First Known Photo of Presidential Inauguration (1857)

This is an extremely rare photograph of James Buchanan‘s Inauguration at the East Front of the Capitol Building on March 4th, 1857. It’s a little blurry and not the highest resolution, but amazing nevertheless. The exposure took four seconds, which caused the blurriness of some of the people. It makes the photo a little spooky and ghost-like.

- click image for more -
James Buchanan's Inauguration 1857
James Buchanan’s Inauguration 1857

Source: Library of Congress

Check out this part of the photo. The two men in the front seem to be having a conversation. I wonder what about … perhaps they voted for California Republican John Fremont? Maybe they’re talking about the fact that Buchanan was a bachelor president at the age of 65. Also, the fashion of the day was pretty impeccable.

two men chatting
two men chatting

This is not safe. Look at the large crowd gathered on the roof of the building. They’re only held back by a rickety wooden fence.

observers on the roof of the Capitol
observers on the roof of the Capitol

How about this duo? They guy on the right has an odd hat. Any GoDCers know what kind of hat that is? Maybe it signifies his occupation? He also appears to be holding a cane in his right hand.

two men in front
two men in front

Click on the top image yourself and tell us what you see.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • ET

    My first thought when seeing it was 1 – a campaign oriented hat – because clearly there are what look to be words or 2- something nautical (navy/steamboat) though I couldn’t say why.

    There is on featured at this link that seems similar though the one has no print and it is from the front.

  • myrt

    A beautiful bunch of details for this mysterious photo. I like the shapes of the women’s voluminous skirts you can see beyond the man with the cane.