae of the pageantry surrounding the inauguration, it is the Architect of the Capitol’s office that oversees the logistics of creating enough space for the festivities to actually take place.

The inaugural platform, built from scratch on top of the West Front Fountain every four years, is where the president- elect and the vice president-elect take the oath of office. It holds more than 1,600 people, including former presidents, Members of the House and Senate, cabinet officials, justices, joint chiefs and diplomats.

“The AOC’s involvement dates back to the 1860s, when the presidential inaugurations began to involve more public participation and arrangements were made to make the event more accessible to the people,” AOC Stephen Ayers said today at the “first nail ceremony.”

The event was only the second public meeting of the committee since it convened in March. The members are, as tradition dictates, culled from House and Senate leadership, with Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the helm.

The other members of the committee are: Senate Rules and Administration ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The lawmakers lined up behind the narrow sheet of wood, each equipped with a hammer and nail that had only just been secured into the material’s surface. Before the ceremonies began, pleasantries were exchanged and Ayers unscrolled the blueprint and pointed out details of the platform’s design.

At one point, Boehner picked up a hammer and pretended to threaten his colleagues with it. Schumer turned around and gave the thumbs up to the eight members of the construction crew who stood in hardhats behind them.

The actual event lasted for about five minutes. Ayers and Schumer said a few words and then each Member hammered a nail fully into the wood. Pelosi finished her handiwork after her colleagues and enjoyed their playful ribbing.

As the crowd dispersed, Schumer spoke before a small group of straggling photographers and members of the press, using the opportunity to show artifacts that were somewhat pertinent to the day’s proceedings. His presentation also reflected the tradition of the committee chairman using the inaugural ceremonies as an opportunity to educate participants about his or her state.

“This helmet was worn by a hero who actually came from Detroit and rushed to the towers after 9/11 and helped clean up the pile and everything like that, and he passed away in 2011 of lung cancer,” said Schumer, holding up an orange hard-hat adorned with stickers and magazine cut-outs. “So he symbolizes the sacrifices that our people are willing to make for freedom, and freedom is personified as the peaceful passing of the torch, which we do at the inauguration.

“And the hammer has been used by a carpenter at the very top of the Freedom Tower,” Schumer continued, referring to the new structure being built at the site where the World Trade Center towers collapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “It’s a lesson to the terrorists who thought that once they did their dastardly deed that America and particularly New York would fold up and die and now we have the Freedom Tower rising higher than ever.”