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Inaugural Parade Continues Tradition More Than 200 Years Old

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Crowds line the parade route as the presidential limo passes by during the Inauguration Day parade.
Kavitha Cardoza
Crowds line the parade route as the presidential limo passes by during the Inauguration Day parade.

Crowds line the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue, as they try to land plum positions for this afternoon's inaugural parade. The parade follows the President and Vice President towards the White House starting at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon.

The inaugural parade is expected to be a wonderful spectacle, with eight official floats and as many as 60 groups perfuming, including marching bands, military units and cultural organizations. There will be almost 9,000 people taking part and close to 200 animals.

Locally, some of the groups taking part include the University of Maryland Marching Band, the Virginia Military Institute, and D.C.'s Ballou Senior High school Marching Knights.

The musical selections range from "Happy Birthday" to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" to John Phillips Sousa's "Washington Post March."

Today's inaugural parade is the culmination of an event that began more than two centuries ago, to George Washington's inauguration in 1789. Back then, the first president traveled from his home in Mount Vernon to the inauguration in New York City. Washington was accompanied part of the way by local militia on his way to Federal Hall, where he took the oath of office on April 30.

It was the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who mapped out the current parade route back in 1805. As Jefferson rode on horseback from the from the Capitol to the White House after being sworn in for his second term, he was joined by a spontaneous procession of local residents and the marine band beginning a tradition which would repeat every four years. 

By 1809, during James Madison's swearing in, the parade had become an official part of the ceremony. The floats were added for Martin Van Buren's inaugural in 1837 and African American's participated for the first time when Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office for his second term. Women did the same during Woodrow Wilson's second Inaugural in 1917.

Through the years, the parade has averaged about two hours in length. The longest was Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural parade, which ran four and a half hours long.

The President, Vice President and their families will watch the parade in a massive structure between the White House and Lafayette Square which includes a beveled enclosure area with thick impact resistant glass.

The enclosure may seem natural now for security reasons, but actually had a rather unusual beginning. It dates back to the 1950s, when then President Dwight d. Eisenhower became quite irritated after he was lassoed by a cowboy in the parade. There's little chance of that today, but the President and his entourage will have the best seat in the house to watch the parade, which will feature displays from 60 groups.

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