Q: How many inaugural balls are there?
A: Historically it’s varied.
The first inaugural ball was held in 1789 to honor Washington, and came one week after he was sworn in during a ceremony in New York City.
The tradition of the inaugural ball really began in 1809 when Dolley Madison hosted a gala for her husband, James Madison. Four hundred tickets were sold for $4 each. The tradition took hold as supporters reveled in the idea of a night to fete their new president with dancing and music.
Some presidents shunned the idea and wanted to avoid an elaborate celebration. Presidents Franklin Pierce, Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding requested no balls at all.
In more recent times, President Bill Clinton went from 11 inaugural balls in 1993 to a record 14 in 1997.
Obama had 10 official inaugural balls in 2009, but has decided to cut the number to two this year amid a struggling economy. One ball will be the invitation-only Commander In Chief’s Ball, started by President George W. Bush for members of the armed forces. Tickets will be free for invited guests, including active duty, reserve and Medal of Honor recipients, among others. The other ball, called The Inaugural Ball, is open to the public, though only a limited number of $60 tickets were made available.
Q: Who pays for all this?
A: Much of the cost is picked up by supporters and other private donors, as it has been for years. In 2009, Obama raised $53 million in private money for his inauguration. The private money pays for the official inaugural balls, the traditional parade, giant TV screens on the mall for the swearing-in and thousands of portable toilets.
Public money is used for security, which is harder to put a price tag on. Secret Service doesn’t discuss it, but the federal government reimbursed the District of Columbia $44 million for the 2009 inauguration. That was just for city costs, not Secret Service or military personnel.
Other public money that has been set aside for this inaugural:
—The Architect of the Capitol has $4.2 million to spruce up the Capitol grounds for the swearing-in ceremony on the west front. That money also pays for the inaugural platform under construction, along with bleachers and barricades.
—Nearly $2 million has been approved for U.S. Capitol Police.
—$1.2 million has been budgeted for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which handles all of the events taking place at the Capitol grounds for the inaugural.
Q: Who plans and coordinates the inaugural festivities?
A: The Presidential Inaugural Committee, chosen by the president-elect, coordinates all of the official events outside the Capitol, where the swearing-in takes place. The committee handles the parade, official inaugural balls and planning for the crowds on the National Mall.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is responsible for staging the day’s activities on the Capitol grounds, meaning the swearing-in ceremony and the traditional inaugural luncheon that follows for the president and vice president.
For the Department of Defense, the Joint Task Force National Capital Region coordinates the military’s participation in inaugural activities. That includes marching bands, color guards, firing details and salute batteries for the parade as well as security and medical support for inaugural activities. About 5,000 service members are expected to take part in this inaugural.
Sources: Presidential Inaugural Committee 2013, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the Department of Defense, and the Library of Congress.