Smithsonian Celebrates the 2009 Presidential Inauguration with Exhibits and Programs

January 12, 2009
News Release
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In celebration of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, the Smithsonian will feature exhibitions and public programs related to the presidency from Saturday, Jan. 17, through Tuesday, Jan. 20.

The Smithsonian has participated in inaugurations since the 1800s—President Abraham Lincoln held his second inaugural ball in what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in March 1865, and President James Garfield’s ball was held in 1881 in the U.S. National Museum (now the Arts and Industries Building, which is closed to prepare for renovations). In recent times, the Smithsonian has produced cultural programs and concerts for the Carter, Reagan and Clinton inaugurals.

This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee 2009 has contributed funds to support the Smithsonian’s free exhibitions, programs and additional security for the expected crowds.

Fast Facts

Museum Hours on Jan. 20

  • Seven Smithsonian museums located on the National Mall will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • The National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Castle Building will be open 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • The Renwick Gallery will be closed.
  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • The National Zoo’s buildings will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (grounds are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
  • The Anacostia Community Museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visiting the Museums

  • Admission to all Smithsonian museums, their exhibitions and public programs is free.
  • On Tuesday, Jan. 20, the Constitution Avenue entrances to the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History will be closed. Visitors should use the entrances on the National Mall.
  • Bag checks will be in place at all Smithsonian museums.
  • There is no parking available at any Smithsonian museum (except the National Zoo).
  • All visitors’ services, including restaurants, shops and IMAX theaters, will be open.


National Museum of American History
“Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” showcases more than 60 historical treasures associated with Lincoln’s life, from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s in New Salem, Ill., to the top hat he wore the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. The objects are augmented with personal stories from Lincoln and the people who knew him best. [Opens Jan. 16.]

“First Ladies at the Smithsonian” showcases objects from the nearly century-old collection and displays 14 gowns, including those worn by Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Jacqueline Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Laura Bush. (Three are inaugural gowns worn by Helen Taft, Rosalynn Carter and Laura Bush.) The gallery’s central exhibit features paintings, jewelry, china, personal possessions and other objects from the Smithsonian’s unique first ladies’ collection. A section of the exhibition focuses on the contributions of America’s first ladies and the ways in which they have influenced the most powerful office in the country.

“The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the 43 men who have had an impact on the course of history. The exhibition features more than 400 objects and a number of videos and interactive displays, including Lincoln’s top hat, the lap desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, Franklin Roosevelt’s microphone used to deliver his “fireside chat” radio broadcasts and videos of the living past presidents—all taken from the Smithsonian’s vast presidential collections. The exhibit’s timeline has been updated to include a photo of Barack Obama.

“America’s New Birth of Freedom: Documents from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum” features 10 rare and important documents on loan from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill. These documents have become the cornerstone of current thinking on Lincoln and his legacy. The exhibit will include a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and letters expressing Lincoln’s views on the conclusion of the Civil War. [Opens Jan. 16.]

National Museum of the American Indian
“A Century Ago...They Came as Sovereign Leaders” focuses on President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade and the six great American Indian chiefs who participated in the parade. They arrived with their own purposes in mind and to represent the needs of their people. The chiefs included Buckskin Charlie (Ute), American Horse (Oglala Sioux), Quanah Parker (Comanche), Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), Hollow Horn Bear (Brule Sioux) and Little Plume (Piegan Blackfeet). [Opens Jan. 14; see public programs below for more information about the three-day festival that accompanies the exhibit.]

Smithsonian American Art Museum
“The Honor of Your Company Is Requested: President Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball” celebrates President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, held March 6, 1865, in the historic building that is now the museum’s home. The ball took place as Lincoln’s second term began, when the Civil War was in its final stages, and only six weeks before Lincoln was assassinated. The exhibition features ephemera from the inaugural ball, including the invitation and menu, as well as engravings illustrating the night’s events.

National Portrait Gallery
The latest addition to the National Portrait Gallery is a recent donation—the original artwork for Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster designed by Shepard Fairey. This portrait became the central portrait image for the campaign and was distributed as a limited edition print and as a free download. It will be on view beginning Saturday afternoon, Jan. 17, on the Portrait Gallery’s first floor.

“Presidents in Waiting” includes portraits of the 14 vice presidents who took office as a result of the death of a president, the resignation of an incumbent or by winning an election on his own. The exhibition features a video kiosk with interviews—granted exclusively for this exhibition—with recent vice presidents. [Opens Jan. 20.]

“America’s Presidents” (known informally as the hall of presidents) was dramatically expanded when the museum reopened two years ago. The display now includes multiple images of the 43 presidents, including Gilbert Stuart’s famous “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington, a painting of Lincoln by Alexander Healy and satirical bronze sculptures of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush by noted caricaturist Pat Oliphant.

“One Life: The Mask of Lincoln” examines Lincoln’s use of the new art of photography to convey his image to Americans. The exhibition draws on the National Portrait Gallery’s extensive collection of Lincoln portraits and includes the rarely displayed, original 1865 cracked-plate portrait of Lincoln by photographer Alexander Gardner.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
“Road to Freedom” presents two photo exhibitions sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture—“Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956-1968” and “After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy.”

National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum’s Philatelic Gallery will feature an exhibition of 11 certified plate proofs for postage stamps that were issued from 1959 to 1994 to honor Lincoln. Certified plate proofs are the last printed proof of the plate before the stamps are printed, and these plates include the approval signatures and date.

Public Programs

“Renewing America’s Promise”—Saturday, Jan. 17-Monday, Jan. 19
Actors and actresses portraying American presidents and first ladies will perform throughout the museum. In addition, there will be gallery talks, music, book signings and interpreters to help visitors appreciate the exhibits. Special programs will focus on Martin Luther King Jr. with speeches and other related programming. National Museum of American History (special hours Jan. 20: 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.)

“Out of Many: A Multicultural Festival of Music, Dance and Story”—Saturday, Jan. 17-Monday, Jan. 19
Performances each day will feature music, dancing and storytelling from many cultural traditions, including those of American Indians. On Inauguration Day, there will be a Native American drum to honor the new president. National Museum of the American Indian

“Celebrate Asia in America!”—Sunday, Jan. 18-Tuesday, Jan. 20
The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will present artists’ workshops for children and their families as well as performances and stories of Asian and Asian American celebration traditions.

“Celebrate African Music”—Sunday, Jan. 18-Monday, Jan. 19
Live performances and films celebrating the musical traditions of Africa will be scheduled throughout the two days. National Museum of African Art

“Giving Voice to Hope”—Sunday, Jan. 18-Monday, Jan. 19
Storytelling sessions throughout the day focus on the journey of African Americans toward full citizenship and civil rights and the meaning of hope at this historic moment. Sponsored by the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Smithsonian Castle Building

“Inaugural Debate Series” —Monday, Jan. 19
Six college debate teams from across the country will discuss the priorities of the new Obama administration and debate issues such as the economy, foreign policy and climate change. The debate series is co-sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History

“Jubilee: An African American Celebration”—Sunday, Jan. 18-Tuesday, Jan. 20
The Anacostia Community Museum will present musical performances, readings and presentations in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition also titled “Jubilee.” (The Anacostia Museum is located in southeast Washington.)

“Presidential Film Festival” – Sunday, Jan. 18 and Monday, Jan. 19
The Smithsonian Associates will present a series of popular films on the presidency. On Sunday, Jan. 18, film selections will include “JFK” at 10 a.m., “The American President” at 1:30 p.m. and “Dr. Strangelove” at 4 p.m. On Monday, Jan. 19, the schedule includes “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” at 10 a.m., “All the President’s Men” at 1 p.m. and “My Fellow Americans” at 4 pm.

“Wish Tree for Washington, D.C.”—Sunday, Jan. 18-Tuesday, Jan. 20
In the outdoor sculpture garden, visitors will be invited to write messages for the future and add them to Yoko Ono’s living Wish Tree. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

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