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During the 37 years that LIFE was published, the magazine covered Presidential Inaugurations from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inauguration to Richard Nixon’s first inauguration in 1969, as the above photos show. The Inaugurations, which mark the (relatively) peaceful transfer of power that has defined American democracy for nearly 250 years, are the occasion to welcome a new administration with celebration and ceremony.
FDR’s second Inauguration in 1937 was the first such ceremony that had taken place since the states ratified the 20th Amendment, which moved Inauguration Day from March 4 to Jan. 20—and, though it’s impossible to tell from this photo, the weather was accordingly wintry and it was sleeting. (By his third inauguration in ’41, LIFE pitied Eleanor Roosevelt for having to worry about three inauguration outfits.)
The magazine also documented the times when this transition of power hasn’t been precisely peaceful or smooth, as when the White House accidentally shipped all of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s clothes to his Gettysburg farm before the 1953 inauguration, leaving him with only a bow tie and a homburg hat. The former World War II general’s second inaugural parade (1957) was more like an actual circus, with two elephants marching along. And an estimated 1,000 crashed President Richard Nixon’s 1973 festivities, “the first time in memory that anyone had tried to disrupt an inaugural parade,” TIME noted.
But while the Barack Obama may say goodbye to the White House to make way for incoming president Donald Trump, it’s more like a “bye for now.”
As Inaugurations bring the U.S. government together, past and present, it’s fitting that Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration was the same one at which Herbert Hoover turned to his former political enemy Harry S. Truman and said, “I think we ought to organize a former presidents club.”